Things are heating up as the April 12 NHL Trade Deadline is fast approaching. And with eight pending unrestricted free agents on their roster, the New Jersey Devils figure to be right in the thick of it all.
It’d be a surprise if they traded all their UFAs, but they’ll likely be looking to move a few of them out to acquire some assets.
One of those pending UFAs is Kyle Palmieri, whose name is starting to draw all kinds of attention in the rumor mill. Plus, a look at Dmitry Kulikov and why he may be the Devils’ most valuable trade chip on defense. Also, should head coach Lindy Ruff change up Yegor Sharangovich’s deployment? Let’s dive into the latest news.
Avs Make Suitable Trade Partner for Palmieri
Yesterday morning, TSN’s Pierre Lebrun took to Twitter and provided an update on Palmieri and where things stand between him and the Devils.
Lebrun would go on to add in a subsequent tweet that he doesn’t see an extension coming between Palmieri and the Devils and that a trade is the most likely outcome.
Later in the afternoon, The Fourth Period provided their own update on Palmieri. The usual suspects — the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, and Toronto Maple Leafs — were among interested suitors for him.
But The Fourth Period also had a few other intriguing teams listed in their post, namely the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche have been a buzzsaw in the Western Conference, and they’ve long seemed like a fit for Palmieri.
If the two teams were to link up for a trade, the Avalanche have the assets to make a deal work. In most cases, a first-round pick would be a high price for Palmieri. But the Avs’ first-round choice is likely to be in the high 20s, perhaps the low 30s, depending on how far they go in the playoffs. The Devils would take a first for Palmieri, no problem, though don’t expect anything more than a first if that’s what the return is.
But let’s say a first-round pick is off the table, then things get a bit more complicated. The Avalanche are without second-round choices in 2021 or 2022 after moving them to acquire Devon Toews from the Islanders. Would the Devils take a 2023 second-rounder if a prospect is included too? We’ll see, but it doesn’t carry a ton of value.
The Devils could also settle for a 2021 third-round pick, but that could get them a better prospect. A third-round pick and someone like Justin Barron would probably interest the Devils. Conor Timmins and Alex Beaucage are two other Avs’ prospects that they’d likely have their eyes on.
Either way, the Avalanche have the assets to meet the Devils’ demands. Plus, Palmieri should fit in quite well on a high-scoring Avs team. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the two clubs connect on a deal.
Kulikov a Valuable Trade Chip
When the Devils signed Kulikov to a one-year deal this offseason, the thought was he’d be a third-pair or depth defender. As it turns out, he’s been much more than that.
Kulikov has just two points in 34 games, but make no mistake; he’s been the Devils’ best defensive defenseman this season. His even-strength defense has been worth a goals above replacement (GAR) of 4.1, the best mark on the team by a mile. That total is also fifth-best among all defensemen in the NHL. That’s not a typo; he has been that good, at least defensively.
And while Kulikov isn’t known as an offensive defenseman, he’s had a positive impact offensively at even strength:
It’s tough to figure out what the Devils can fetch for Kulikov in this environment. They received a second-round pick and a low-level prospect for Andy Greene at last season’s trade deadline. Because Kulikov’s cap hit is only $1.15 million, I don’t think that kind of return is out of reach.
Most buyers, specifically those who are legit Cup contenders, are tight on cap space. But with Kulikov’s cap hit and base salary being so low, most teams should be able to fit him in for a playoff run, especially those who don’t want to add significant salary to their rosters.
Getting a prospect, even a low-level one, for Kulikov might be a stretch. But the Devils should able to get a second-round pick considering his play and low financial cost. Teams like the Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers would make sense as suitors.
There’s also a good argument for the Devils re-signing Kulikov. He won’t cost much to do so and fits in well with their system. With that said, his value will never be higher. Because of that, it’s probably best they trade him now and try to re-sign him in the offseason as they did with Sami Vatanen this past offseason.
Sharangovich Struggling Defensively
Sharangovich has been one of the Devils’ feel-good stories this season. After tearing up the KHL while on loan with Dinamo Minsk, he’s shown he can play in the NHL. But if there’s one area where he needs work, it’s defensively:
Sharangovich has struggled in his own zone, as the chart shows (xGA/60, CA/60). His even-strength defense has been worth a GAR of minus-2.6, second-worst on the Devils. So how can Ruff get him going defensively?
One idea worth considering is taking Sharangovich off Travis Zajac’s line. Zajac usually gets hard matched against opponents’ top lines, meaning he’s playing the toughest defensive minutes. At the same time, Sharangovich, Zajac, and Janne Kuokkanen have contributed on the offensive end. There’s a good argument for keeping them together because they can score. But easing their defensive assignments and getting them more offensive minutes would probably benefit everyone involved, but especially Sharangovich.
That wraps up this edition of Devils news and rumors. Make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers with the trade deadline almost a week away.
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Advanced stats from Evolving-Hockey