Devils Should Pass On Tarasenko, Schmidt

With the Stanley Cup now over, the offseason will quickly begin to ramp up. Trade rumors are already starting to come up, with Vladimir Tarasenko and Nate Schmidt being the two most interesting names that popped up in the rumor mill this week. They got New Jersey Devils fans talking on social media, and on the surface, they seem like fits, given the team’s needs. But there are good reasons why general manager Tom Fitzgerald should stay away from each player if he’s looking to improve the team through trades. 

Schmidt’s Best Days Could Be Behind Him

When the Vegas Golden Knights signed Alex Pietrangelo last offseason as a free agent, they had no choice but to deal Schmidt to get cap compliant. They’d end up trading him to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2022 Draft, and that seemed like quite the shrewd move by the Canucks at the time. After playing well in Washington with the Capitals, he blossomed into a legit top-pair defender with the Golden Knights. But his first season in Vancouver did not go well, and he apparently is on the block now

Schmidt finished 2020-21 with a goals above replacement (GAR) of -1.8, the worst mark of his career. The most noticeable dropoff in his play has been in his even-strength defense, which has been below replacement level in the last two seasons. His expected GAR (xGAR) confirms that and shows he should have been a below replacement-level defender at even strength. He still has value offensively, and his xGAR shows he should’ve had a GAR of 3.7 because of his even-strength offense. He’s also still effective in transition, which would serve well in Devils head coach Lindy Ruff’s rush-based system. 

Nate Schmidt Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Nate Schmidt (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Schmidt does seem like someone who’d benefit from a change of scenery. With that said, I’m not sure he’s a fit for the Devils. For starters, he has a modified no-trade clause where he submits a 10-team no-trade list. The Devils could easily be one of those teams, but even if they’re not, that are reasons to stay away. One being that his contract runs through the 2024-25 season at a cap hit of $5.95 million, and he’ll be 34 years old by the time it expires. 

While Schmidt could still be an effective offensive defenseman, his play is slowly showing signs of decline. It probably won’t take much to trade for him, but Fitzgerald likely wants to use his assets to acquire a younger defenseman who has term on his deal. Not someone who’ll be 30 years old in a week and may have his best years behind him. So he’ll likely look elsewhere to improve their defense. 

Tarasenko’s Injury Woes a Concern

During Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic casually dropped the news that Tarasenko has requested a trade of the St. Louis Blues organization (From ‘Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko requests a trade, per sources: Why he wants out, possible destinations and more’, The Athletic – 7/7/2021). 

Related: Devils’ 2021 Free Agent Targets: Wingers

Rutherford mentioned Tarasenko likely wants to play for a contender. He also has a 10-team no-trade list in his contract, so that probably rules the Devils out since they’re still rebuilding. But I’d figured we’d touch on the possibility of them acquiring him since the news created quite the stir on social media on Wednesday night. 

Even if Tarasenko would accept a trade to New Jersey, there’d be significant risk in acquiring him. He’s had three shoulder surgeries in the last 28 months, all on the same shoulder. Because of that, he’s only played in 34 games since the start of the 2019-20 season. And that’s what makes him a hard player to assess. His play has only been worth a GAR of 1.5 in those 34 games, but that’s not enough of a sample size to determine what kind of player he can still be. 

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

The key to Tarasenko finding his game again is his health. If he can get past his shoulder issues, he could still be an effective scorer. The question is, how much of his scoring form can he regain if he’s able to stay in the lineup. He finished with 14 points in 24 games this season — a 47-point pace over 82 games. That’s a sharp decline from the 65-75 points we’re used to seeing from him. So even if he can stay healthy, he might be more of a 50 to 55 point player at this point. Injuries do take a toll, especially in the short amount of time he’s dealt with them. 

Tarasenko does have a pricey cap hit of $7.5 million for two more seasons, but that’s not the issue. The Devils have plenty of cap space, but the injury history is just too much to ignore at this point. He’s probably lost some trade value because he’s missed so much time in the last two seasons, but I don’t think that should matter much either. He’s still going to cost enough where the Devils would be better off using those assets on a younger scorer (Conor Garland, Sam Reinhart come to mind).

Related: Devils Have Intriguing Options for a 3rd-Line Center

To sum it up, the Devils should have more desirable options on the trade market over the next few weeks. Teams are tight on cap space, and some will have protection issues at the upcoming expansion draft. That should make available some good young players who have term on their deals. And I’d bet that’s the path the Devils end up going down. 

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