The NHL Trade Deadline is close to 48 hours away, and there’s no shortage of rumors hitting the airwaves. Yesterday on the latest 32 Thoughts podcast (25:20 into the episode), Elliotte Friedman had plenty of tidbits about the New Jersey Devils, including on Mackenzie Blackwood and the team’s search for scoring wingers. Plus, Friedman gives his thoughts on Ty Smith and whether the Devils would consider moving him before Monday afternoon’s deadline.
Blackwood Is Available
It’s been a trying year for the Devils and Blackwood, and Friedman mentioned as much. Among what he reported is the injury situation between Blackwood and the Devils has been difficult and that “they’ve had trouble getting on the same page.”
Friedman also dove into Blackwood’s COVID-19 vaccination status and how that caused a strain between the two sides. For those who don’t remember, Blackwood was one of a handful of NHL players who were not vaccinated against COVID-19 to start the 2021-22 season. He eventually got the jab, but it affected the team’s start to the new campaign and left a sour taste among Devils management.
Blackwood had gotten off to a decent start to 2021-22, but it quickly unraveled a few weeks into the season. They eventually placed him on injured reserve on Jan. 25 with the same heel injury the two sides have had difficulty getting on the same page about. He has not played since then, leaving him with an .894 save percentage (SV%) this season. His goals saved above expected (GSAx) of -11.73 is also among the bottom 10 in the league for qualified starting netminders.
Blackwood once looked like the Devils’ goalie of the future. But his last two seasons of work seemed to have changed that opinion among Devils management — he has an SV% of .899 and GSAx of -24.35 over that stretch. He also switched agents two weeks, and as Friedman speculated, a player doesn’t change agents because he’s happy with his situation. It appears the writing is on the wall between Blackwood and the Devils. He might not get moved by Monday’s trade deadline, but it does look like a safe bet to happen sometime this offseason.
Devils Searching for Wingers
This isn’t breaking news, but Friedman once again confirmed the Devils are searching for wingers to play alongside Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported the Devils and Vancouver Canucks had a trade centered around Brock Boeser that involved Pavel Zacha going to Vancouver. But those talks broke down because the two sides couldn’t make it work.
The Devils have been linked to Canucks forward Conor Garland, who has four years remaining on his contract after 2021-22 at a cap hit of $4.95 million. The Fourth Period also connected the Devils to Philadelphia Flyers winger Travis Konecny, who has term left on his deal as well. By looking at those names, it’s clear Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald is searching for wingers with multiple years left on their contracts.
Related: Devils Have Better Options Than Canadiens in Zacha Trade
The question now is, can he find that winger over the next 48 hours? Garland is a possibility, but acquiring a winger or two to play alongside Hughes and Hischier seems more like a move that happens over the summer than at the trade deadline. Still, it shows what the plan is heading into the offseason if Fitzgerald doesn’t find what he’s looking for by Monday.
Ty Smith Trade Isn’t Impossible
Friedman also touched on Ty Smith, who Marek asked about and whether the Devils could trade him. Friedman mentioned he would’ve said no chance a year ago but that it’s something that’s “not impossible now,” though he didn’t know how likely it was. Smith has struggled this season with just 15 points in 50 games and has even been a healthy scratch on a few occasions.
Based on what we talked about above, it’s clear the Devils are looking for proven NHL scorers. The issue there is they have to give up something of worth, and Smith could be that trade chip. Does it make sense for the Devils to part with him, given that he turns 22 years old this week and is in just his second NHL season?
Smith’s defensive impact has been the worst among Devils players in 2021-22 — his even-strength defense has been worth an expected goals above replacement (xGAR) of -4.4. However, his even-strength offense has been worth an xGAR of 0.8, so he has been better in that regard, even though the counting totals may not suggest it. There’s no doubt he has things to improve on, both defensively and offensively (he needs to get shots through traffic at a much higher rate). But should the Devils bet on him bouncing back?
It’s a difficult situation. Smith is only 22 years old and will reach 100 NHL games played on Tuesday against the New York Rangers. He’s always going to have defensive flaws, but his value comes as an offensive defenseman. The fact that he’s just about to hit 100 games played would make me wary of trading him. But at the same, if he doesn’t rebound next season, his value will begin plummeting. The Devils have Luke Hughes and Shakir Mukhamadullin coming through their system in the next year or two, so does that factor into the Devils’ thinking if they need to give up Smith for a scorer? It could, but it’d be a surprise if it did over the next 48 hours.
The rumors have been building, and things could get busy over the weekend leading into the Monday deadline. Make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest Devils and NHL coverage.
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