Devils Have Tough Decision To Make on Severson

The New Jersey Devils are in an interesting position heading into the trade deadline, which is two weeks away from tomorrow. Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt are both point-per-game players, and the team has played well at five-on-five. The pieces are starting to fall in place, but unfortunately, they have a 19-31-5 record due to goaltending. They’re likely to be sellers, but only to a certain extent. That’s because they don’t have many tradeable players who’d be attractive rentals for playoff contenders. 

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However, one player that’s come up in the rumor mill this week is Devils defenseman Damon Severson. He appeared at No. 14 on Frank Seravalli’s trade board, as well as the top 50 on TSN’s trade bait list. Severson is under contract through next season at a cap hit of $4.166 million, meaning any acquiring team would have a shot at two playoff runs with him instead of one. 

The Devils should not trade Severson for the sake of trading him. With that said, if they don’t intend to sign him to an extension, which would kick in when he’s 29 years old in 2023, then they have a decision to make soon. Right-handed, top-four defensemen are a rarity on the trade market, and he’s having a career season. There’s likely interest in him from playoff teams because of that, and his value should be quite high. What could the Devils get in return? Let’s take a look. 

Severson by the Numbers

Before getting into what Severson’s value may be, let’s take a look at his numbers because that will give us a better sense of the type of player he is. At the moment, his 31 points in 53 games would put him on pace for 48 points, which would be a career-high. He’s been particularly great since the calendar flipped to 2022, as he has 22 points in his last 23 games. 

Overall, Severson’s underlying metrics are impressive. He has a Corsi-for percentage (CF%) of 52.07 percent and expected goals percentage (xG%) of 52.8 percent. Since the start of 2019-20, he has an expected goals above replacement (xGAR) of 22.6, ranked 29th among all defensemen in the NHL. 

Damon Severson New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman Damon Severson (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Severson plays the way many modern defensemen do as well. He adds value offensively — his even-strength offense has been worth an xGAR of 8.2. And while he’s gotten a bit of a reputation among Devils fans as a defensive liability, the numbers don’t bear that out — his even-strength defense has been worth an xGAR of 9.6. He is prone to mental lapses on defense, but overall, his results have been among the better blueliners in the NHL. 

Another thing working in Severson’s favor this season is that he’s logged top-pair minutes, mostly while Dougie Hamilton was out with a broken jaw. He handled those minutes well alongside Jonas Siegenthaler to give the Devils one of the best shutdown pairs they’ve had in quite some time. This has all come while playing on a team that’s 12 games below NHL .500 and has had trouble keeping the puck out of their own net. Add his play to the fact that he’s not a pure rental, and he should have quite a bit of value if Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald decides to move him. 

What a Severson Trade Could Look Like

Before getting into what the Devils could get in return and what teams could make sense for Severson, it’s important to find a comparable trade. The most obvious comparison is when the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings in 2019. 

Muzzin had a year and a half remaining on his contract, just like Severson. In return, the Kings received a 1st-round pick and two prospects, Carl Grundstrom and Sean Durzi, who were the Maple Leafs’ third- and fifth-ranked prospects at the time (from ‘Wheeler: The complete Maple Leafs prospect rankings, November 2018 edition’, The Athletic – 11/15/2018). That’s the type of return the Devils should be looking for if they decide to move Severson before March 21. Now let’s take a look at which teams could be interested. 

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs are one of the best teams in the NHL, but they’ll have a tall task ahead of them in the playoffs if they have to face the Tampa Bay Lightning or Florida Panthers in the first round. General manager Kyle Dubas told media on Friday that if there’s one area he wants to upgrade before the deadline, it’d be on defense. 

After Rasmus Sandin, the right side of the Maple Leafs’ defense could use an upgrade. They recently acquired Ilya Lyubushkin from the Arizona Coyotes, but he won’t play more than third-pair minutes. Justin Holl has rebounded after a tough start. But moving him to the third pair would give the Maple Leafs a deep blue line, and that’s where Severson comes into play. 

To start a deal out, the Devils would have to get a first-round pick from the Maple Leafs. If the Muzzin return is what they’re seeking, they’ll likely want a couple of prospects as well. Maple Leafs prospects who’d fill that criteria would be Nick Abruzzese, Roni Hirvonen, Veeti Miettinen and Timothy Liljegren. Though the 22-year-old Liljegren isn’t a prospect anymore, he’s not exactly an established NHLer yet. But the early returns are quite encouraging: 

Timothy Liljegren
Timothy Liljegren player card (via JFresh Hockey)

In Liljegren, the Devils would be getting someone that could step into the lineup right away and likely in Severson’s spot on the second pair. The extra first-round pick could be trade bait to acquire other talent, perhaps a goaltender, which the Devils desperately need. Add a prospect like Abruzzese or Hirvonen to Liljegren and a 1st-round pick, and that should be close to completing a deal. 

Florida Panthers

It’s been a long time coming for the Panthers, but they are legit Stanley Cup contenders. However, after their top pair of Mackenzie Weegar and Aaron Ekblad, they could use an upgrade on defense, specifically on the right side. While Radko Gudas has been rock-solid defensively, moving him to the third pair would also give the Panthers one of the deepest blue lines in the Eastern Conference.

The Panthers are in an interesting spot cap-wise this offseason — they only project to have $4,491,666 in cap space. That means they’ll have to shed some salary to fit in Severson for 2022-23, so a trade here is a bit tricky. The most likely move would be trading Patric Hornqvist, who has a $5.3 million cap hit next season. The issue there is he has a modified no-trade clause where he submits an 8-team no-trade list. If he’d OK a trade to the Devils, he’d have value to them. He’s still a reliable bottom-six winger and would strengthen the team’s scoring depth. 

Related: Devils’ Damon Severson Trade Deadline Profile

New Jersey would also get a sweetener in return for taking on Hornqvist’s contract, perhaps Owen Tippett, whose name has come up in the rumor mill. Though he hasn’t lived up to being the top prospect he once was, he just turned 23 years old in February. He has a track record of producing in the AHL, and he has the shooting potential to fit in somewhere on the wing in the Devils’ middle-six. 

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season. At 30-19-7 and 67 points, they’re sitting in second place in the Pacific Division. They have plenty of young talent, and they’re getting resurgent seasons from Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick. Neither of them is getting any younger, so that may entice general manager Rob Blake to make a splash to help the team make runs in the next two postseasons. 

The Kings’ blue line is not in dire shape by any stretch. Matt Roy and Durzi have both played well on the right side behind Doughty, but adding Severson to the fray would give them a significant upgrade in the top-four. 

As with the Panthers and Maple Leafs, a first-round pick has to come back to New Jersey. One of Roy or Durzi may be part of a trade, but the former would probably be more attractive to the Devils. In Roy, they’d be getting a 27-year-old right-handed defenseman under contract through 2023-24 at a cap hit of $3.15 million. While Liljegren has shown potential, Roy is an established NHLer. His counting totals may not suggest so, but he’s an underrated second-pair defender: 

Matt Roy
Matt Roy player card (via JFresh Hockey)

A first-round pick and Roy would cut a deal since he’s a capable top-four defenseman. If the Devils decide to go the prospect route, Martin Chromiak and Gabe Vilardi could be forwards they target. If it’s a defenseman that interests them, Helge Grans or Jordan Spence could be on their shortlist too. A 1st-round pick, Vilardi and Spence would be close to getting a deal done here. 

Severson’s Value May Be Peaking

Going off Scott Wheeler’s 2022 rankings (From ‘Wheeler: 2022 NHL prospect pool rankings’, The Athletic – 2/9/2022) in a Severson trade with the Maple Leafs, the Devils would be receiving Toronto’s fifth- or sixth-ranked prospect in Abruzzese or Hirvonen. If the Devils received Vilardi and Spence from the Kings, they’d be getting their fourth- and eighth-ranked prospects. If Grans and Chromiak, they’d net their fifth- and ninth-ranked prospects. 

Since Severson has a year left on his contract, that is the type of return the Devils should be seeking if they decide to trade him in the coming weeks. That’s about what the Kings got in return for Muzzin in 2019. While they shouldn’t trade him just for the sake of it, it seems like it might be the right time to do so, given the season he’s having and the return they may be able to get. 

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Advanced stats from Natural Stat TrickEvolving-Hockey