The All-Star break is inching closer, which means trade deadline discussions are ramping up. General managers will do their best to improve their team, leaving some players to anxiously await their fate. Meanwhile, fans will spend the next several weeks scrolling through articles, looking for any type of rumors or speculation about their team.
Now is the perfect time to lay out where the Devils stand as the 2023 Trade Deadline approaches. At the time of publication, the Devils are second in the Metropolitan Division with a 31-12-4 record. While they are expected to make the postseason, Damon Severson, who is the longest-tenured player on the team, knows there’s still plenty of hockey left.
“…We’re still a long way off. We’ve got to keep winning hockey games to make it to the playoffs,” Severson told reporter Amanda Stein. “…We’ve got some real good players, some talent. If we continue to do the right thing as players on the ice, we’re just going to try and win our hockey games, every one that goes by, and hopefully, when it comes time, we’ll deal with the playoffs, when we get there.”
The San Jose Sharks made a trade with the Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 25, which could trigger a series of deadline moves. Before you get ahead of yourself, however, let me remind you that you should expect more of the same from general manager Tom Fitzgerald and what moves he may or may not make.
Fitzgerald Will Most Likely Stick To His Game Plan
Fitzgerald has not been shy about building his team. The 54-year-old is putting together a roster that can remain competitive over multiple seasons. With that in mind, he added John Marino, who is the perfect age to complement his young core, and, like Nico Hsichier, is under contract until the 2027-28 season. Jonas Siegenthaler is another player Fitzgerald acquired via trade and locked into a team-friendly deal until 2028-29.
During hisend-of-season media availability in May, Fitzgerald made it clear that his goal would be to build up his roster and add diversity to his lineup.
“I have a wish list of characteristics of players that I really think we need to add to support the young offensive talent that we have,” he said. “We have a lot of the same upfront. We have a lot of nice players, talented players. But I think we have a lot of the same. I don’t want a lot of the same. It’s time to start mixing and matching and building a team, especially up front, to be harder to play against, heavier skill…I’m looking to build out a roster that can play any type of game. I’m looking to build out a roster that not only becomes a playoff team but can handle the wear and tear and heaviness of a playoff series.”
Sticking to his word, he signed defenseman Brendan Smith, who brings a physical presence, and veteran Erik Haula has been to the postseason eight times and can handle the wear and tear of a playoff series. Don’t expect Fitzgerald to add a bunch of short-term rentals but complementary pieces to ensure success in the future.
The Devils’ window to contend cracked open this season, but that does not mean the team is a Stanley Cup contender. To begin, here’s a look at the organization’s unrestricted free agents.
A Look at the Devils’ Pending UFAs
The Devils have five pending UFAs, including veteran forwards Haula, Tomas Tatar, and Miles Wood, along with defensemen Severson and Ryan Graves. It’s worth noting Andreas Johnsson, who only appeared in two games this season, is also a UFA, along with Jonathan Bernier, who remains on long-term injured reserve.
While most fans would love to see Fitzgerald move Tatar or Haula, it is not likely. First, neither one would garner a worthwhile return, and second, both were brought in for their veteran and playoff experience. Of the three UFA forwards, Wood should earn the most outside interest.
Miles Wood signed a one-year, $3.2 millioncontract with the Devils on Aug. 4, and has been with the team since the 2015-16 season. Over his career, he has 137 points in 371 games. His offense has recently gone cold – he hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 13 – but he has proven that he can contribute offensively. During the 2020-21 season, he and Pavel Zacha led the team with 17 goals. Between his size, speed, and physical play he can be a desirable target for teams who believe they are a piece or two away from truly contending.
Question Marks Surrounding Damon Severson and Ryan Graves
The million-dollar question is if Fitzgerald will part with a couple of his most dependable defensemen, which is where Severson comes in. With Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec waiting to make the jump to the NHL, Severson could be dispensable. The 6-foot-2 Manitoba native is a reliable right-shot defenseman who could be appealing to teams gearing up for a postseason run.
Related: Devils Are in Better Position Without DeBrincat and Gaudreau
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Graves is a bit of a different story for the sole reason that he was on Fitzgerald’s radar years before a trade was finalized. Over the past few months, Graves, along with Marino, became New Jersey’s best pairing on the blue line. The 6-foot-5 defenseman has a plus-28 rating, which is tied for fourth in the league with Vince Dunn and David Pastrnak. As much as he would be a welcome addition to any team’s blue line, it is highly unlikely that Fitzgerald would break up that pairing ahead of a potential playoff run.
What Do The Devils Need?
A Scorer for Jack Hughes
The 21-year-old is in the midst of an impressive season. Hughes has reached 60 points for the first time in his career, and his 30 goals rank eighth in the league, higher than both Leon Draisaitl and Auston Matthews.
Hughes has spent 35 games playing on a line with Haula and either Jesper Bratt or Dawson Mercer, and recently, we’ve seen a trio of Haula-Hughes-Tatar. It’s been one of the more controversial storylines of the season as fans want to see a bonafide goal scorer with Hughes.
The good news is the Devils are not looking for a player to get Hughes going. He has been impressive all season long. It’s about finding the right complementary player to raise his game to the next level and solidify the top six.
Like most general managers, Fitzgerald has spoken about trying to address team needs internally. In this case, that’s Alexander Holtz. The former first-round pick has been with the club for most of the season but has often been a healthy scratch. In the lineup, he has not done enough to earn a spot to play alongside Hughes. This has many speculating if he will be part of a trade and if Fitzgerald will need to look externally to find a player to complement his young superstar.
A Depth Physical Forward With a Scoring Touch
It’s no secret that the team’s bottom-six forwards are struggling. When they get going, the BMW Line of Nathan Bastian, Miles Wood, and Michael McLeod has been highly effective. The trio can bring energy, speed, and physicality, and together, they offer something different than any other forward line at head coach Lindy Ruff’s disposal.
On the other hand, the third line has been a bit of a mess, with no real anchor to carry them. The coaching staff has filled that line with players who do not have any other place to go. There has been a rotation of forwards, including Jesper Boqvist, Dawson Mercer, Yegor Sharangovich, and Fabian Zetterlund. The idea that Haula would anchor the third line has yet to come to fruition, and Fitzgerald could look for an affordable option to help his struggling depth players.
All Aboard the Timo Train
Less than a year ago, Devils fans tried to manifest Alex DeBrincat and Johnny Gaudreau into a Devils uniform. There was a feeling of disappointment when the Chicago Blackhawks moved DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators and complete devastation when Gaudreau decided to commit to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the eleventh hour.
This obsession has now shifted to San Jose Sharks forwardTimo Meier. On paper, the 26-year-old makes a ton of sense for the Devils. He is a proven goal scorer who is listed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. The Herisau native plays a physical game and put up 48 points. Of course, there is his connection to Nico Hischier from their time playing together at the IIHF World Championship, as well as Sharks’ general manager Mike Grier’s ties to New Jersey. It seems like a no-brainer, but there are aton of factorsto consider when it comes to this forward.
The Sharks will need to retool or rebuild sooner rather than later, and part of that will mean moving impactful players for future assets. In addition to Meier, the Sharks are alsorumored to be listening to trade proposalsfor Erik Karlsson and Kevin Labanc. There are a ton of factors surrounding a potential trade for Meier, and while it may not be the easiest deal to make, there is a realistic path to bring him to New Jersey.
Caution Ahead, Devils Fans
Over the summer, the Devils were attached to plenty of names, including Kevin Fiala, DeBrincat, and Gaudreau. Not only were they attached, but insiders argued that New Jersey was the heavily favored team to land the three forwards. Of course, none of those trades or signings happened, which should serve as a cautionary reminder to not take every article and podcast as gospel.
New Jersey has plenty of prospects who can be moved, including Holtz and Reilly Walsh. For a rebuilding team like the Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks, or Anaheim Ducks, the Devils could be a perfect trade partner, and because of that, Fitzgerald will most likely be linked to a few names over the next several weeks. Pay attention to where you are consuming information, and be diligent about which accounts you follow on Twitter.
The next few weeks will be a rollercoaster as teams prepare to improve their roster for the postseason. Over their last 47 games, the Devils have proven they are the real deal and remain a top-five team in the league. Fitzgerald’s club has exceeded everyone’s expectations, and they have played themselves into a very interesting position as the trade deadline looms. Make sure to follow me on Twitter for all the latest surrounding the Devils.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHLand Instagram SkatingInStilettos.