It’s been a long road to get to this point, but we’ve finally reached the NHL Trade Deadline. The New Jersey Devils got things going on Wednesday, trading Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to the New York Islanders for a package that included a 2021 first-round pick.
That should be the biggest move the Devils carry out before the deadline, but general manager Tom Fitzgerald could still have a couple of deals up his sleeve. Could he trade one of the team’s three pending unrestricted free agent defensemen?
Plus, an update on Nikita Gusev and his new NHL home after he and the Devils mutually terminated his contract after he was placed on unconditional waivers. Finally, a look at some new faces joining the Binghamton Devils.
Which Pending UFAs Could Devils Trade?
Fitzgerald got the hard part out of the way in trading Palmieri and Zajac away. In doing so, he managed to land a first-round pick, which is notable in an environment where a first will be hard to come by.
But even with Palmieri and Zajac now out on Long Island, the Devils could still have a few more trades to pull off before tomorrow’s 3 PM deadline. Among their pending UFAs are three defensemen in Dmitry Kulikov, Ryan Murray and Sami Vatanen. It’d be a surprise if all three end up on the outs, but it’s hard to imagine Fitzgerald keeping all three too.
The market wasn’t looking great for sellers. But that changed yesterday, especially if you’re looking to trade away a defenseman. The Florida Panthers acquired Brandon Montour from the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired David Savard from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick.
Montour struggled mightily in Buffalo, so the Sabres made out well in getting a third-rounder. Savard is one of the top defensive defensemen in the league, but the Lightning still paid an incredibly high price to acquire him. And you can bet Fitzgerald has taken notice of the market, considering he has three pending UFA defensemen on his roster.
The most interesting trade chip Fitzgerald has is Kulikov. I noted Savard is one of the better defensive defensemen in the league. Well, Kulikov isn’t far behind. Savard’s even strength defense has been worth a goals above replacement (GAR) of 4.1 this season; Kulikov’s has been worth a GAR of 4. They’ve been two of the best defensive defensemen in the league.
Now, that doesn’t mean Kulikov will fetch the Devils a first-rounder. But it appears to be a seller’s market if you have a high-end defensive defenseman to trade away. He also has a cap hit of just $1.15 million, only adding to his value since teams that are tight on cap space can still afford him.
The Winnipeg Jets seem like a good fit, given their familiarity with Kulikov. The Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes could also be possible destinations. A second-round pick seems like a reasonable ask for him, and don’t rule out another additional asset, given what defensemen seem to be going for this deadline.
As for Murray and Vatanen, the Devils could trade either if the right offer comes along. But they also need bodies on the blue line to finish the season. Perhaps one goes, but it’d be a surprise if both get moved by tomorrow afternoon.
Gusev Likely Signing With Panthers
After a slow start to the 2020-21 season, the Devils and Gusev decided to mutually part ways. It appears the Panthers will be his new landing spot.
Gusev had five points in 20 games and had fallen out of favor with head coach Lindy Ruff. But he was one of the Devils’ best players during the 2019-20 season. He finished with 44 points in 66 games, a 55-point pace over 82 games, and was one of the most efficient five-on-five scorers in the league. However, he was never able to find a groove this season with a new coaching staff and system in place.
Under Ruff, the Devils have gone to more of a fast-paced, rush-based system. Gusev isn’t the fastest skater by any stretch, so the change in style seemed to affect him negatively.
Fortunately, the Panthers are a good destination for him. He should have the opportunity to play alongside one of Jonathan Huberdeau or Aleksander Barkov. Barkov has been one of the best players in the league and has an argument to be in the Hart Trophy conversation. So that should only help Gusev.
It may not have worked out for Gusev in New Jersey, at least this season. But he showed last season that he’s capable of playing in the NHL. He needs to be in the right system, and there isn’t much of a better fit for him than the Panthers right now.
Binghamton Getting Some Reinforcements
It’s been tough sledding for the Devils’ AHL affiliate, but the Binghamton Devils are getting some help. They announced they had signed Devils’ 2017 seventh-round pick Matt Hellickson to an AHL deal for the rest of the season. Binghamton’s defense has struggled mightily this season, so Hellickson should help. He’s already 23 years old and played four years at Notre Dame, serving as one of their alternate captains as a senior.
Binghamton also announced they had signed goaltender Mareks Mitens to an amateur tryout. Mitens finished his senior season at Lake Superior State with a save percentage (SV%) of .930. He had a SV% of .919 as a sophomore and .911 as a junior. If he shows well, he could find himself as the backup behind Gilles Senn for the rest of the season.
That does it for this edition of Devils news and rumors. Make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for all the latest updates as we approach tomorrow’s 3 PM trade deadline.
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Advanced stats from Evolving-Hockey