At 9-13-4, it’s clear where the New Jersey Devils stand as they approach the halfway point of their season. They’re almost sure to miss the playoffs again, meaning they will be sellers come the April 12 trade deadline.
With less than a month to go until then, names have already begun floating around the rumor mill, one of those being Devils’ right winger Kyle Palmieri. He has 12 points in 25 games, a down season by his standards, though poor shooting luck has played a part in that.
The Devils would probably like to get him re-signed. But if they can’t, he’s sure to have suitors as the deadline approaches. In his latest edition of 31 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman mentioned he could see the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, and Toronto Maple Leafs as destinations for Palmieri. Let’s dive into what each team could offer the Devils in return. Plus, a look at one other club not mentioned by Friedman who could make sense as a trade partner.
The Bruins are once again one of the top teams in the NHL. They’re 15-8-4, but in a loaded East Division, that’s good for just fourth place, barely enough to make the playoffs. They have the Philadelphia Flyers, who are three points behind the Bruins, breathing down their backs for the final playoff spot in the division.
As usual, the Bruins are led by Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. But the team could use a significant upgrade in scoring depth behind them. And that’s where Palmieri comes in. He’s averaged 29 goals per 82 games in five-plus seasons with the Devils and would improve the Bruins’ power play. He should have no problem slotting somewhere in their top-six too.
Determining what the Bruins could offer the Devils in return is difficult. They have one of the worst, if not the worst, farm systems in the league. If the Devils are looking to strike a futures deal, then the Bruins may not be the best fit.
However, there is one roster player the Bruins have who should interest the Devils. Jake DeBrusk has struggled this season, with six points in 20 games, and sits at no. 15 on TSN’s trade bait list. On the surface, he might not seem like an enticing return for Palmieri, but there’s more than meets the eye.
From 2017-20, DeBrusk totaled a goals above replacement (GAR) of 36.8, the 25th best mark for a forward in that span. He scored 27 goals in 2018-19 and had 19 in 65 games last season, a 24-goal pace over 82 games. He’s shooting just five percent this season and is a 12.8 percent shooter for his career. Combine with that his underlying numbers, and he’s a prime change of scenery, bounce-back candidate.
DeBrusk is under contract through next season at a cap hit of $3.675 million and will be a restricted free agent when it expires. He’s only 24 years old, so he fits in with the rest of the Devils’ young roster. If they can obtain a later pick along with DeBrusk, they’d surely take it. But this is a case where a one-for-one swap should work for both sides.
Toronto Maple Leafs
In a media availability on Tuesday, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas was not shy about what his plans are for the deadline. Their focus will be acquiring a rental, and he said he’d be willing to give up a top prospect and/or high draft pick if the fit is perfect.
The Maple Leafs have been a consistent playoff team for a few seasons. But unlike the Bruins, they have a deep farm system to make a futures deal plausible. Their top prospects include Timothy Liljegren, Rodion Amirov and Nick Robertson (Rasmus Sandin is off the table, per Dubas). If the Devils can get one of those three for Palmieri, you take the deal and run.
With that said, it’s hard to see Dubas giving up any of them for Palmieri. Fortunately, they have an intriguing second tier of prospects who should interest the Devils.
Veeti Miettinen is a small right wing (5-foot-9, 160 pounds) who had a strong freshman season at St. Cloud University with 23 points in 27 games. He was one of St. Cloud’s top players and showed impressive offensive instincts and work ethic in his freshman season (From ‘Wheeler’s 2021 NHL prospect pool rankings: No. 13 Toronto Maple Leafs’, The Athletic – 1/29/2021).
The Leafs acquired winger Filip Hallander as part of the deal that sent Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Hallander’s had a strong season in the SHL with Luleå, totaling 12 goals and 22 points in 47 games. Center/right wing Mikhail Abramov plays for the Victoriaville Tigres in the QMJHL and has 21 points in 19 games this season. Both have the potential to fit on a middle-six line in the NHL.
If the Devils can land one of those three and a second-round pick, then there’s probably a deal to be had. Miettinen should be of particular interest because he has the most upside. Hallander has a good track record of producing in the SHL at a young age and is the closest to NHL-ready, which may appeal to the Devils as well. And New Jersey has the ability to retain the salary needed to close a deal.
New York Islanders
With captain Anders Lee out for the season, the Islanders will likely be looking for scoring help for their playoff push. Their situation isn’t too different from the Bruins in that they don’t have a strong farm system. But they do have more to offer the Devils in a potential futures deal.
Otto Koivula could be one prospect who piques the Devils’ interest. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound winger had 11 points in 14 games while on loan with HIFK in the Liiga (Finland), though he hasn’t recorded a point in six AHL games since returning from his loan.
Still, Koivula has produced in the Liiga, totaling 68 points in 117 games in a pro league since 2016, all while being 22 years old or younger. He also had 21 goals and 45 points in 69 games in 2018-19, his first season in the AHL. Similar to Hallander, his track record of producing in pro leagues at a young age could appeal to the Devils.
The Islanders also have the Colorado Avalanche’s 2021 and 2022 second-round picks, which they acquired when they traded Devon Toews to the Avalanche, as well as their own second in 2022. One of those picks would be a good starting point for a deal between them and the Devils. But the choices are slim after Koivula if a prospect needs to be part of the return. And that could force the Devils to look elsewhere.
Speaking of the Avalanche, they’re one club that could be in search of some scoring depth to complement Nathan MacKinnon and the rest of their top offensive weapons. As The Hockey Writers Avery McGrail pointed out in a recent post, Palmieri is someone the Avs could target. He also mentioned the Avs would probably have to part with their first-round pick, which will likely fall somewhere in the late 20s.
If the Avs are willing to let go of their 2021 first, that alone may be enough for the Devils to deal Palmieri. If not, then things could get tricky. As mentioned, the Avs are without a second-round pick until 2023. If the Devils aren’t getting a first for him, they’re probably going to want a prospect and a second-rounder in return.
Would the Avs give up a first and a prospect for Palmieri? That package would be close to the return the Devils got for Blake Coleman at the 2020 Trade Deadline. The difference here is Palmieri is on an expiring contract, while Coleman had a season left on his deal at a cap hit of less than $2 million. It’d probably take the Devils retaining salary to get a return similar to Coleman’s. Even then, that may be a stretch. But just getting a first from Colorado should be enough to make a deal work.
Devils in Win-Win With Palmieri
Were Palmieri producing at his career rates and teams had the cash flow to add salary, the Devils would probably make out pretty well in a trade. They still can, but the return for him isn’t likely to be what it would’ve been under normal circumstances.
If they manage to acquire a first-round pick from any contender, they’d presumably take it. If not, their price will likely be a second-round pick and a high upside prospect.
There’s no question the Maple Leafs have the best assets to meet the Devils’ asking price. Palmieri has a modified no-trade clause, and it’s probably a good bet most Canadian teams are on it. The Leafs are legit contenders, so perhaps he’d waive it, if they’re one of the teams on it, to join them for a potentially deep playoff run.
The Devils are also under no obligation to trade Palmieri if they can’t find a deal that satisfies them. He’s having a down season, but poor shooting luck is a significant factor in the lackluster results. They should be able to re-sign him to a deal cheaper than they would’ve a year ago as a result. It could be the route general manager Tom Fitzgerald decides to take when it’s time to make a decision. And if that’s the case, they’re in an enviable position where they should come out with a good result either way.
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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