Devils At Trade Deadline Crossroad

No one believed in them. No one thought they’d make it this far. It was a motivating missive sent out to New Jersey Devils players during training camp. Within the coming days, we’re going to find out how many folks still believe in this squad. In more ways than one.

Will the Devils make any noise at the trade deadline? Most signs point to no. They’re a group which is ahead of schedule but maybe not ready for prime time. A position which places the front office in a bind, believing in their gritty group but not quite enough to push the button.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year but short of a complete nosedive, will be anything but. So how does a team make a push without mortgaging the future? How do they boost morale without boosting the roster?

The case to be buyers:

As of this writing the Devils sit three points out of a Wild Card spot with 22 games left. One could argue with the amount of parity and bunched standings, one significant trade would make the difference. If New Jersey were to obtain one player who could get hot and carry the club for two months, it may be enough of a difference maker in pushing them over the top.

One may also argue if Michael Cammalleri were healthy, New Jersey would be firmly entrenched in a playoff position. When Cammalleri initially went down from Jan. 2 to Jan 16., the club went 3-5, notching eleven goals, while being blanked twice. In the four games before the All-Star break that Cammalleri dressed for, New Jersey posted a ledger of 3-1, netting 13 goals. During the post-break stretch without Cammalleri again, the Devils are 4-4-0-2, registering 19 goals.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Michael Cammalleri. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With solid goaltending and a stock of young blueliners, perhaps they deal the seldom used Eric Gelinas and find a match up front. Gelinas and fellow young defenseman Damon Severson have been healthy scratches of late.

Eric Gelinas (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Eric Gelinas. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Might they try for another New Jersey native in Bobby Ryan or a player like Cam Atkinson?

Bobby Ryan
Bobby Ryan. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

The case to be sellers:

The Devils goal differential is minus eight. New Jersey ranks dead last in goals scored five-on-five with 76, eleven shy of the second-to-last Buffalo Sabres. They could sell high on the relatively inexpensive Lee Stempniak and David Schlemko, both of whom are slated to be unrestricted free agents. Though they do sport one more win on the road than at home, the Devils play 9-0f-15 games away from Prudential Center in March.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Lee Stempniak. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In addition to being three points shy of a playoff spot, the Devils are three points away from being a lottery team. The club could do worse than give more minutes to Joseph Blandisi, Reid Boucher and another crack for Mike Sislo, whose 25 tallies with the Albany Devils, lead the American Hockey League.

The case to stand pat:

The mantra remains the same, everyone’s doubting you except the guys inside the locker room, now go out, continue to prove them wrong and finish the job together. Standing pat could serve to be a motivator or a letdown. This team has played above expectations and they do deserve some help for what they’ve achieved thus far.

(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)
Cory Schneider. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

That said, it may be the most practical thing they can do. At this point, blowing it up doesn’t make sense when you’re on the cusp of a playoff spot and it’s not going to yield Auston Matthews. Conversely, this team is building a nice young core and while Cory Schneider is a Vezina Trophy candidate and their defense is stout, blowing it up in the other direction for a rental player, doesn’t make sense either.