Devils Lose Bastian to Kraken…What Comes Next?

Yesterday, the New Jersey Devils lost right-winger Nathan Bastian to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. The 23-year-old finished with 10 points in 41 games and found good chemistry with linemates Miles Wood and Michael McLeod on the fourth line this season. The Devils now have to replace Bastian, but fortunately, they have some good options to do so.

Because the Kraken selected Bastian, that means Andreas Johnsson, P.K. Subban, Will Butcher and Nick Merkley, who were also left exposed, will remain in New Jersey. How do they factor into the Devils’ plans moving forward, if at all? Plus, how could some of the Kraken’s decisions affect the Devils on the trade market when the trade freeze lifts at 1 PM today? 

Replacing Bastian

Bastian found a role for himself in the NHL last season. Though his point totals don’t pop off the page — 10 points in 41 games equates to 20 over 82 games — he still gave them depth. He had a Corsi percentage (CF%) of 49.9 percent and expected goals percentage (xG%) of 50.2 percent. His defensive impact was positive, and he generated the most high-danger chances per 60 minutes of any Devil. He also added some much-needed physical edge among their forwards. 

Thankfully, the Devils have some good options to replace Bastian, both internally and externally. We’ll start with Merkley, who had mixed results in 2020-21. The good was he averaged 1.88 points per 60 minutes, which tied Jesper Bratt for second on the team. On the other hand, his CF% and xG% were both well below 50 percent, meaning he needs to improve away from the puck. If he can add some speed and strength this offseason, he could end up as Bastian’s replacement. 

Nathan Bastian New Jersey Devils
Former New Jersey Devils winger Nathan Bastian (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The two other potential internal replacements for Bastian are prospects in Marián Studenič and Fabian Zetterlund. Studenič suited up in eight NHL games this past season and potted his first career goal. He might still need some more seasoning before becoming an NHL regular, but he has the mold of a modern bottom-six winger. He skates well, works hard on the forecheck and can kill penalties. If he can find some offense to his game, then he’s a possible replacement. 

Zetterlund is only 5-foot-11 but checks in at 218 pounds. He plays hard but also has some offensive upside due to his wicked shot. He finished with 19 points in 34 AHL games this season, a step up from the 19 points in 46 games he had in 2019-20. He doesn’t look too far off from being NHL ready, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ends up as the favorite to replace Bastian. His rugged style of play isn’t far off from Bastian’s either. 

If the Devils look for external replacements, they’ll have some options in free agency. Names to consider are Josh Leivo, Colton Sceviour, Joel Armia and Vinnie Hinostroza. All four are quality bottom-six wingers with good two-way impacts, but Leivo and Hinostroza are particularly interesting. 

Leivo has been an efficient bottom-six scorer, averaging 1.45 points/60 at five-on-five over the last three seasons. Meanwhile, Hinostroza was on pace for 37 points in 82 games this season, and he’s been a sneaky efficient scorer since the start of 2018-19, averaging 1.69 points/60. Both players have had positive two-way impacts at even strength as well: 

Josh Leivo, Vinnie Hinostroza
EV RAPM Type (per 60), Standardized, 18-21 (via Evolving-Hockey)

Both Hinostroza and Leivo should come on cheap one-year deals and could even add a bit more at even strength than Bastian. So while it may hurt to lose Bastian, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone who can fill his role. 

Where Johnsson, Butcher, Subban Fit In

I’ve written quite a bit about Johnsson this offseason and why the Devils should bet on him bouncing back, so I won’t spend too much time on it now. Simply put, they should reap the benefits of the Kraken passing over him. 

Johnsson struggled in his first season with the Devils; there’s no denying it. But he posted strong underlying numbers and was one of their better defensive forwards. Johnsson’s individual point percentage dropped to 40 percent after he had an IPP of 64.9 percent over his previous two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s usually a good indicator of someone due to rebound because his IPP should regress to the mean. That doesn’t mean he’ll suddenly become a 30-goal, 60-point scorer, but he should return closer to the 45 points per 82 games he averaged with the Maple Leafs. 

Related: Devils Get the Ideal Top Defenseman With Graves Trade

As for Subban and Butcher, it’s hard to envision their roles with the team moving forward, especially Butcher. He was a healthy scratch for over 50 percent of the season and is not a fit for head coach Lindy Ruff’s up-tempo, rush-based system due to his poor skating. Butcher has one year left on his deal at a reasonable cap hit of $3,733,333. He could appeal to teams on the trade market because of that and decent past results. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Devils looked to move him over the next couple of weeks. 

Subban is not the defenseman he used to be, and it wouldn’t have hurt the Devils’ on-ice results if the Kraken selected him. With that said, the Devils are at $10,220,001 below the salary cap floor at the moment, so losing his cap hit would’ve put the team in a bind. His name has been subject to trade rumors and will likely continue to be if they make further additions to the blue line. So his future in New Jersey appears murky at best. 

Kraken’s Decisions Could Affect Devils’ Trade Options

There were some pretty big-name players available for the Kraken yesterday, most notably Vladimir Tarasenko. It’s no secret that he wants out of St. Louis. But the Kraken still decided to pass on the Russian winger, even though they could’ve acquired assets for flipping him. The Devils have been linked to Tarasenko and are one of a few teams willing to eat his entire $7.5 million cap hit (From “Why Vladimir Tarasenko isn’t on the Blues’ protected list for the expansion draft,” The Athletic – 7/17/2021). So, what happens next?

Vladimir Tarasenko St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It’s highly likely the Blues trade Tarasenko in the coming days, and I’d bet on the Devils continuing trade talks with them. Because everyone knows Tarasenko wants out, the Blues have no leverage. I’d expect any team trying to acquire him will be in a good position to buy low. And that makes taking a flyer on Tarasenko worth the risk, even though he’s only played in 34 games over the last two seasons due to shoulder problems

Buying low probably wouldn’t have been an option if the Kraken drafted Tarasenko, however. They made it known they were asking for a pricey return if teams wanted to trade for a player they selected. 

I think it’s safe to say Tarasenko will not cost two firsts now that he remains with the Blues. He probably won’t even fetch one first. If the Devils can pull off a trade where they buy low, then it could be a low-risk, high-reward type of deal. And if healthy, he could provide a nice scoring upgrade alongside Jack Hughes.

Another player to keep an eye on is Shayne Gostisbehere. The Philadelphia Flyers left him exposed for the Kraken, but they also passed on selecting him. The Flyers had placed Gostisbehere on waivers earlier this season, so it seems like they’re trying to rid themselves of his $4.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons. If that’s the case, the Devils should also explore a trade for him. 

Related: Devils Should Steer Clear of These 6 Free Agents

Gostisbehere is not the defenseman he was a few seasons ago, but he’s still a high-end puck-mover and excels in transition. That should make him a good fit for Ruff’s system, which emphasizes having mobile puck-moving defensemen. Gostisbehere would likely come with a sweetener attached, perhaps a second or third-round pick. And that’d be worth it, especially since he can still have a positive impact as an offensive defenseman. 

All in all, the Devils could’ve had much worse outcomes at the expansion draft. Bastian is a good role player, but they shouldn’t have much trouble finding a replacement. They also retained Johnsson, who’s a good bounce-back candidate. And in protecting McLeod, they keep their center depth intact on their fourth line. Given how things could’ve gone, the Devils are sitting right where they want to be. 

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