For the New Jersey Devils and general manager Tom Fitzgerald, the time to weaponize cap space is now. The Devils have about $37 million in cap space, meaning they’ll have plenty of room to make additions this offseason. And with the salary cap remaining flat at $81.5 million, other teams will be active on the trade market looking to free up money. That means there’ll be talented players on the move.
And that was all the more apparent when as part of his new gig with Daily Faceoff, Frank Seravalli revealed his top 20 players in play on the trade market this offseason. There were the most talked-about names — Jack Eichel, Seth Jones and Dougie Hamilton — who could be on the move as part of this summer’s blockbusters.
But there aren’t just star players that teams could deal this offseason. There’s also plenty of depth and talent that can help most teams strengthen their rosters. Let’s dive into Seravalli’s top 20 and single out a few potential trade targets the Devils could go after in the coming weeks.
It’s been a struggle for the Arizona Coyotes to score goals the last few years…unless you’re Garland. He finished this past season with 12 goals and 39 points in 49 games — a 20-goal, 65-point pace over 82 games. In the prior season, he finished with 22 goals and 39 points in 68 games. So his scoring has only improved since he had 13 goals and 18 points as a rookie in 2018-19.
Garland has quietly become one of the league’s more efficient five-on-five scorers since his rookie season, averaging 2.03 points per 60 minutes. That’s about equal to Taylor Hall and better than wingers such as Jonathan Marchessault, Gabriel Landeskog and Blake Wheeler. That doesn’t mean Garland is better than any of those forwards, but he can clearly score at a high level. And it’s worth noting Garland’s per 60 scoring rate has only increased in each of his three NHL seasons.
The Coyotes have also controlled most of the shot attempts and expected goals with Garland on the ice. His Corsi for percentage (CF%) is a solid 51.9 percent, while his expected goals percentage (xG%) is 52.7 percent in his three NHL seasons. That’s pretty impressive, considering the Coyotes are below 50 percent in each stat over that stretch.
Garland is a restricted free agent this summer and is due a big pay raise from his $775,000 cap hit. Evolving-Hockey projects him to land a four-year deal with a cap hit just under $4.7 million, pretty good value for any team that signs him. He’s 25 years old and fits the Devils’ timeline of Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier hitting their primes a couple of years from now. As long as the Coyotes’ ask isn’t too outrageous, Garland would be an ideal fit to strengthen the Devils’ offense.
Dermott‘s counting totals aren’t anything to write home about — he only has 47 points in 204 career games through his age 24-season. But his metrics show a player who’s had a positive defensive impact over the last three seasons. In that span, his even-strength defense has been worth a goals above replacement (GAR) of 10.4. He’s also been one of the Leafs’ better shot-suppressing blueliners, both in terms of quality and quantity. Granted, the Maple Leafs have kept him in sheltered minutes, but he’s handled them very well.
Another area where Dermott excels is in his transition, specifically exiting the defensive zone with puck possession. He also stands up at the blue line and prevents opponents from entering the defensive zone with puck possession, two areas of concern the Devils need to address on the back end this offseason.
Dermott would certainly be an upgrade for the Devils defensively, even if he provides almost no offense. His upside may not be anything more than a second or third pair defenseman. But it probably wouldn’t hurt to check in on his availability since his strengths are what the Devils’ defense needs to improve. And since he likely won’t cost much to acquire in a trade, he could be a nice depth addition behind Ty Smith on the left side of the blue line.
Kane is an interesting trade target, and not necessarily for all the right reasons. The off-ice issues are well-documented, but there’s no denying he’s a high-end scoring winger. He finished this past season with 22 goals and 49 points in 56 games — a 32-goal, 72-point pace over 82 games. He’s averaged 33 goals and 63 points per 82 games over the last three seasons as well.
At five-on-five, Kane has averaged 1.93 points per 60 since the start of the 2018-19 campaign. The Sharks have had a CF% of 52.2 percent and xG% of 52.7 percent with him on the ice. Defense isn’t his strong suit, though I wouldn’t call him a liability either. But the Devils wouldn’t be bringing him in for his two-way capabilities. His purpose would be to come in and score goals.
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Kane is 29 years old and under contract for four more years at a cap hit of $7 million. He has a modified no-trade clause, so it’s no guarantee he’d accept a trade to the Devils. Nor is it a guarantee the Devils would be interested in him because of the off-ice issues. It’s worth noting Seravalli mentioned in his article that tension built between Kane and his teammates this season. That could certainly scare the Devils and other suitors away. But there’s no denying he’s a talented offensive winger that’d improve their scoring in a significant way.
Rights to Dougie Hamilton
This is the big one. Where is Hamilton going to end up this summer? Will he re-sign with the Carolina Hurricanes? Or will he be donning a new jersey come September when the new season begins? The Hurricanes have already allowed Hamilton’s camp to talk to teams to gauge interest. And the Devils are one of a few teams already loosely linked to him.
I’m just going to cut right to the chase. Hamilton is an elite top-pairing defenseman who has a significant positive offensive impact and decent defensive impacts at even strength. He’s also an absolute beast on the power play, something that’d surely help a Devils man advantage that struggled mightily this past season.
Trading for someone’s negotiating rights is always tricky because there’s no guarantee the player will sign with the acquiring team. At the same time, trading for someone’s rights usually doesn’t involve more than giving up a mid-round pick. But the situation with Hamilton could be a bit different.
It’s rare to see a team like the Hurricanes allow a player of Hamilton’s caliber to speak with other clubs this far ahead of free agency. But that should give anyone looking to acquire his rights a better sense of whether he’ll sign with them. Perhaps that inflates the price of acquiring his rights, but it still shouldn’t be outrageous. If that team happens to be the Devils, they have to go for it because he instantly changes the outlook of their defense for many years to come. Hamilton is that good.
DeBrusk did not have a good season. In fact, it was by far the worst one of his young career. The 24-year-old winger finished with 14 points in 51 games, a significant dropoff from the 19 goals and 35 points he had in 65 games a season ago. While he was never a great defensive winger, his two-way play also declined dramatically.
But there’s reason to be optimistic about a DeBrusk bounce back. His shooting percentage fell to 5.4 percent this season, a noticeable fall from his 12.1 career shooting percentage. And it was not for the lack of volume, as he fired 92 shots on goal in 41 games. Assuming his shooting percentage regresses to his career average, he should return closer to the 20-25 goal scorer he was the previous two seasons.
Related: Devils Defense Needs Vince Dunn
As Seravalli mentions in his article: if the Bruins are planning to re-sign Taylor Hall, that could give them the flexibility to move DeBrusk and give him a fresh start. He has one year left on his deal at a cap hit of $3.675 million but will be a restricted free agent when it expires next offseason. He’s not the high-end scorer the Devils desperately need, but a potential 20-goal scorer who can play middle-six minutes can’t hurt either. His value isn’t where it was last offseason, so he shouldn’t cost the Devils their best assets to acquire.
The Calgary Flames had a disappointing 2020-21, but Gaudreau once again looked like Johnny Hockey. After struggling in 2019-20, at least by his standards, he finished with 49 points in 56 games this season — a 72-point pace over 82 games. His GAR and expected GAR also rebounded in a big way:
Gaudreau has averaged 2.29 points per 60 minutes over the last three seasons, ranked 33rd best for forwards with 1,000 or more minutes at five-on-five. He’s not an elite two-way winger, but he can hold his own defensively. He’d be a significant offensive upgrade for the Devils, but there are some cons to consider.
For starters, Gaudreau only has a year left on his deal. The Devils would essentially be taking on a one-year rental and hoping they can re-sign him by next summer. He is originally from New Jersey; though, he grew up in the southern part of the state and a Flyers fan. But the Devils would be hoping to sell him on signing with the team and playing in his home state.
The other thing is Gaudreau will be 29 years old next summer when he needs a new contract. Would the Devils be willing to extend a seven or eight-year offer with a pricey cap hit to a 29-year-old? If it weren’t for the New Jersey factor, he probably wouldn’t have made it in this post because of those reasons. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if it were something the Devils at least kept in mind if they inquire about his availability. There’s also the idea of having him, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier anchoring the top six, which is pretty appealing too.
Many Paths Forward
What the Devils decide to do on the trade market this summer remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: they’re going to have plenty of options to improve their roster, whether it’s offensively or defensively. They have the cap space to pay big money to Hamilton and add a scorer like Garland at the same time. And that doesn’t even include other top trade targets like Sam Reinhart or Vince Dunn, who’d fit in well too. That should make for a busy month ahead as the offseason kicks into full gear in July.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving-Hockey