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Devils Mailbag Part 1: Devils Trade Jesper Bratt? Ruff on the Hot Seat? Michael McLeod Replacements? & More

In part one of a two-part Devils mailbag, the fans ask if the Devils trade Bratt for upgrades, Ruff’s hot seat, McLeod replacements & more.

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New Jersey Devils

It’s the All-Star break. The New Jersey Devils sit outside of playoff position.

You’re restless. You have questions. We’re providing answers.

Away we go.

What are the odds (that the Devils trade) Jesper Bratt before his (no-move clause) kicks in this summer? @MrWhite1079

This is certainly a question I did not think I’d see in this mailbag.

Trade Jesper Bratt?! The chances of the Devils trading the player they just signed to a long-term, eight-year contract are slim to none.

Indeed, the Devils did not hand Bratt a no-move clause in year one of his new deal. However, that’s not an uncommon practice. Kevin Fiala, Tage Thompson, and Alex DeBrincat (although shorter) hold similar contracts and also didn’t receive no-move clauses in the first year of their respective deals.

Rarely, if ever, are those players traded in this circumstance.

The long-term commitment doesn’t scream “trade” in the first year of Bratt’s contract. Add the fact that he is an All-Star, New Jersey’s leading goal-scorer, and projected to reach new career highs by season end at just 25 years old — he’s not going anywhere.

Especially given that he’s Jack Hughes’ favorite linemate.

The Devils have the means to address their needs without forking over their leading scorer.

If the team continues to lose games before the trade deadline could you see (Tom Fitzgerald) sell at the deadline? @Parkway_Puck

Well, it won’t be Bratt.

Look, despite the Devils’ lack of consistency this season, stripping things down is not the answer. If they’re going to make trades, they’re going to be hockey trades. So, labeling them as a “seller” likely isn’t accurate. However, I don’t see why they wouldn’t move a player in an area of strength for another player in an area of need.

If the Devils are completely down and out of the playoff equation, perhaps they listen on a player like Tyler Toffoli who is a pending unrestricted free agent. However, it’s tough to imagine a situation where the Devils aren’t competing for playoff position, or back in it by the end of April. Especially when they regain their health and it persists.

The bottom line, the Devils aren’t selling off anything. They very well may make a trade. A roster play might be involved. However, it’ll be to address a need and not to purely gain assets to use in the summer.

What are some good options via trade that the Devils could look at to potentially replace (Michael) McLeod? @DevilsState

Obviously, the Devils won’t have Michael McLeod back for a long time, if ever. Strictly speaking in terms of hockey and his on-ice presence, the Devils are minus a strong defensive forward who won the most faceoffs in the NHL. That’s not easy to replace.

The Devils have a couple of centers in their lineup that can jump into the center role. Curtis Lazar, Erik Haula, and Dawson Mercer are natural centers. However, it seems the Devils prefer the aforementioned on the wing. When Tomas Nosek returns from injury, he’s the most likely to fill in the center void.

Externally, there are options on the market. An Adam Henrique reunion would certainly make Devils fans happy. However, on the ice, it would make head coach Lindy Ruff quite happy, too. Henrique is responsible in all three zones and adds a bit more of a scoring touch. He doesn’t win as many faceoff draws, but he’s still on the positive side winning 53.4%.

Sean Monahan is another forward that’s available via the Montreal Canadiens. He’s enjoying a strong season for Montreal and is at the center of trade talks. However, word is he could cost a first-round pick and the Devils have bigger needs.

In all honesty, I thought the Devils might claim Nick Bonino when the New York Rangers put him on waivers. That would have been a free solution for a center that wins 51.0% of faceoffs. Perhaps he can be acquired for cheap.

What do you think was the reason for the Devils being a bit lower on the standings? @NJ_NicoHischier

Injuries. The Devils are decimated by injuries. The only team in a playoff position that has more injuries than the Devils this season is the Vegas Golden Knights.

There’s a reason they’re the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

The number of games Lindy Ruff dressed a completely healthy lineup this season is five. They’ve been without their No.1 center for 15 games this season. They’ve been without their No.1 defenseman for 27 games thus far. And that’s just those two players. The Devils have had 14 different players injured this season, some in two different injury stints. It’s simply not as easy as one might think to overcome that obstacle.

Add the fact that the Devils didn’t make the necessary additions this summer after losing both Damon Severson and Ryan Graves. The truth of the matter is perhaps they’re not playing their best hockey on their new teams. However, they worked in the Devils’ system. And when you subtract almost 1,000 games of NHL experience from the lineup when you already had mediocre goaltending, you’re bound to see some regression.

The Devils didn’t anticipate having both Simon Nemec and Luke Hughes in the lineup at the same times as rookies. Yet, neither has been so bad that you can point to them and say the rookies are the problem. Yes, rookie mistakes happen, however, it’s the veteran blue-liners who haven’t been able to step up in the post-Severson/Graves era.

John Marino, Kevin Bahl, and Jonas Siegenthaler (when he returns from injury) simply have to be better.

That doesn’t excuse the goaltending. GM Tom Fitzgerald felt comfortable coming into this season with Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid as his goaltending tandem. However, after the blue line got weaker, he needed to strengthen the goaltending to buoy the Devils. That didn’t happen, and now they’re suffering the consequences.

What seat heater setting is Lindy Ruff’s seat on right now? @gil21t

I’m not sure how your car works, but the heated seats in my car have three levels. Three lights mean the hottest and one light means the lowest.

I’d say Lindy Ruff’s sitting at about a one right now.

I know that might be shocking for some of you to read, but by no means can General Manager Tom Fitzgerald look at Lindy Ruff and say this is his fault when he’s forced to deploy an AHL blue line and inept goaltending.

This isn’t the same as what went on in Edmonton, Minnesota, or Ottawa this season. Yes, Connor McDavid was injured. However, he came back far quicker than Jack Hughes. All of Edmonton, Minnesota, and Ottawa dressed a mostly healthy lineup of NHLers.

Ruff, however, has not been able to say the same.

The Devils didn’t succeed last season in spite of Ruff’s leadership. They also didn’t succeed because of Andrew Brunette who ran the power play. Besides, a peak at the NHL standings shows the Nashville Predators have just three more points in four more games played than the Devils. The Brunette narrative is lazy, it’s time for a new one.

There’s a process here that needs to happen. Ruff led the Devils to 112 points last season. They were third in the NHL standings and now they’re not. The difference? The Devils were lucky to not be as injured last season as they are this season. And now, it’s on Fitzgerald to provide Ruff with an in-season trade to help a battered and bruised roster. Once that happens, and if it doesn’t work, then we can talk about whether this is Ruff’s fault or not.

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