In a piece of news that many fans (especially Bostonians) could see coming, left winger Jake DeBrusk requested a trade from the Boston Bruins as his struggles to recapture his once-formidable game continue. A previous 27-goal scorer and still just 25 years old, there’s still a good amount of teams interested in acquiring DeBrusk as he seeks a fresh start, but are the New Jersey Devils one of them? Or, better yet, should they be?
Let’s break down how DeBrusk fits with the Devils, going over contract status, playstyle, team need, and more.
Devils Can Afford DeBrusk’s Cap Hit
DeBrusk carries a $3.675 million cap hit and the Bruins are unlikely to want to retain any of it considering they’re in win-now mode. With this being the last season on the winger’s deal, the Devils could pretty easily pick him up without worrying about crowding their cap space; they currently have close to $12 million available.
New Jersey is in a good place right now where they can afford a risk or two when it comes to spending, both cap-wise and timeline-wise. They have a better salary situation than most other clubs in the league, and no current championship window that would be significantly hindered by an experiment gone wrong. However, a few other teams in similar situations may also be interested, such as the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and Seattle Kraken.
What’s also worth noting is that the former first-round pick will be a restricted free agent (RFA) following this season, which would make it easier for the Devils to re-sign him if he performed well.
Vintage DeBrusk Fits with New Jersey
Vintage meaning just two or three seasons ago, of course. DeBrusk broke in splendidly with Boston in 2017-18 at 21 years old, scoring 16 goals and adding 27 assists in 70 games. He would follow that effort with a career-best 27-goal campaign in 2018-19, and then another solid season after that with 19 goals.
Of course, the whole reason this conversation is occurring is because of what happened after those promising first three seasons. The Edmonton native potted a measly five goals in 41 games last season, and after a quick start this season has sunken back into a familiar slump. He currently has six points in 18 games.
The problem with DeBrusk at this point seems to be a lack of effort. As a recent candidate of a couple of healthy scratches, Boston hasn’t seen the combination of great speed and unrelenting grit that resulted in production from their young forward earlier in his career. It’s not like he hasn’t had opportunities either; the Bruins have been searching for consistent secondary scoring for years to complement the “Perfection Line” of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. DeBrusk has had chances over the past couple of seasons to prove he belongs in the top-six, but he hasn’t been able to put much together.
That being said, perhaps a change of scenery is exactly what DeBrusk needs to get his game in shape. If he returns to form, he’s actually a surprisingly good fit for a Devils team that’s very young and utilizes speed. At 25 with good legs (when he uses them), he aligns well with those team characteristics, and combined with his hard-nosed style of play could fill the void left by an injured Miles Wood – just with the potential for more goal-scoring. If he can find his game from a few seasons ago, New Jersey would have added a valuable top-six presence that could make the next step in their rebuilding process much easier.
Few Trade Possibilities Exist Between Devils and Bruins
Great – DeBrusk would be a nice addition to New Jersey if he can find his game again. But how do they even make the addition in the first place? The Bruins are a team that wants to win now as their core begins to teeter out. With a pretty inflexible cap situation, Boston will not only want a player that can help them this season, but who’s relatively inexpensive. New Jersey, on the other hand, has no reason to give up anything substantial in this potential deal. This narrows down the options for a trade.
One name that immediately jumps out for the Devils is Tomas Tatar, who was brought in on a two-year, $9 million deal this offseason and struggled to produce out of the gate. Would a one-for-one swap work for both teams here? Boston would probably be happy with a skilled veteran to add to a playoff-ready squad, but would New Jersey want to lose that experience considering the youth of their roster? It might be a risk worth taking.
Another player to think about is Michael McLeod, whose contract extends through 2022-23 at under $1 million per year. With the return of Jack Hughes, the Devils’ center room is getting awfully crowded. McLeod has been excellent situationally for the team, but it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the Devils would swap what could become a redundancy at the position for a winger with real scoring potential. The Bruins could see him as an option for their third-line center, where Erik Haula could be moved to the wing.
If this were last season, a clean swap of Andreas Johnsson for DeBrusk would seem like a no-brainer. However, the former has been one of the best forwards for New Jersey this season and currently leads the team in points. Boston, with the entire league privy to the fact that DeBrusk wants out, won’t be able to acquire a player performing like Johnsson has…unless they end up sweetening the deal with other assets.
A DeBrusk Trade is Low-Risk, High-Reward
There will be no enormous haul given up for DeBrusk – no matter who ends up trading for him. The problem for the Devils is that they don’t have a ton to offer Boston at the moment that makes sense for both teams. However, if they can swing a trade involving the aforementioned players (or assets that are equally consequential), there’s really no reason not to pull the trigger.
At worst, DeBrusk continues his poor play for the remainder of the season and comes off the books when all is said and done. At best? The Devils find a reinvigorated young goalscorer that could become a mainstay in the top-six for years to come if they act on his RFA status following 2021-22. It’s definitely worth a shot.
Vincent Velotta is an NYC based freelance journalist who covers the New Jersey Devils for The Hockey Writers. He has covered sports and entertainment for a variety of outlets including the Village Voice, Minute Media, and more.