The NHL Trade Deadline came and went and it was a quiet one for the New Jersey Devils who only made one move late in the afternoon. Devils’ general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald traded Nate Schnarr to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for 34-year-old goaltender Andrew Hammond.
At 3:45 yesterday afternoon Fitzgerald met with the media to field questions and talk about the future of the franchise. The lack of movement should not have been much of a surprise as the team has only a handful of unrestricted free agents (UFA) including P.K. Subban, Jimmy Vesey, Mason Geertsen, and Jon Gillies. Here are some takeaways from Monday’s presser.
Fitzgerald Tried, but to No Avail
One of the most memorable quotes from Fitzgerald’s presser was, “I thought my phone was broken. Outgoing calls were working, incoming calls weren’t. I told a lot of guys to call me back.”
The Devils’ GM stated it was the quietest deadline he has experienced and followed that by saying he only received a handful of calls, but would not elaborate on which players teams inquired about. Fitzgerald explained he did try to make hockey trades to improve his team although, in the end, nothing came about that made sense. Devils’ reporter Amanda Stein asked if any of the conversations could potentially be revisited in the summer and he replied by saying it was going to be an exciting offseason.
Nothing Materialized for a Subban Trade
Two weeks ago Fitzgerald sat down with veteran defenseman Subban and explained that the organization was not looking to extend him. At 32 years old, the Toronto native is in the final year of his contract that has a current cap hit of $9 million. In 59 games this season he has 19 points (four goals, 15 assists).
“His cap hit is big, but if a team was willing to trade for him and it made sense for us, we would have tried to do something, but nothing materialized,” said Fitzgerald.
While Subban was considered the most likely trade candidate for New Jersey, it did not come as a shock that he remained a Devil by the 3:00 PM deadline. There were plenty of defensemen who had comparable numbers to Subban this season like Brett Kulak and Nick Leddy, but the latter two came with a considerably cheaper price tag for teams looking to bulk up their blue line. The Devils defenseman will finish out the season in New Jersey and will become a UFA for the first time in his career.
Devils Temporarily Address Goaltending
An area that needed to be addressed prior to the conclusion of the season was goaltending. New Jersey’s GM found a temporary solution by bringing in Hammond. The Devils have been juggling the tandem of Nico Daws and Gillies since early February. They have each had their own individual struggles in the crease, and recently head coach Lindy Ruff talked about asking too much of 21-year-old Daws.
“I put Nico through a pretty tough test,” said Ruff. “Probably an unfair test for a young goaltender. Back-to-back, came out of the game. Physically, playing back-to-back is tough, mentally getting prepared for the game is tough. We’ve asked a lot of him. Tonight he just didn’t have it. He’s developing as a young goaltender. He’s given us good games. But the test is a little bit too big for him.”
The addition of Hammond gives the Devils another option in the net and takes some of the pressure off of Daws who started nine consecutive games before being utilized as the back-up against the Edmonton Oilers. Fitzgerald made it a point to say he wanted to do what was best for Daws’ long-term development. He acknowledged that he had done a tremendous job, but did not want to overwork him.
“All we want is to give us a chance, give us a chance to play our game, feel good about ourselves and feel like we’re in every game,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s all you want from goaltending. Just give us a chance to be in a game. It may be Nico Daws one night, it may be Jon Gillies another night. Now it could be Andrew Hammond on a lot of nights if he gives us a chance to win.”
Everyone Knew the Devils Weren’t Giving Players Away
Entering the most hectic time of the NHL calendar, the Devils have found themselves in an interesting situation. They weren’t necessarily sellers, but would not be listed as buyers either, perhaps the best way to label them would be opportunists. The best example I can give is Damon Severson. During a sit-down interview with Pierre LeBrun, Fitzgerald was asked about the possibility of moving the Devils’ most tenured defenseman. While it did not sound like he was interested in parting with the 6-foot-2 blueliner, he did say the return would have to be a really good package that would help his team presently and in the future.
If fans remember, Fitzgerald told the media he “wasn’t out shopping Blake Coleman” after he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in February of 2020. Yesterday he again stated he was not shopping good hockey players, and it seems like a Coleman-esque return would be the only way the Devils would have parted with one of their non-rental players.
The Devils seem to finally be on the right path, as they are projected to be a competitive team in the next few years. With the team slowly reaching the finish line of their rebuild, there is no need to blow up their roster or make unnecessary moves. Of course, there is a checklist of items that Fitzgerald needs to address, but most can be dealt with during the offseason. New Jersey is out of the playoff hunt, and therefore, there was no rush to add to his current lineup.
The Organization Believes in Their Young Core
Frank Seravalli released a final 50 trade targets early yesterday morning and to the surprise of many, Jesper Bratt was ranked 15th on the list. Seravalli went on to explain that the 23-year-old’s name was out there and the organization wasn’t hanging up the phone when teams inquired. Most fans were baffled to hear Bratt’s name was being discussed, and from what the Devils’ GM said during his press conference it sounded like Bratt was a player he was not willing to part with as he is an important member of the young core.
“We are starting to shape ourselves into the organization and team that we want to be with continued additions,” said Fitzgerald. “Selling off for draft picks and continuing to get younger was not my goal. My goal is to really have a good 20 game stretch here and go into the offseason knowing where some of our holes are and try to fix those holes via trades or free agency.”
It has been a frustrating season for fans, as the team is once again near the bottom of the standings. It can be difficult to see the small improvements, but they are there. For the first time in a while, there is reason to be excited about the young players on the team. The Devils’ defense has vastly improved and their forwards have a ton of potential. Hammond will join the team in Toronto as they are scheduled to face the Maple Leafs on Wednesday. Fitzgerald stressed how important it was to end the season in the right way, and the stage is set for another busy offseason for New Jersey.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.