Tom Fitzgerald was in a bit of an awkward spot entering Monday’s trade deadline. As the New Jersey Devils’ interim general manager, he was auditioning for a job he hopes to land permanently. He got ahead of the action last weekend by trading away Andy Greene and Blake Coleman. But his work wasn’t finished with those two moves.
The Devils sent Sami Vatanen to the Carolina Hurricanes, while Wayne Simmonds waived his no-trade clause to go to the Buffalo Sabres. All these moves marked the first significant transactions of Fitzgerald’s stint as GM. How did he fare with the spotlight on him? Here’s how each trade graded out.
Devils Trade Coleman to Tampa Bay Lightning for Nolan Foote and a First-Round Pick (A-)
This was arguably the best move Fitzgerald pulled off over the last week. Coleman had become a fan favorite in New Jersey and was having a career season. He had 21 goals in 57 games at the time of the trade, putting him on pace to finish with over 30. But what the Lightning were offering in return was too good to pass up.
Foote was the Lightning’s first-round selection in the 2019 Entry Draft. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound winger plays for the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL, and was considered the Lightning’s top prospect. He’s missed a good chunk of the season with an injury, but he still ranks third in scoring on the Rockets, with 33 points in 27 games.
Foote is an average skater, but it shouldn’t hold him back once he turns pro. He has a rocket of a shot and will find ways to score goals in the NHL, especially on the power play. The Devils did not have a forward with his potential in their pipeline before acquiring him. He becomes the team’s second-best prospect behind Ty Smith, and he should be playing professionally next season.
The Devils also obtained a first-round pick, which originally belonged to the Vancouver Canucks, and it has conditions on it — if the Canucks miss the playoffs, the pick slides to 2021. But if they manage to hold on to their playoff spot in the Pacific Division, the pick stays in 2020, giving the Devils three first-rounders in a loaded draft. That gives them the option to keep building up their pipeline or to use the extra picks as trade bait.
Devils Trade Greene to the New York Islanders for Second-Round Pick and David Quenneville (A-)
There was some uncertainty as to what the Devils would do with Greene at the deadline. He was on an expiring contract, but he had a full no-trade clause and has been with the team for his entire career. With that said, the Islanders are a perfect fit for him.
Greene is not the defenseman he once was at even-strength, but he’s still one of the best penalty killers in the league. And with the Islanders having a middle-of-the-pack penalty kill at the time of the trade, it made sense for them to target him. It also doesn’t hurt Islanders’ GM Lou Lamoriello is familiar with Greene from his days with the Devils.
But even though the Islanders needed an upgrade on their penalty kill, they paid quite the price for Greene. When the Devils traded Ben Lovejoy in 2019, they received a third-round pick and Connor Carrick. His situation was no different than Greene’s, either, as he was on an expiring contract and was one of the top penalty killers in the league.
The expectation was the return for Greene would be similar to that of Lovejoy’s. But Fitzgerald managed to get a package a step above it. The Devils were without their 2021 second-round pick after they used it to acquire Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights. So they were able to recoup that and still managed to land a prospect in Quenneville. Whether he turns into an NHLer is in question, but he’ll provide defensive depth in the AHL.
Devils Trade Simmonds to the Sabres for a Fifth-Round Pick (B-)
The Devils signed Simmonds to a one-year deal worth $5 million over the summer. The hope was he’d bounce back after a tough 2018-19 and help be a part of what the team needed to return to the postseason. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way, as he had 24 points in 61 games before being traded on Monday.
Simmonds was never going to get the Devils an outlandish return. With that said, it was a bit surprising Fitzgerald wasn’t able to get a bit more for the veteran winger (a third-round pick would’ve been reasonable). But he also had an eight-team, no-trade list that could’ve lowered his value.
When the dust settled, it was smart for Fitzgerald to move Simmonds, even it was for a lesser return. He’s not the forward he used to be and doesn’t figure to be part of their plans heading into next season. If the Sabres somehow make the playoffs and he plays in 10 games, the pick turns into a 2021 fourth-round selection, which could make for a slightly better return.
Devils Trade Vatanen to the Hurricanes for Conditional Fourth-Round Pick, Janne Kuokkanen, and Fredrik Claesson (B+)
Vatanen’s injury status may have played a part in what the Devils got in return for him, as he’s been out of action since the beginning of the month. But Fitzgerald still did well in getting valuable assets for the 28-year-old defenseman. We’ll start with the draft pick, which has a few conditions contingent on his health.
If Vatanen plays in five-plus games for the Hurricanes, the Devils get a fourth-round pick. If he plays in 12-plus games or 70% of the Hurricanes’ playoff games, it turns into a third-round pick. The catch here is the Devils won’t receive any pick if he plays in less than five games, so they’ll be rooting for him to return to the ice soon.
While it’d be nice if the Devils end up with a pick, the centerpiece of the deal is Kuokkanen. The 21-year-old forward was a second-round selection of the Hurricanes at the 2016 Entry Draft. He was in the middle of his third AHL season and led the Charlotte Checkers with 42 points in 52 games. He projects as a third-line forward in the NHL and becomes one of the Devils’ top 10 prospects.
There’s also the Devils’ acquisition of Claesson. It may not seem like much, but he has 151 games of NHL experience in his career. He provides almost no offense but has had a generally positive impact on defense when in the NHL. He’ll join the team and will play right away. And if he does well, he may be worth re-signing this offseason for depth on the blue line.
Devils Trade Louis Domingue to Vancouver Canucks for Zane McIntyre (B-)
The Devils acquired Domingue from the Lightning earlier in the season, but things did not work out all that well. He played in 16 games and had just a .882 save percentage (SV%) backing up Mackenzie Blackwood. The Devils are looking to give Cory Schneider one last shot in the NHL, so it made sense to move Domingue.
The Canucks will be without Jacob Markstrom for 3-4 weeks after he suffered a knee injury. So they needed organizational depth in between the pipes, and that’s what they get with Domingue. McIntyre has spent his whole career in the AHL, and he’ll give the Binghamton Devils some insurance behind netminder Gilles Senn, who has been terrific over the last month.
Overall, Fitzgerald did what was best for the franchise. There was no sense in hanging on to players who were unlikely to be part of the team’s future. And in the process, the Devils now head into a stacked 2020 Entry Draft with multiple first-round picks. They also have an improved prospect pool after the additions of Foote and Kuokkanen, both of whom are among the team’s top 10. Add all those together, and the team’s future seems to be looking up amid a trying season.