We’re inching closer to the Feb. 24 NHL Trade Deadline and that means trade action will begin to pick up over the coming days. The New Jersey Devils are likely to be active but as sellers, as they sit well out of a playoff spot. While that may be the case, it’s unlikely a full fire sale is on the way. But interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald has a few trade chips he should be looking to get assets for.
Among those trade chips are Sami Vatanen, Andy Greene, and Wayne Simmonds. All three will be unrestricted free agents at season’s end, so it’d be wise for the Devils to get something in return for them if possible. Each should have a fair amount of suitors, too, but which contenders could be the best fit for them and the Devils?
Sami Vatanen to the Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes have arguably the best blue line in the NHL. But that took a blow when Dougie Hamilton went down with a broken fibula a few weeks ago. He’s likely to miss the remainder of the regular season, which means the Hurricanes could be looking to upgrade their defense. And since Hamilton is a right-handed shot, that could make Vatanen a top deadline target for them.
Vatanen has played in 47 games this season and has collected 23 points, putting him on pace to finish with 36. He has good puck-moving ability and has had a strong positive impact on the power play, where he’s totaled 10 points. He’s been a fixture in the Devils’ top four, so he’d be able to eat some of the minutes lost by Hamilton. That’d also allow Trevor van Riemsdyk to move back into a more suitable third-pair role for the Hurricanes.
The key for the Devils will be getting a return worth Vatanen’s value. The Hurricanes have two second-round picks, one of which they acquired from the New York Rangers for Adam Fox, so that’d be the starting point. The Devils should also be able to land a legitimate NHL prospect, and the Hurricanes have more than a few.
One player who should be of interest to them is Dominik Bokk. The 20-year-old German winger plays for Rogle BK in the SHL (Sweden) and has 11 points in 31 games. He’s been a bit inconsistent in the SHL, but he’s only 20 years old and has the offensive upside the Devils lack among their forwards in their prospect pool.
Someone else the Devils could target is Julien Gauthier. The 22-year-old winger has 23 goals and 32 points in 40 games with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL). He’s a bit of a one-dimensional player, but what he’s good at (scoring lots of goals) is something the Devils could use. They lack true shooting talents, aside from Kyle Palmieri and Blake Coleman. And at 6-foot-4, 227 pounds, Gauthier could give the Devils the type of power forward with scoring touch you don’t see in the NHL as often anymore.
Wayne Simmonds to the Vancouver Canucks
The Devils signed Simmonds to a one-year deal worth $5 million this summer with the hope he’d bounce back after a down season. Unfortunately, it’s been tough sledding for the veteran right-winger. He has 20 points in 54 games, with only five goals, but he has been the victim of some bad luck. He’s fired 100 shots on goal but is shooting just 5%, so he could be due for some positive regression to close out the season.
If the Devils decide to trade Simmonds, one team that could have interest in him is the Canucks. The return for Simmonds wouldn’t be anything outrageous, as he’d likely bring back a third or fourth-round pick and maybe a B-level prospect.
One prospect they could target from the Canucks is 5-foot-11, 165-pound winger William Lockwood. He’s a senior at the University of Michigan and has 16 points in 25 games for the Wolverines. He won’t add a ton of offense in the NHL, but he could turn into an effective bottom-six forward. If it’s a defenseman the Devils seek, a prospect like Guillaume Brisebois would be worth targeting. He has 14 points in 43 games in the AHL this season and projects as a third-pair, stay-at-home blueliner in the NHL.
There’s also an interesting scenario that could play out between the two teams in a trade. The Canucks placed Sven Baertschi on waivers earlier this season, and he’s been in the AHL ever since. From 2015-2019, he averaged 40 points per 82 games with the Canucks while playing in a bottom-six role. It’s hard to say why he’s stuck in the minors, but he can still play in the NHL. His contract runs through 2020-21 at a cap hit of $3.366 million, and he’s only 27 years old. I’m sure the Canucks would like to move Baertschi if they can, and this could be the perfect opportunity. A late-round pick and Baertschi for Simmonds would be a solid return for the Devils.
Andy Greene to the Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning don’t have a lot of flaws. But if there’s an area where they could use an upgrade, it’s on defense. They have a strong top-four led by Victor Hedman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan McDonough, and Mikhail Sergachev. But things get a bit dicey after there. Jan Rutta is week-to-week with a lower-body injury, and Luke Schenn has struggled in his place on the team’s third pair.
Enter Andy Greene, who could be the perfect fit for the Lightning. He’s played on the Devils’ top pair most of the season, but that’s mostly due to the team’s struggles. On a contender, he’d be the ideal third-pair defenseman, as he’s a veteran with plenty of experience and is an excellent penalty killer. The Lightning’s penalty kill ranks third in the NHL, so while they don’t need help there, adding Greene to that unit can’t hurt.
When the Devils traded Ben Lovejoy to the Dallas Stars at least season’s deadline, they received a third-round pick and defenseman Connor Carrick. A return for Greene would likely be pretty similar, especially if they want a depth player to replace Greene for the rest of the season. But if it’s a prospect they seek, Maxwell Crozier, a defenseman who’s a freshman at Providence College, could interest them. He plays with a physical edge but also has some offensive upside, which is the type of defenseman the Devils could use on their back end.
All of this could be a moot point, however, as Greene has a full no-trade clause (NTC), so he’ll have the final say in any decision to accept a trade to another team. With that said, he is 37 years old, and this could be one of the last shots he has at a Stanley Cup run. If a team like the Lightning comes calling, that may entice him to waive his NTC.
Fitzgerald Has No Margin for Error
The Devils already traded Taylor Hall, their best trade chip, back on Dec. 16. They didn’t get a blue-chip prospect in return but did obtain two draft picks from the Arizona Coyotes, as well as prospects Nick Merkley, Kevin Bahl, and Nate Schnarr. It’s doubtful any of their current pending UFAs could net five assets, but they still have valuable pieces.
Vatanen is among the top defensemen available. And if a bidding war ensues, he could get the Devils more than a second-round pick and legit NHL prospect. But that should at least be the starting point in trade talks involving him. Simmonds may not have the scoring punch he once did, but a team looking to shore up their bottom six would be wise to take a look at him.
Greene is a bit of a wild card for the Devils. There’d surely be interest in him if made available, but he’s played his whole career with the team. If he doesn’t waive his NTC, I don’t think anyone could blame him. Plus, the Devils could use a veteran like him as more young players get ice time to close out the season.
As for Simmonds and Vatanen, it seems more than likely they get traded. And that would be the smart move for the Devils. The organization doesn’t have their second or third-round picks in the 2020 Entry Draft, but trading both of them should restock their cupboard of picks. They have plenty of holes to fill on their roster, so having picks to dangle in trade negotiations would be useful during the offseason. If Fitzgerald goes about the next two weeks the right way, then that won’t be an issue as they try to retool for 2020-21.