It’s trade season, and the New Jersey Devils will have some important decisions to make before the Feb. 25 deadline. One of those decisions will be whether to trade Marcus Johansson, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Johansson, who has struggled with injuries, has 20 points in 39 games and could be a valuable trade chip.
Teams looking to make a deep playoff run will value Johansson’s skillset. He’s a top-six forward that has a knack for setting up goals, and he plays valuable power play minutes. That said, the Devils could also use his services beyond this season, so why should they trade him?
Johansson Has Picked up His Play
When the Devils acquired Johansson in 2017, he was coming off a career season where he tallied 24 goals and 54 points in 82 games. Since the trade, he’s tallied 34 points in 69 games with the Devils. Concussions played a part in that, limiting his ice time to 29 games in 2017-18.
Injuries played a part in Johansson’s slow start to 2018-19, too, where he had eight points in his first 21 games. It was becoming clear that things were not working out, and the Devils would have to trade him, but times have changed. Over his last 18 games, he’s tallied five goals and 12 points, which is a 54-point pace over 82 games. He’s also moved into a first-line role, with Taylor Hall on injured reserve for the last month-plus.
The Devils haven’t been particularly great with Johansson on the ice —they’ve controlled 45.54 percent of shot attempts and 45.71 percent of scoring chances at 5-on-5 over his last 18 games. Even though his on-ice stats aren’t great, he’s managed to get things going.
Over Johansson’s last 18 games, he’s averaged the fourth-most individual shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger chances per 60 minutes on the team. He may not be scoring much at 5-on-5 (four points his last 18 games), but the shots and chances have been there.
Where it’s been clicking for Johansson is on the power play. He’s moved up to the team’s first unit and is averaging 5.39 points per 60 minutes, ranked best on the team over his last 18 games. He’s helped fill the void left by Hall and is a big reason why the Devils power play has had recent success — they’ve converted on seven of their last 22 opportunities.
Why the Devils Should Trade Johansson
There are reasonable arguments to be made for both trading or keeping Johansson. The Devils spent second and third-round picks to acquire him from the Washington Capitals, so they shouldn’t be looking to sell him for less than what they gave up. If teams aren’t offering the Devils a second-round pick, and another pick or prospect, then it doesn’t make sense to trade him.
It might not seem to make sense to keep Johansson — especially since he’s a pending UFA — but there are reasons why the Devils should consider it. His current deal comes with a cap hit of $4.583 million, which is already pretty fair. But with him having played only 69 games since the start of 2017-18, his next deal should come at a bit of a discount.
Johansson is also a pretty good player. His impact hasn’t been as expected as a Devil, but injuries have played a part in that. However, he’s produced for the team when healthy, as is the case over his last 18 games. The Devils also don’t have anyone who can fill his role if they trade him. It’s looking like a strong free agent class, but hoping you’ll be able to sign a free agent or two is a risky move.
There are a lot of qualities to Johansson’s games that will be attractive to suitors, such as the San Jose Sharks. He’s a top-six forward with scoring ability, and he can help improve a team’s power play. If I were general manager Ray Shero, I would move Johansson. If he continues his strong play, it will only increase his trade value, and that’ll help the Devils get a fair return.
The Devils also aren’t much good. Johansson does make them a better team, but they have plenty of holes to plug. They’ll need assets to do that, so acquiring some picks or prospects for Johansson makes sense for where they are. Unless you’re 100 percent sure you can get him re-signed, then trading Johansson is the best option.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017