If last night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes told us anything, it’s that the New Jersey Devils must be buyers at the NHL Trade Deadline.
That opinion might not be shocking to many who are reading this. However, there are a few contrarian voices out there that believe the Devils should sell off expiring contracts such as Tyler Toffoli and Colin Miller. That would absolutely be a mistake.
The Devils didn’t just forget how to play hockey. Saturday night was a good example of that. They came up short of collecting the second point, however, the product on the ice looked a lot closer to last season’s team.
There’s little doubt they’ve faced several obstacles this season. However, they’ve kept themselves close enough to go on a run and get back in playoff position.
It was disappointing to leave the second one on the table, however, it’s a big point. As of Sunday, New Jersey sits six points out of the Eastern Conference Wild Card with a game in hand on the Detroit Red Wings who occupy the second WC position.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are in the hunt with the Devils, sitting a point behind New Jersey in the standings with a game in hand. The Washington Capitals also own 53 points, however, have played the same number of games as the Devils.
Regardless of the position of the other Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference teams, that can’t and won’t be the focus of the Devils’ decisions moving forward. The Devils want to win hockey games and they will certainly try to take as much as they can moving forward.
We got a good peak behind the curtain of what General Manager Tom Fitzgerald is trying to do behind the scenes last night.
As Elliotte Friedman reported, the Devils and Calgary Flames engaged in serious trade conversations about goaltender Jacob Markstrom. Those talks have come to a halt, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely over, despite how difficult it might be to get a deal done.
Now, how does Fitzgerald pivot?
He could certainly try and reengage Flames GM Craig Conroy with a new trade package. Or, he could reach out to the number of teams with potential goaltenders that are available. Juuse Saros and John Gibson are two goaltenders who are certainly of interest. However, much like Markstrom, they could be more difficult to pry from their respective teams in-season. Perhaps Elvis Merzlikins would be as well, however, that’s likely less difficult than the two aforementioned.
Or, Fitzgerald could opt for the road with less resistance. Kaapo Kahkonen is playing well for the defensively inept San Jose Sharks. The Devils’ defense has certainly struggled, too. But, they’re not the Sharks, and they’ve proven they can maintain puck possession a lot more than San Jose which will certainly help. In a similar vein, Jake Allen has been rumored available all season long. He comes with an extra year on his contract, but he shouldn’t be hard to pry from the Montreal Canadiens.
Perhaps Marc-Andre Fleury could even be convinced he has a better shot at the postseason with the Devils than he does with the Minnesota Wild.
There’s a chance talks between the Devils and Flames are punted to the summer. That could mean Fitzgerald opts for last season’s approach. A stronger blue line.
Admittedly, it’s not ideal to run with Vitek Vanecek and whoever option B is by the postseason whether it’s Nico Daws or Akira Schmid. However, beggars can’t be choosers, and Fitzgerald will need to utilize his dwindling assets wisely.
Blueliners such as Chris Tanev and Sean Walker are certainly two options the Devils can acquire that won’t burn a hole in Fitzgerald’s wallet. And if those two players happen to drive up bidding wars, some other names such as Alexander Carrier and Ilya Lyubushkin could be viable options to help strengthen the Devils’ back end.
The fact of the matter is, as Darren Dreger said, sitting on his hands is not Fitzgerald’s style, nor would it be the right option. First, it sends the wrong message to the locker room. If the Devils don’t try and salvage the season, the demoralized ripple effect it could have into next season might be even more detrimental. And second, the team deserves the benefit of the doubt. It’s been a rough, injury-ridden season. However, the majority of this Devils team collected 112 points last season and advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Last night’s OT loss proved the Devils can still hang in tough with a formidable opponent. They’re far from a perfect team, but a slight shakeup or addition ahead of the trade deadline could do wonders for a team certainly in need of a morale booster.
Plus, once you get in, anything can happen in the playoffs. They’re far from out of the picture.
Fitzgerald must buy.