With the NHL projecting a salary cap of $83 million for next season, the New Jersey Devils are sitting pretty with over $35.5 million in available cap space. This puts general manager Ray Shero in the perfect position to strike a deal with a cap-strapped team and bring in some much-needed depth.
One potential team the Devils can target is the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With over $74 million invested into just 17 players, the Leafs lack the salary cap space needed to re-sign core restricted free agents Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen and of course, Mitch Marner. GM Kyle Dubas also needs to find a way to replace or re-sign unrestricted free agent Jake Gardiner.
To create some salary cap relief, Nazem Kadri could potentially be placed on the trade market, and if he is, the Devils should look to bring him into the fold if the price is right.
Kadri Should Spark the Devils’ Interest
The 28-year old center plays a gritty two-way game, and while his physical playing style sometimes comes back to haunt him as it did in the first round of playoffs, he can help provide depth down the middle for the Devils when his head is on straight.
After coming off back-to-back seasons in which he tallied 32 goals and over 55 points, Kadri took a step backward this season, recording just 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) in 73 games. Still, his 44 points would have put him fourth in scoring on the Devils, and his 2.9 goals above replacement would have ranked him eighth among Devils forwards.
One of the biggest issues the Devils had this season at center was their inability to move the puck and create offense. Kadri does this incredibly well, as does Nico Hischier, but the same can’t be said about other Devils centermen. Jack Hughes projects to excel in this category, but they still need more depth down the middle if they want to get back to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Over the past three seasons, Kadri has displayed the ability to enter the offensive zone with possession at a high rate, and he provides a significant impact on shot contributions, which leads to more offense. He also does a modest job of exiting his own defensive zone with possession. If slotted in on the Devils’ third line at center, they can bump Travis Zajac down to the fourth line and have a solid depth chart down the middle of Hischier, Hughes, Kadri, and Zajac.
It’s also important to note that Kadri comes with an affordable $4.5 million team-friendly cap hit over the next three seasons, which will still allow the Devils to make some other moves to round out their future core and upgrade
What the Devils Will Have to Give up?
Given the Maple Leafs’ current cap situation, any deal for Kadri will likely have to be a hockey trade, sending a top-four NHL-ready defenseman (preferably right-handed) back to Toronto. Even though Kadri’s disciplinary troubles might raise a red flag, his overall talent level and friendly contract boost his trade value. That said, the Devils will likely need to include Damon Severson or Sami Vatanen in any trade negotiations.
Both veteran defensemen can slide right into the top-four in Toronto and boost the right-side of their blue line. They also won’t handcuff the Leafs financially.
Vatanen has one-year left on his current deal and comes with a $4.875 million cap hit, which is in the same ballpark as Kadri. Severson, on the other hand, might be the more attractive target. The 24-year-old defenseman has four years left on his current contract with a team-friendly average annual value of $4,166,666.
Kadri does own a limited no-trade list of 10 teams, so any deal to New Jersey would have to be approved by him first. If the Devils aren’t on that list, Shero should explore the option at the very last.