The New Jersey Devils may still be holding out hope to try and turn around the 2019-20 season. But things are looking bleak, as they sit at 9-16-5 on the season and haven’t won a game since American Thanksgiving. Interim head coach Alain Nasreddine has a tall task ahead of him, and it’ll only get harder as the Feb. 24 Trade Deadline approaches.
The hope heading into the season was the Devils would go into the Trade Deadline as buyers, but it’s become quite clear selling is the only option. General manager Ray Shero has some valuable trade chips on his roster, and he needs to recoup some assets to begin a quick turnaround to make the team contenders for next season.
The Trade Candidates
We’ll start with the trade candidate everyone is talking about, and that’s Hall. Rumors are running wild, with teams like the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes considered to be frontrunners. And any trade involving Hall may yield quite the return, as it could take as many as four pieces to acquire him.
Hall hasn’t been quite himself this season, with 25 points in 30 games, but a change of scenery should benefit him. With that said, Shero shouldn’t sell short on Hall. This is a trade that could alter the look of the franchise, so maxing out the return is crucial. If it’s four pieces he wants, that could entail two top prospects, as well as two draft picks — one conditional depending on if Hall signs an extension with the team acquiring him. At worst, they should come away with at least one top prospect and a couple of draft picks. And that’ll help get the reset started.
The Devils acquired Vatanen in 2017 when they traded Adam Henrique to the Anaheim Ducks, and he played a significant role in their run to the playoffs that season. He’s in the final year of his contract and is on pace to finish with 39 points, the most he’s had since 2015-16. So he picked a good time to have a career season.
But as well as he’s played, it might make the most sense for the Devils to trade Vatanen. He’ll be 29 at the start of next season and is due a pay raise from his $4.5 million base salary. The Devils need young, cost-effective talent in hitting the reset button, and Vatanen could help net that in a trade. He’s a right-handed shot that plays top-four minutes, so it isn’t unreasonable to expect a good prospect and a draft pick in return for him.
The Devils signed Simmonds to help their need at right-wing. He has only 11 points in 30 games, but it hasn’t been for the lack of shots and chances. He’s fired 68 shots on goal but has only four goals to show for it — a 5.9 shooting percentage. His underlying numbers have also rebounded after a poor 2018-19, so a team looking to add scoring and a physical presence would benefit from having him.
It’s hard to imagine the return for Simmonds being anything outrageous, but that shouldn’t affect Shero’s decision to trade him. He’s on an expiring contract, and there isn’t a fit for him on the Devils moving forward. The Devils got a second-round pick for Brian Boyle in early Feb. 2019 (he had 19 points at the time). Simmonds should reach that mark by this season’s Trade Deadline, especially if his poor shooting luck turns around. So a similar return isn’t out of the question.
Greene is in a bit of a different position than the rest of the team’s pending unrestricted free agents. He’s been the team’s captain since Oct. 2015, and it’s pretty unusual to see a team’s captain traded in the middle of the season. But at 37 years old, another shot at a Stanley Cup could be enticing, and that could persuade him to waive his no-trade clause (NTC) for one last shot with a contender.
If he chooses to waive his NTC, Greene should have a fair amount of suitors. He’s a veteran with plenty of experience and is one of the top penalty-killing defensemen in the league. Those are the type of deadline acquisitions teams like to add for a deep playoff run, so the Devils would be able to get some value for him. At the same time, no one would fault Greene if he decided to remain with the team where he’s spent his whole NHL career. And that wouldn’t be the worst thing, given a fair amount of Devils’ prospects should see action to end the season and would benefit from his presence.
Devils Shouldn’t Blow It All Up
The Devils shouldn’t be looking to start from scratch, and if they are, ownership will have to decide if Shero is the right person to do so. But what they should be looking to do is get things turned around to be playoff contenders in 2020-21. While getting prospects that are close to NHL-ready is important, Shero will also need draft picks heading into the offseason.
The Devils are not in the position to be trading away their top prospects like Jesper Boqvist or Ty Smith for NHL talent, so that’s where the extra picks come in handy. That’s how Shero acquired Nikita Gusev and Marcus Johansson in past trades, and it’d be fair to expect similar moves this summer. The team isn’t completely devoid of talent, either, so a quick reset could do the job. And considering they’ve made the playoffs once since 2011-12, another drawn-out rebuild should be a last resort.