At 21-31-5 heading into tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, it seems obvious that the New Jersey Devils would be sellers at the trade deadline on March 21. While they may end up moving some players, it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion they’ll be sellers. In fact, it seems highly unlikely there’s a firesale coming in New Jersey, especially with some impressive wins lately and a lack of potential rentals on their roster. Rather, they could be buyers come the deadline in a week and a half. Why is that the case?
Jack Hughes would be on pace for 96 points in 82 games, while Jesper Bratt is a point-per-game player and has been one of the best wingers in the NHL this season. Their blue line has a solid top-four, and they have more talent on the way in Luke Hughes, Reilly Walsh and Shakir Mukhamadullin. Given some of the strides the Devils have made this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if general manager Tom Fitzgerald were looking for some long-term additions over the next 10-plus days. What could he be seeking? Let’s take a look.
Goaltending Likely Atop the List
It’s no secret the Devils’ season has been undone by some less than stellar goaltending. Nico Daws has played well lately, totaling a .919 save percentage (SV%) over his last six starts. But he just turned 21 years old in December, so Fitzgerald likely doesn’t want to rush him into being a full-time NHLer. He could possibly look for a long-term solution by March 21, and there are some names reportedly available that could interest him.
Alexandar Georgiev was No. 12 on Frank Seravalli’s most recent trade board update and was in the top 10 in TSN’s most recent trade bait update. His name has long been in the rumor mill, and it looks like he could be on the move by the trade deadline. A change of scenery made do him good as well, as his SV% over the last two seasons is .899.
Would the New York Rangers be willing to make a trade to their Hudson River rivals? Former Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton had done so, but that may not be how current GM Chris Drury operates. The Devils would be taking a risk on a goaltender whose numbers have declined since 2018-19. But he has a track record of being an above-average goalie, and an improving Devils defense could help him get back on track. He shouldn’t cost more than a couple of draft picks (not a 1st-rounder), given his situation.
Per TSN’s trade bait list, Washington Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov could also be available in a trade. He had a strong rookie season in 2019-20, posting a .913 SV% in 26 games. But he’s failed to build off that over the last two seasons, with just a .901 SV% in 51 games. Those numbers might not be impressive, but he just turned 25 years old two weeks ago. Could a change of scenery benefit him as well? It might, so the Devils could consider him as an option too, as long as the price isn’t out of their ballpark.
With Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier having missed most of the season with injuries, there’s no doubt upgrading goaltending is on Fitzgerald’s to-do list. With that said, acquiring a long-term fix seems like an offseason move rather than a trade deadline transaction. However, Seravalli did also report the Devils are seeking a short-term goaltending option to help ease Daws’ workload. He can’t start all 25 games left on the schedule, so that’s something to keep an eye on heading into the deadline as well.
Find a Scorer to Complement Hughes & Hischier
After goaltending, acquiring a scorer seems to be a priority for the Devils. They’ve been linked to names such as Conor Garland, Brock Boeser and Brandon Hagel over the last few weeks. The Fourth Period also recently connected them to Philadelphia Flyers winger Travis Konecny. The two organizations have never made a trade with each other, but there is a first time for everything.
Konecny is an interesting fit for the Devils. He’s having a down season, with nine goals and 33 points in 54 games. However, some poor shooting luck is at work — his shooting percentage of 6.2 percent is well below his career shooting percentage of 11.7 percent. For that reason, he’s a prime bounce-back candidate moving forward. He’s averaged 51 points per 82 games for his career and is a pest to play against. I’d file a potential trade in the “long shot” category given the two team’s history of not linking up on a deal. Plus, the Flyers’ ask will likely be a bit too much for Fitzgerald since he’s the GM of a long-time division rival.
I’ve spoken at length about Boeser, Garland and Hagel in previous posts over the last few weeks, but I think it is worth re-visiting Boeser again. Given the news that’s come out lately, it sure does seem that if the Canucks move a forward, it’ll be Boeser.
Boeser has his flaws. He’s not a great five-on-five scorer, so he really needs to make a living on the power play to produce. He’s also not a play driver, so he’ll need linemates that can carry a line. That’s not an issue in New Jersey with Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier. But for what he may cost to re-sign — he has a $7.4 million qualifying offer as a restricted free agent this summer — it’ll be interesting to see how hard the Devils pursue a trade for him.
Jack Hughes’ $64 million extension kicks in next season, while Bratt is in line for a significant payday this summer as an RFA, one that could see him earn close to $7 million annually. Is Boeser worth that kind of money on a long-term deal too? I’d argue no, and that’s why Fitzgerald could look elsewhere, maybe for a depth scorer in the meantime.
Related: Devils News & Rumors: Boeser & Hagel
One winger he could turn his attention to is Jake DeBrusk. After struggling mightily during the pandemic shortened 2020-21 campaign, he’s rebounded nicely this season with 15 goals in 52 games. That’d put him on pace for 24 goals, which would be the second-most of his career. He’s not the scorer Boeser is, but he’s a capable middle-six winger who can put up 20-25 goals a year. He shouldn’t cost the Devils their best trade chips, which should leave Fitzgerald in a spot to find that top-end scoring winger during the offseason when he may be more likely to acquire what he’s looking for.
Devils’ Lack of Rentals Puts Them in Position To Buy
Truth be told is that the Devils don’t have many tradeable players ahead of this trade deadline. P.K. Subban is a pending unrestricted free agent, but he carries a cap hit of $9 million. It might be hard to find a suitor for him because most contenders can’t afford to fit in his cap hit, even if the Devils retain salary. Jimmy Vesey is also a UFA, but other than those two, that’s it.
Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood popped up on Seravalli’s most recent trade board update, but it’d be a surprise if the Devils traded him ahead of the deadline. Though I will say, it is curious he switched agents just 12 days before the deadline. Damon Severson has been on various trade boards as well, but it’d likely take a massive offer for Fitzgerald to deal him.
Because the Devils lack any rentals for contenders, it’s not unreasonable to say they’re more likely to be buyers by March 21. Fitzgerald won’t make a trade for the sake of making one. But if the opportunity to acquire a talent that helps them for the next few seasons lands on his table, he should do it. The Detroit Red Wings did so when they acquired Jakub Vrana at the 2021 deadline, so don’t be surprised if Fitzgerald tries to pull something similar.
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