Devils’ Quiet Deadline Should Lead to Busy Offseason

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone. But unlike recent years, it concluded without much flare for the New Jersey Devils. Their lone deal of the day was acquiring journeyman goaltender Andrew Hammond from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for prospect Nate Schnarr. Hammond is working his way back from a lower-body injury, but he’s skated for five days in a row and hopes to be ready to go in the near future. 

While the Devils did acquire Hammond for some goaltending stability to finish the 2021-22 season, the bigger story is more about what they didn’t do. Though they were seeking scoring wingers, that never came to fruition, nor did a long-term solution in net. That should set them up for a busy offseason as they try to acquire more talent to bolster their roster. 

Hammond Gives Devils Stability in Net

Many fans remember Hammond for his incredible run with the Ottawa Senators in 2014-15 when he went 20-1-2 and had a .941 save percentage (SV%). That earned him the nickname “The Hamburglar,” one that fans were calling him on social media yesterday when the trade became official. 

Though Hammond had a couple of impressive seasons with the Senators in the mid-2010s, he’s spent the better part of the last few years in the AHL with various teams such as the Iowa Wild and Rochester Americans, the Minnesota Wild and Buffalo Sabres’ AHL affiliates. Over the last three AHL seasons, he’s totaled save percentages of .910, .908 and .908, respectively. 

With the Montreal Canadiens ravaged by injuries to Carey Price and Jake Allen, they acquired Hammond from the Wild for insurance. He played in four games for the Canadiens, totaling a .920 SV% before suffering a lower-body injury. In those four games, he finished with a goals saved above expected (GSAx) of 3.36, which would easily rank first on the Devils this season. Granted, four games is the smallest of sample sizes. 

Andrew Hammond, Iowa Wild
Andrew Hammond with the Iowa Wild (Photo by Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Hammond has a .923 SV% for his career, but that’s mostly due to his incredible 2014-15 campaign. Still, he has 60 games of NHL experience. While he hadn’t played in the NHL since 2017-18 until this season, it’s not like the Devils acquired a goalie with zero NHL experience. He will split starts with rookie Nico Daws, who has fared well for the most part when called upon by the team. With 20 games left, they’ll likely share the net close to a 50/50 split. 

That’s perhaps the most notable aspect of acquiring Hammond as well. He should ease Daws’ workload, who started nine consecutive games before Saturday’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers. The Devils are also expecting Mackenzie Blackwood back from his injury before the regular season concludes. Between him, Hammond and Daws, the Devils should have at least stability to close the season, which is all they’re asking for at this point. 

What Devils Didn’t Do at the Deadline 

The most notable takeaway from the Devils’ deadline is that Hammond was their lone transaction. Not that a busy deadline was the expectation, but they had been connected to some scoring wingers over the last few weeks. Those deals never occurred, but it’s something Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald will likely re-visit during the offseason; he hinted at as much in his media availability yesterday afternoon. 

But let’s start with the Devils’ players that were in the rumor mill. Jimmy Vesey and P.K. Subban were the team’s lone pending unrestricted free agents, but both players remain with the team. Subban staying put isn’t a surprise, given his $9 million cap hit. Most contenders are tight on the cap and could not afford to take on his contract, even if the Devils retained 50 percent of his salary and got a third team involved to absorb even more of his hit. 

Vesey remaining with the Devils was a bit of a surprise, however. He’s a stout penalty killer on an inexpensive contract with a cap hit of only $800,000. He can provide some scoring depth as a bottom-six forward, too, so it was a bit surprising a playoff contender didn’t spare a mid-round pick to add him to their roster. 

Jimmy Vesey, New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils winger Jimmy Vesey (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Next up is Pavel Zacha, whose name has been in the rumor mill for the last month-plus. Teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks were reportedly interested in Zacha, but no deal materialized. He’s a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights and is likely in line for a relatively significant pay raise from his $2.25 million cap hit. Though the Devils did not trade him yesterday, it does seem like it’s something they’ll re-visit closer to the draft. 

Speaking of Blackwood, his name had come up in the rumor mill quite a bit over the last few weeks. Elliotte Friedman reported on Friday’s episode of 32 Thoughts that Blackwood is available. Obviously, the Devils did not trade him yesterday, but it appears the two sides could part ways this offseason. As Friedman pointed out, players don’t switch agents because they’re happy with their situation, which is what Blackwood did a couple of weeks ago. He might play some games to end the season if he returns from his injury, but the writing seems to be on the wall. 

Related: Devils’ 5 Best Defensemen of All-Time

Next up are players the Devils were reportedly interested in, namely Brock Boeser and Conor Garland. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported the Canucks and Devils were close on a deal that involved swapping Boeser and Zacha, among other parts, but the two sides couldn’t make it work after talks broke down. The Canucks did not trade Boeser before yesterday’s deadline, so there’s a good chance the two sides resume talks in the offseason. 

The Devils’ pursuit of Garland dates back to last year when he was still with the Arizona Coyotes before they dealt him to the Canucks. Garland is having a down season by his standards, but he has averaged 22 goals and 52 points per 82 games since the start of the 2019-20 campaign. He also remains with the Canucks, so I’d expect the two sides to re-visit talks over him as well.

Busy Offseason Ahead

The Devils may not have had an active deadline, but that doesn’t mean moves aren’t coming over the next few months once the offseason begins. Judging by their interest in Boeser and Garland, they’re seeking wingers who can play alongside Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. And there will be more wingers available when the draft and free agency approach as teams look to shed money to give themselves salary cap flexibility. 

Conor Garland Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks winger Conor Garland (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Fitzgerald is also much more likely to find a long-term solution in net, which had very little chance of happening by 3 P.M. yesterday, during the summer. The best bet is that’ll have to come in the form of a trade unless they’re willing to pay up for Ville Husso or Darcy Kuemper in free agency, assuming they hit free agency. That should make for an active offseason when the Devils will have more opportunities to make the big splashes they need to make to improve their roster. 

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