4 New Jersey Devils Trade Deadline Thoughts

Speculation season is in full swing. The Metropolitan Division has bulked up over the past week with the additions of forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Bo Horvat. In the Western Conference, the Arizona Coyotes announced defenseman Jakob Chychrun will be held out of the lineup pending a trade that has yet to be announced.

Related: Grading the Rangers’ Trade for Tarasenko & Mikkola

The New Jersey Devils are a team that has been consistently mentioned among hockey insiders and as everyone knows, is being linked to one player in particular. Below are some of my thoughts on the team as the March 3rd deadline draws closer.

1) Devils Need to Figure Out Their Top-Six

No matter what moves are made, fans know Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Ondrej Palat will remain in the team’s top six. The other two spots are up for grabs, as there has been a rotation of players this season. It has become obvious the team needs a winger to play alongside Hughes, and because of that need, New Jersey has been heavily linked to San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier.

Jack Hughes New Jersey Devils
Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

A trade for Meier could prove more complex because he is due a $10 million qualifying offer. Ultimately, the Sharks could keep the 26-year-old and trade him during the offseason. The good news is general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald is not bolstering his team for just this upcoming postseason. The GM could wait if he feels a better option will present itself in a couple of months. Fans should expect a new linemate for Hughes, it is just a question of if that acquisition will come now or during the offseason.

2) New Jersey Needs An Anchor For Their Third Line

Adding a top-six winger ahead of the deadline could solve the problem the Devils currently have with their depth. Since December, the forwards who have been swapping in and out of the team’s third line have seemingly all gone cold at the same time. Here’s a breakdown of point production since Dec. 1.

Jesper Boqvist: five points (two goals, three assists)

Dawson Mercer: 15 points (six goals, nine assists)

Yegor Sharangovich: eight points (three goals, five assists)

Erik Haula: 13 points (three goals, 10 assists)

Tomas Tatar: 15 points (six goals, nine assists)

Fabian Zetterlund: five points (one goal, four assists)

Alexander Holtz: three points (two goals, one assist)

Dawson Mercer Jesper Boqvist Yegor Sharangovich New Jersey Devils
Dawson Mercer, Jesper Boqvist, and Yegor Sharangovich of the New Jersey Devils celebrate (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Lately, the third line seems like the island of misfit toys. The coaching staff is putting together the players who do not necessarily belong anywhere else in the lineup. It is a line that has lacked chemistry and grit at times. At the end of the season, Boqvist, Tatar, Haula, Sharangovich, and Zetterlund will be either unrestricted or restricted agents. The makeup of this line can look vastly different over the next few weeks and could be an area Fitzgerald may be forced to address sooner rather than later.

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Like most GMs, Fitzgerald has openly said when it comes to what needs his team requires, he looks inside the organization first. This season fans have seen Andreas Johnsson, Nolan Foote, and Tyce Thompson called up from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate. None of them played more than three games, and that could indicate Fitzgerald will need to look outside the organization for his ideal candidate.

Everyone knows it is the team’s star players who propel their team into the postseason, but it’s the supporting cast and depth players who make an impact in the playoffs. Bringing in a player to anchor and solidify that third line could go a long way in how much playoff experience the team will get this spring.

3) Their Window to Contend Was Cracked Open Ahead of Schedule

This is not to say New Jersey is currently a Stanley Cup-contending team, at least not yet. The team has come a long way since the days fans thought the Devils’ future core would be Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall. Fitzgerald has put together a balanced roster, and even though his club may be ahead of schedule, it does not mean he will change his approach.

Tom Fitzgerald, general manager of the New Jersey Devils
Tom Fitzgerald, general manager of the New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“My job is to improve the team. But my window is not one year,” Fitzgerald told The Athletic in an interview. “We’re a year ahead of where I think everyone thought we would be, but here we are. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to do my job and try to improve the club long-term.” (from ‘LeBrun: Devils ‘willing to give’ to get at the trade deadline — for the right player’, The Athletic, 01/27/23).

It has been encouraging to see the development of the team’s young core these past few months. Hughes is a top forward in the league, and Hischier is finally being recognized for his defensive game and is in the Selke Trophy conversation.

Goaltender Vitek Vanecek has taken full advantage of the opportunities he’s been given in New Jersey and is one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success. The trade for the former Washington Capitals goaltender could go down as one of the best of Fitzgerald’s career as New Jersey’s GM. Trades for players like Vanecek, John Marino, and Jonas Siegenthaler should give fans solace that Fitzgerald is building his team the right way.

4) Fitzgerald Remains Very Transparent With His Plans For His Team

There should not be too many surprises when it comes to what moves Fitzgerald will make prior to March 3rd. Long-term success remains his goal, and he will continue to make the appropriate moves to help his team become a legitimate contender over several seasons. There are plenty of scenarios that could, in theory, make sense, like potentially trading Mackenzie Blackwood to the Los Angeles Kings, but that does not mean Fitzgerald is going to jump at any opportunity to shake up his roster.

Last season hockey fans saw the Florida Panthers make multiple moves at the trade deadline in hopes of a deep playoff run. When all was said and done, the club messed too much with their chemistry and added pieces they did not need. The result was elimination in the second round. Sometimes not doing anything is better than doing too much when it comes to bulking up for a playoff run.

New Jersey Devils Bench Celebrates
New Jersey Devils Bench Celebrates a Goal (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For the majority of the season, the Devils have been a top-five team in the league. Fitzgerald proved last summer that it’s not about acquiring the most talented players but the right ones to fit the need of the team on the ice and in the locker room. If the right deal does not present itself, and the roster remains the same at 3:01 PM on March 3rd, it does not mean Fitzgerald dropped the ball.

Related: Devils Are in Better Position Without DeBrincat and Gaudreau

This season is just the beginning for New Jersey. Ahead of the season, I polled fans asking what a successful 2022-23 campaign would be, and the most popular answer was playing meaningful games in December. The Devils have accomplished that and then some, becoming a top team in the league. All eyes will be on Fitzgerald as fans remain on “Meier Watch” as pieces begin to fall into place around the league and the playoff race intensifies.

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