It’s time for another edition of New Jersey Devils news and rumors. This week, we’ll take a look at Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who The Fourth Period linked to the Devils, and whether he’s a fit in New Jersey. We’ll also look at the possibility of them shopping the fourth overall pick for a young defenseman and who’d fit that criterion. Finally, some changes to the Devils’ front office and business operations. Let’s get to it.
Devils Should Avoid Ekman-Larsson
The Devils are undoubtedly looking to improve their defense this offseason. They’re already loosely linked to Dougie Hamilton, and now The Fourth Period has connected them with Ekman-Larsson. He finished this season with 24 points in 46 games — a 42-point pace over 82 games. But those points can be deceiving.
Ekman-Larsson was once among the top defensemen in the game, but his play has fallen off considerably in the previous three seasons. Over that stretch, his overall performance has only been worth a goals above replacement of 1.1. And in two of the last three seasons, his play has been below replacement level. Overall, he’s had a negative impact both offensively and defensively at even strength.
It is interesting that The Fourth Period listed the Devils as one of a few teams interested in Ekman-Larsson, but I don’t see the fit. Once upon a time, he would’ve brought them the defensive upgrade they need. Now, I’m not sure he adds much of an upgrade at all. He’s also under contract through the 2026-27 season at a whopping cap hit of $8.25 million. His play is not worth that type of money anymore, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it’s among one of the worst contracts in the league.
If there’s a deal to be had between the Devils and Coyotes, Arizona would have to retain 50 percent of Ekman-Larsson’s salary. Two, they’d have to include a significant sweetener for the Devils to take on his cap hit. Would Ekman-Larsson, 50 percent retained, and Conor Garland work? Perhaps, but it seems unlikely the Coyotes would be willing to give up assets for him instead of acquiring them. Even with a sweetener and 50 percent retained on his salary, it’s hard to get past the fact his deal runs through the 2026-27 season. So the Devils would be best off looking elsewhere for defensive help.
Could the Devils Deal Their Top Pick?
This was speculation from Elliotte Friedman more than anything else. But in his latest edition of 31 Thoughts, he said he could see the Devils trading the fourth overall pick for a good, young defenseman. Ekman-Larsson obviously doesn’t fit the bill anymore (he’ll be 30 in two weeks), so what type of defenseman could the Devils get in trading the fourth pick?
Trading a top-5 draft choice does not happen very often, and for a good reason. It’s an incredibly valuable trade chip that would have to net you a first-line forward or no. 1 defenseman. The thing is, it’s rare to see that type of player available. Are Jakob Chychrun or Charlie McAvoy on the trade market? You can never say never, but it’s highly, highly unlikely.
There are teams in a cap bind, such as the New York Islanders, who could lose a good, young player. Adam Pelech, who’s 26 years old and a restricted free agent, needs a new deal. He’s one of the best defensive defensemen in the league, but is he worth the fourth overall pick? I doubt it. Chances are Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello will open up the cap space needed to sign him anyway.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are another team in a rough cap situation, even worse than the Islanders. As it stands, the Lightning will be $5,066,666 million over the cap ceiling this offseason. Could they consider trading defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to free up space? Even if they did, he’s not worth the fourth overall pick. And like the Islanders and Pelech, the Lightning will find a way to keep Sergachev.
The point is that it’s unlikely a defenseman worth trading the fourth overall selection will be available this offseason. I’m sure the Devils will do their due diligence trying to find a fit. But it’s best to guess they end up hanging on to the pick and making a selection at the Entry Draft on July 23.
Changes up Top
After eight years with Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, CEO Scott O’Neil announced his resignation from the Devils’ parent company earlier this week. He had no ties to the Devils’ front office and personnel decisions, but he was an integral part of helping the organization mold its business operations. He did the same for the Philadelphia 76ers, for who he also was CEO, so there could be changes on the way over the coming months, depending on who succeeds him.
The Devils also lost Aimee Kimball, director of player and team development, after she left the organization on her own terms. She had been part of the Devils since former general manager Ray Shero took over for Lamoriello in 2015. Kimball, who has a few degrees in sports psychology, played a significant role in the mental side of hockey development, but it wasn’t all about that.
“What I do isn’t just about sports psychology and doing mental training,” Kimball said to Julie Robenhymer back in 2017. “It’s more about looking at the players and the team and figuring out how to develop them in terms of the culture of the team. Getting players to realize what it really takes to be winners – to win the Stanley Cup. They’re all competitive and, as professional hockey players, nobody likes to lose, but yet it’s still happening. So getting them to have confidence in each other and confidence in the system and understanding that just showing up isn’t enough and getting them to look at their own games and assess ways they can be better on or off the ice is what I try to do.”
The Devils have seen more than a few of their prospects (Ty Smith, Yegor Sharangovich, Michael McLeod, to name a few) make significant strides in the last year. There’s no doubt Kimball played a role in helping mold these players, as well as other young contributors such as Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. She may no longer be with the team, but they’ll feel her impact for years to come. Given her importance, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they looked to fill her position in the coming months.
That covers it for this edition of Devils news & rumors. Things are slowly beginning to pick up across the NHL. It should only continue to get busier after July 4 and once the Stanley Cup concludes. So make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest Devils & NHL coverage.
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Advanced stats from Evolving-Hockey
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