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Eight Options to Patch or Upgrade the Devils’ Blue Line

With Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler both out long-term, the Devils need a fix on the blue line.

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New Jersey Devils
(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Saturday was a tough day for the New Jersey Devils.

Not only did the Devils announce that All-Star forward Jack Hughes was injured, but they lost defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler to a broken foot following a blocked shot on the same night.

Hughes and Siegenthaler have now been added to a long list that includes multiple significant injuries. Siegenthaler’s addition means that the Devils’ top pair that led them through the 2022-23 season and to the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs are now shelved indefinitely.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it, they’re brutal losses.

Siegenthaler wasn’t quite having his best season. Although his analytics look good at 5-on-5, they don’t tell the full story that highlights his struggles this season. When Hamilton was in the lineup, Siegenthaler wasn’t strong enough to cover up some of the $9 million defenseman’s defensive deficiencies. And with Hamilton out of the lineup, he just hasn’t meshed well with another defense partner and has made some boneheaded decisions and soft plays.

Regardless, the Devils are hampered by injuries. They need reinforcements and fast. The good news is Simon Nemec’s presence makes Hamilton’s loss easier to deal with on both sides of the puck. They don’t necessarily need to replace their No.1 defenseman’s services. Therefore, they can try to add someone to help keep pucks out of their net.

So, who can they add in the wake of another major injury?

Devils Internal Options

Devils head coach Lindy Ruff offered one short-term solution. The Devils moved Timo Meier to injured reserve and recalled Max Willman. Ruff explained Willman can slide in at forward and Brendan Smith back to the blue line. It’s not ideal, but it’s their only option on the current roster.

The Devils could dip their hand into the AHL roster again. The Utica Comets’ best defenseman has already been recalled. Further, he’s making an impact at the NHL level. Even when the Devils are healthy again, it’s difficult to imagine Nemec isn’t a regular on the blue line. So, who’s next?

Either Cal Foote or Tyler Wotherspoon

Cal Foote makes the most sense as an immediate recall. He has the most NHL experience in 141 games between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators. Foote was once known as a gifted physical defenseman who could shut down the opposition’s top players. Perhaps he could find a little bit of that in him once more.

Wotherspoon is a potential option, too. However, he’s been recalled by the Devils before and was never trusted to step into game action. In fact, he hasn’t played an NHL game since the 2016-17 season. The Devils might trust the young, up-and-comers over him at this point.

Santeri Hatakka

I’ve beat this drum since the Devils development camp over the summer and I’m banging on it again.

Santeri Hatakka could be the next man up for the Devils. The left-shot defenseman is one of the few Comets defenders with NHL experience, albeit, it’s limited. In his one and only NHL stint with the San Jose Sharks, Hatakka threw five hits and blocked seven shots while collecting two points in nine games.

Take the offense out of the picture and that sounds just like what the Devils need in place of Siegenthaler.

Here’s what San Jose Hockey Now’s Sheng Peng had to say about Hatakka over the summer.

“Hatakka is a very good skater,” Peng explained. “He’s clear NHL-caliber on his feet, but he’s still got to refine a lot of defensive details to make an NHL impact. He was thrown off track from that last season with his season-ending upper-body injury, so he’ll probably need plenty of AHL time this season to catch up on his details.”

Hatakka now has 22 AHL games under his belt and although the Devils likely want him to continue to marinate, he’s potentially the next best option on recall with Tyler Wotherspoon playing right defense for the Comets, and Topias Vilen in the ECHL despite having the best game score amongst Comets defensemen.

Daniil Misyul

Hatakka slightly edges first-year North American pro, Daniil Misyul, due to the experience factor alone. Although, Misyul does have plenty of pro hockey experience in the KHL, playing overseas for four-plus seasons.

Misyul has the same exact game score (0.22) as Hatakka this season, although it appears he’s bringing Utica a little more offense. Misyul’s converting goals with a pretty decent 13.0 S% with three goals and nine points in 27 AHL games.

But, again, the offense isn’t what they need. Misyul can defend well and is one of those gritty, tough defensemen who can clear the crease to allow his goaltender to track pucks cleanly. That’s the Devils’ biggest need on the blue line right now. Someone who isn’t afraid to mix it up in the dirty areas while defending well on New Jersey’s end of the ice. Plus, Misyul can skate the puck in transition. If he can win puck battles and move the rubber from danger, it’s a welcomed addition to the Devils’ blue line.

External Options

Noah Hanifin

Elliotte Friedman reported Noah Hanifin is leaning toward staying in Calgary on an extension. However, nothing is over until it’s over. If he didn’t sign the first time, he can certainly change his mind again.

The truth is that Hanifin checks multiple boxes. He’s a two-way defenseman that plays well in all three zones. He can transition the puck well and can play 20-plus minutes a night, something that certainly helps minus Hamilton. He’s also smack in the prime of his career and fits in with the core of the Devils moving forward should GM Tom Fitzgerald choose to acquire Hanifin. The Boston native is on an expiring contract with a team-friendly $4.95 million cap hit.

It’s going to cost a pretty penny, but we’ve seen Fitzgerald make deals of this magnitude before, and then retain the player.

When Smith and Colin Miller’s deal runs out next season, the Devils can roll out a mix of Hanifin, Hamilton, Siegenthaler, Nemec, John Marino, Kevin Bahl, and Luke Hughes.

Perhaps gold medalist Seamus Casey would be of interest to Calgary as part of a package?

Chris Tanev

If not Hanifin, then why not Chris Tanev?

Here’s the thing. Besides keeping the puck out of their own net, the Devils lack experience on a blue line. Their most experienced defenseman are on the shelf.

Well, Tanev is a 14-year NHL veteran with 753 games of NHL experience. Further, he’s played in 41 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including a deep run with the Vancouver Canucks in 2019-20.

Tanev has some say in where he lands courtesy of a 10-team no-trade list. However, there’s little reason to believe he wouldn’t accept a trade to the Devils if they’re even on that list. Tanev is still well-regarded as a shutdown defenseman in the NHL. He’s on an expiring $4.5 million deal and once Hamilton and potentially Siegenthaler hit long-term injured reserve, the Devils will have plenty of money to work with.

The Athletic describes Tanev as, “A right shot with penalty-killing chops, he’s garnered a reputation for playing the game the right way over 12 NHL seasons. That means finishing checks, blocking shots, and keeping opponents to the outside — whatever it takes to give his team the best chance at success.”

That’s exactly what the Devils are looking for.

Ilya Lyubushkin

Now, if the Devils are expecting any of their defensemen to return before the end of the season, they’ll need some wiggle room in their salary cap.

Ilya Lyubushkin is a right-defenseman on an expiring $2.75 million deal who can help both now and when. the Devils are finally healthy.

The 29-year-old defenseman can kill penalties, connect on big checks, and keep the play in front of him, something the Devils’ defense has struggled to do this season allowing too many inside chances. He’s certainly going to come cheaper than the aforementioned external options.

Nick Seeler

In-division trades typically cost the buyer a little more than what they would have wanted to pay. However, beggars can’t be choosers and with the injuries mounting, the Devils might be begging for help soon.

Nick Seeler is a Philadelphia Flyers defenseman making an impact on an overachieving John Tortorella-led team. Seeler blocks shots, kills penalties, and drives opponents to the perimeter to limit low-danger chances in the Tortorella system. The Devils could use a little bit of that on their blue line, especially at his cap hit.

Jon Bailey of Philly Hockey Now describes Seeler as, “A defense-first, physical defenseman who is one of the most well-liked and respected guys in the Flyers locker room. Seeler loves to block shots, never backs down from a fight, and always sticks up for his teammates. The Flyers play a system that asks their defensemen to pinch frequently to help manufacture offense, so adjusting to a faster style of play won’t be an issue for the 30-year-old either.”

That’s almost a one-for-one replacement for Siegenthaler, perhaps with just a bit more bite. Seeler is in the final season of a league-minimum contract that would leave the Devils with a tremendous amount of cap space at the deadline if/when Hamilton and Siegenthaler hit injured reserve to make more moves.

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