Rumor season is officially in full swing. In The Fourth Period’s latest trade watch update, the New Jersey Devils found themselves linked to quite a few players. Of those players were Vladimir Tarasenko, Conor Garland, Johnny Gaudreau, and Tyler Bertuzzi. I’ve written at length about Tarasenko, Garland, and Gaudreau this offseason, but I think it’s worth touching upon each briefly once again.
However, this is the first we’ve heard of Bertuzzi and the Devils linked together. He doesn’t have the flash of the other three wingers, but he could be a sneaky shrewd pickup for a team looking to add scoring. We’ll take a look at why that’s the case.
Finally, after being bought out by the Minnesota Wild, Zach Parise will be an unrestricted free agent on July 28. He’s not the player he used to be, but there’s very much a fit for him with the Devils. And it’s not because of nostalgia.
Gaudreau, Garland Betters Fits Than Tarasenko
Before going over Bertuzzi, let’s get into the other three forwards. While I’m not surprised the Devils are linked with Tarasenko, I don’t see the fit, and I don’t think they should seriously pursue him. He’s coming off two injury-plagued seasons where he’s played a combined 34 games due to shoulder problems, and whether he can stay healthy is a big question mark.
However, it doesn’t hurt to check in on what a trade might cost because the price for Tarasenko may not be as high as thought due to his injury history. My guess is that it’s general manager Tom Fitzgerald doing his due diligence and that he’ll look elsewhere on the trade market as he should. Plus, when all is said and done, it seems most likely Tarasenko ends up on a team closer to Stanley Cup contention.
As for Gaudreau, he may be 29 years old and in the final year of his contract, but I still think he could be a fit for the Devils. He had a down 2019-20, but he’s still a very good hockey player and rebounded in a big way this past season. The style of hockey he plays also lends to him aging better into his 30s than a physical power forward would. It may cost a bit to acquire him, but if the Devils can work out an extension with the New Jersey native, he’d be a significant upgrade to their attack.
Finally, there’s Garland. Of the players linked to the Devils by The Fourth Period, he’s easily the best fit. His Corsi and expected goals percentages are well above 50 percent over the last three seasons. His five-on-five scoring has improved in each of his three NHL seasons, making him one of the most efficient five-on-five scoring wingers in the league.
Garland is a restricted free agent this offseason, but he shouldn’t cost too much to sign. Per Evolving-Hockey, he projects to land a four-year deal at a cap hit of $4.698 million, a very reasonable price for him. Garland produced at a 65-point pace this season and could figure into the Devils’ top six for quite some time since he’s still 25 years old. So he should be atop their list of targets, even if he costs a bit in a trade.
Bertuzzi Could Be a Shrewd Pickup
When thinking about how the Devils could improve their offense, Bertuzzi is probably not the first player that comes to mind. But quietly, he’s been a productive top-six winger on a rather poor Detroit Red Wings team over the last few seasons. Bertuzzi only played in nine games during the 2020-21 campaign because of injuries. But over the previous two seasons, he averaged nearly 24 goals and 54 points per 82 games.
Scoring is where Bertuzzi’s value lies as well. His even-strength offense before this season was worth a goals above replacement (GAR) of 16.6. He’s averaged 1.97 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five, so the production is clearly there. It’s a different story at the other end of the ice, though, as his even-strength defense has been below replacement level.
My guess is the Devils could live with some of Bertuzzi’s defensive flaws if he comes in and scores as he did with the Red Wings. I think he has enough of a track record to say he’s a regular 20-25 goal to 50 point scorer as well, which Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier could use on their wings.
The big concern with Bertuzzi is his back, which he underwent surgery for this season. Back injuries are a tricky thing because you never know what the long-term effects could be. But that may lower the cost of acquiring him in a trade, as well as re-signing him. He’s 26 years old and is an RFA this offseason but projects to land a one-year deal worth $3.086 million, likely due to his back injury. If there isn’t concern about how his back will hold up, there’s a fit in New Jersey. He’s a consistent top-six scorer but also plays with an edge, something I think the Devils would like to add this offseason. Those types of players don’t grow on trees, so targeting him makes sense.
Parise Still Has Something To Offer
Parise is not the player he used to be, so it wasn’t a total shock to see the Wild buy him out. He finished this season with 18 points in 45 games — a 33-point pace over 82 games — a sharp decrease from the 25 goals and 46 points he had in 69 games in 2019-20. But even though the production and two-way play has fallen off, Parise still has value offensively. His even-strength offense was worth a GAR of 5.3 this season and has been worth a GAR of 16 over the last three seasons.
Part of the reason Parise’s production slipped this season is that he had some poor shooting luck. He had an individual expected goals of 9.54 and shot just 7.8 percent, which was well below his 11.5 career shooting percentage. If he plays the way he did this season, he should be in for a bit of positive regression in 2021-22. That’s not to say he’ll be a 25-goal scorer again, but he still has double-digit goal upside in a middle-six role.
In all honesty, if Parise didn’t have a history with the Devils, signing him as a UFA would be an afterthought. But I do see reasons why he makes sense for them, one being that he’s still a capable offensive player who’d give the Devils depth on the wing. Two, the Devils will have one of the youngest teams in the NHL next season. Adding a veteran like Parise, who’ll be 37 years old at the end of this month, could go a long way for their young players. It depends on how much money he’ll command as a UFA, but he’d make sense on a one-year deal. I’d still bet on him signing with a contender like the New York Islanders, but a reunion with the Devils isn’t all that crazy either.
That’ll do it for this edition of Devils news and rumors. Things are beginning to heat up, and it should only get busier with expansion draft protection lists due this weekend. So make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest Devils and NHL coverage.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017