Devils Need a Fire Sale for the Future

Things have become much clearer for the New Jersey Devils over the last few weeks. They sit in second to last place in the Metropolitan Division, and as of Friday evening, they have a 1.8% chance of qualifying for the postseason.

It’s not how anyone envisioned the season would go, especially after last season’s surprise run. But it’s in the Devils’ best interest to become sellers, and the sooner the better. They don’t have an Artemi Panarin or Sergei Bobrovsky as trade chips, but they do have some notable pieces. Here’s a look at who they should considering moving.

Boyle, Johansson the Devils Best Trade Bait

The Devils’ best trade chips are up front, with Marcus Johansson and Brian Boyle being the most valuable.

Johansson has been plagued by injuries in his time in New Jersey, and it shows in his numbers. His 5-on-5 shot rates haven’t been great this season: he has an expected goals for (xGF%) of just 46.56 percent; he’s also struggled to score at that strength, averaging 1.14 points per 60 minutes (P/60).

If there’s one thing Johansson has going for him, it’s that his luck is due to change. He’s shooting 8.7 percent this season, which is well below his 13.3 career shooting percentage. The Devils also have an on-ice shooting percentage of 6.25 percent with him on the ice, tied for seventh-worst on the team.

A change of scenery could do Johansson some good. The Devils should, at least, look to recoup the second and third-round picks used to acquire him. Top-six scorers aren’t available all that often, and that’s what the Devils have in Johansson, so selling him short would be a mistake.

Marcus Johansson, New Jersey Devils
Marcus Johansson is the New Jersey Devils’ most valuable trade chip. (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Boyle is an interesting trade chip. If he’s willing to move to a new team, he’d be a great a rental. He continues to score goals in a fourth-line role, with 12 in 38 games, a 25-26 goal pace over 82 games. He also has a faceoff percentage of 51.2%, which playoff contenders will value in a rental.

Boyle has been an integral part of the Devils for the last season and more. He’s a great locker room presence and has played well for the team. That said, his trade value is never going to be higher. He’s on an expiring contract, like Johansson, so it makes sense for the Devils to get something for him instead of maybe losing him for nothing this summer.

Devils Blue Line Yields Limited Trade Chips

The Devils don’t have a ton to give up on defense, but there may be a piece or two that should garner some interest.

The most notable trade chip they have on defense is Ben Lovejoy. He might not seem like much, but there are teams that will value what he offers. He’s been a steady third-pair defenseman over the last season and more. His numbers at 5-on-5 have been pretty decent too: he has a 53.02 percent xGF% since the start of 2017-18.

Lovejoy is also a good penalty killer. He’s been the Devils’ best shot suppressing defenseman on the penalty kill, averaging 83.47 shot attempts against per 60 minutes since the start of 2017-18 (min. 100 minutes played). Any team looking to make a deep playoff run will value that, so the Devils should look to get a mid-round pick in return.

Ben Lovejoy
Ben Lovejoy will be of interest to any team looking to make a deep playoff run. (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Where things get interesting is if the Devils decide to move Andy Greene. He’s spent his whole career with the team and is their captain, so trading him wouldn’t be easy. That said, his play has fallen off in recent seasons, and he has another year left on his contract that comes with a cap hit of $5 million, so they’d have to retain some salary to make it work. If they can make a trade happen, it’d be worth it, but that doesn’t seem likely this season.

The truth is the Devils don’t have a blueliner of much value other than Lovejoy. I don’t anticipate them moving Mirco Mueller before the deadline, nor Egor Yakovlev, who’s on an expiring contract. He’s bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL, but the Devils may keep him around to give him a better look once roster spots begin to open up.

Which Devils Goalie Gets Moved?

The Devils goaltending situation is a tricky one, and that’s being generous. Keith Kinkaid’s play has bottomed out to some of the worst numbers in his career, with his save percentage (SV%) at .899 percent in 30 starts. That’s a significant downturn from the last two seasons, when he finished with a .916 and .913 SV%.

The reality is the Devils have to trade Kinkaid, even if the return is minimal. He’s 29 years old and is on an expiring contract, so he doesn’t fit in with the team’s future plans. Mackenzie Blackwood is prime to take the reins of the Devils’ starting job and Cory Schneider’s situation presents its own set of problems.

Keith Kinkaid #1, New Jersey Devils
Keith Kinkaid’s trade value has taken a significant hit because of his play. (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Devils are in a difficult spot with Schneider. His contract runs through 2021-22 with a cap hit of $6 million. He has a .852 SV% this season and has not won a regular season game in over a calendar year. If the Devils could move his contract, I don’t think they’d hesitate, but it’d have to be for the right deal.

He has no value given how he’s played, and the return wouldn’t be worth their investment in him. The best option the Devils have is to get Schneider healthy and have him share the net with Blackwood for the remainder of the season. If he performs well, then you could revisit this option during the offseason. At worst, a strong end to the season will show he could be counted on for 2019-20.

Related: Devils’ Coleman Stoking Hope

Why the Devils Have to Be Sellers

I don’t think many people thought the Devils’ season would go as far off the rails as it has, but selling is in the team’s best long-term interest. Barring a miracle, they aren’t going to qualify for the postseason. The best thing they could do is sell some of their trade chips to help build for 2019-20.

What they acquire in a trade remains to be seen, but it could help them in the present and down the road. Any draft pick would be of the most value to the Devils. They’ll serve as trade bait in future deals to help the roster, or they’ll help the team continue to build their prospect pool.

There’s also the possibility they get an NHL-ready player or two in a trade. He wouldn’t be an All-Star caliber player, given what the Devils have to offer but it’s possible they get someone who can help them be competitive to finish the season. If the Devils go about things the right way, then they’ll be in a better position to get back on track next season.

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