The clock on the longest-tenured New Jersey Devil may be striking midnight sooner rather than later. Defender Damon Severson has been with the organization since he was selected in the second round back in 2012 and made his debut with the club during the 2014-15 season. He has also been a polarizing figure amongst the fanbase since being drafted. The analytics seem to love him, but the eye test leaves fans wanting more.
Let’s weigh the options on what the Devils could do with Severson moving forward.
This is still a viable option for the Devils. The Canadian-born Severson has one-year remaining on his contract worth an average annual value (AAV) of $4.166 million. Once he comes off the books, the valuable defensemen will be asking for a substantial raise and his asking price could be like current unrestricted free agent (UFA) John Klingberg. We’re still waiting for him to sign, but it probably will be somewhere north of $6 million per year, which if Severson’s contract were to mimic, might be too bit rich for the team’s blood.
At this stage, the Devils may not be in a position to pay him that kind of money down the line with the contracts they’ve already given out over the course of the past two seasons. They also still need to re-sign Jesper Bratt and Miles Wood this offseason, while keeping an eye on extensions for Yegor Sharangovich, Dawson Mercer, Jesper Boqvist, and – maybe – Mackenzie Blackwood in the near future.
The Devils having the future of their defensive core built is another reason they may not go this route. With Jonas Siegenthaler’s contract extension earlier this week, he, Dougie Hamilton, and John Marino are all locked up through the 2026-27 season. Attached to that, top prospects Luke Hughes, Simon Nemec, and Shakir Mukhamadullin could all be ready to make their professional debuts as early as the end of this season, or the beginning of the 2023-24 season. Without Severson, the right side of the Devils’ defense will still be loaded.
It can be argued that Severson has been their most valuable defender of the past decade, and this is where he could make a strong case for an extension. His career average time on ice exceeds 21 minutes per game and has exceeded 22 minutes per game over the past four seasons. He was also in the top 25 this past season in points accumulated for defenders at 46. Additionally, he has been the team’s most durable player during his time in the NHL playing in roughly 91 percent of eligible games for the team and if you eliminate his rookie season, that percentage skyrockets to roughly 96. I doubt the Devils go down this road, but it is certainly still on the table.
The most likely time for this option will come at the trade deadline. Maybe the Devils will be in the playoff hunt when the deadline rolls around and are in a position where they shouldn’t pawn Severson for future assets? Let’s be realistic though, their hopes of making the playoffs for just the second time in a decade seems like a pipe dream in 2022-23. Instead, they are hopeful the long-term rebuild phase comes to an end when the 2023-24 season begins, and his contract will have expired by that time.
Given the Devils’ lack of success with upgrading the wing position this offseason, the team could look to move Severson in the coming weeks for offensive help, but it wouldn’t make much sense to do that. It seems clear that they are content with what they have up front and must have a lot of trust in Ondřej Palát given his hefty contract. As such, he still fits a need the team has right now – especially given the state of the three prospects mentioned above. As a result, he will likely be on the second pair, most likely partnered with the left-handed shot of Siegenthaler or Ryan Graves.
Three Potential Suitors for Severson
A huge factor to consider with all this is since Severson is on the last year of his deal, the Devils could retain half of his contract for the remaining part of the year, and they should have enough cap space to do so. Meaning the team acquiring the eight-year veteran will only have to pay him roughly $2 million for half a season, which could strengthen New Jersey’s return package as well. If that were to happen, he should be on the top of the list for playoff teams that are tight in cap space.
Whenever they decide to shop Severson, the Devils should look for one thing and one thing only, a first-round selection in the 2023 Draft. Given the top-heavy prospect pool of Connor Bedard and Matvei Michkov, this team needs to do everything in their power to give themselves a slight chance to jump up in the NHL Draft Lottery. It is a long shot that a team would give up an unprotected 2023 first-round pick, but New Jersey might find a desperate playoff bubble team willing to do it.
The Stars were a wild card team last season that took a Stanley Cup favorite in the Western Conference to seven games. With the emergence of goaltender Jake Oettinger, Dallas may want to upgrade their back end come playoff time. Severson would be a nice rental for them, as he could easily slide into the top pairing and play alongside Miro Heiskanen.
The soon-to-be 28-year-old would also be a nice replacement for the aforementioned Klingberg, as he seems to be on his way out of Dallas given their cap situation. The Stars have roughly $11.5 million in space but need to lock up two big-name restricted free agents (RFA) in Oettinger and Jason Robertson. Following this, they won’t have much cap space to play with, making Severson’s $2 million cap hit – if the Devils retain – that much more enticing.
This is a team the Devils would make a trade with before the season got underway as Vancouver and New Jersey have been linked for nearly a month now dating back to the 2022 Draft. Forward J.T. Miller seems to be on the move for them in the coming months as they currently sit above the cap floor, and he is also in the final year of his contract with an AAV of $5.25 million. Severson for Miller, with the Devils retaining salary on Severson, would make sense for both sides considering Vancouver desperately needs a right-handed defenseman, and New Jersey could use the offensive help. I wouldn’t necessarily pull the trigger on this trade if I were general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald, though.
New York Islanders
Given the history between the two teams, the New York Islanders fit in the long-shot scenario only. Barring any injuries or trades by the Islanders, this doesn’t look like a realistic option, as they have two solid right-handed defenders in Ryan Pulock and Noah Dobson. Maybe down the line, they want an upgrade from Scott Mayfield, but again, it seems unlikely.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Devils and their former GM Lou Lamoriello did this song and dance though. During the 2020 Trade Deadline, the Devils traded then captain, Andy Greene, to the Islanders for prospect David Quenneville and a second-round pick in the 2021 Draft. At the next deadline a year later, Fitzgerald packaged Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to the same team for prospects A.J. Greer, Mason Jobst, a 2021 first-round selection, and a 2022 fourth-round selection. Let’s also not forget that Lamoriello was the one who selected Severson back in 2012 just as he did with Greene, Palmieri, and Zajac.
Considering these massive packages Lamoriello exchanged, you’d have to assume Severson could net a first-round pick from the Islanders. They did have a down year last season and missed the playoffs, but a huge contributor to this was the fact they couldn’t play at their new UBS arena until nearly two months after the season started. Expect them to be back in the playoff hunt come this season’s trade deadline.
What the Devils Will Do
Severson is the most likely player on this roster to be moved and he should be able to bring in a nice package in return. Although it may be a bitter end to an outstanding career in New Jersey, it is a move they need to seriously consider. Fitzgerald has shown he isn’t afraid to move on from long-tenured players and Severson will be added to this list by season’s end.
Fitzgerald has also made a statement to the league, that he values defense. He locked up Dougie Hamilton last offseason, traded for Siegenthaler with an extension in place in 2021 – then extended him again – and traded for the cost-controlled John Marino at the beginning of this offseason. While doing all this, he also selected four premier defensive prospects in Hughes, Nemec, Mukhamadullin, and Seamus Casey in the past three drafts. All of these moves make a Severson departure the most foreseeable outcome.