For many hockey fans, deadline day on Monday is an exciting time of year. If you’re a playoff contender you’re looking forward to what new pieces your GM can add to a playoff push. Fans of teams that are out of it are themselves generally looking forward to what pieces (picks/prospects) they add to a rebuild for better days ahead. However, when you’re on the latter end of that equation too often as Devil fans have been in recent years, you become a bit jaded and wistful about the days where we were making deadline acquisitions instead of subtractions.
This year in particular the deadline’s become depressing – in part because of the Devils’ sudden fall from grace losing five of six including two straight horrifying blowouts that have all but locked them firmly outside of the playoff bubble, and in part because let’s be honest there aren’t exactly a lot of expendable pieces for Ray Shero to deal off. Yes the Devils have nine pending UFA’s on the roster but let’s get real…there’s no trade value at all for most of them. In assessing the Devils’ trade deadline possibilities I’ll look at three categories – likely to move, possible to unlikely to move and unable to move. At the risk of depressing Devil fans I’ll get the bad news out of the way first:
Unable to move – I’m just putting the pending UFA’s that are unlikely to go anywhere barring an outright release in this category…Tuomo Ruutu’s on the last year of a horrendous contract and still due over $1 million on his $4.8 million salary (yikes) and has been a largely ineffective fourth liner since former GM Lou Lamoriello acquired him from Carolina three years ago. Jiri Tlusty had a poor season and is on IR with a season-ending injury so he’s not going anywhere. Jordin Tootoo is having a poor season with a team worst -25 and a myriad of ridiculous minor penalties, so he’s obviously not going anywhere unless management finally cuts the cord and releases/options him, which I’d hope at some point Shero does down the stretch to get a look at other players. Tyler Kennedy’s actually looked okay in the last few weeks after being on the street for months and looking like he no longer belonged in the NHL in his first 25 or so games with the team, but you’re not getting anything for a fourth-liner that was a UFA till a couple months ago. You’re also not getting anything for waiver pickup Bobby Farnham, who’s cooled significantly since his meltdown in St. Louis. Finally, it hurts to even put him in this category but Patrik Elias has been hurt most of the year and even if not, his NMC would severely limit where he could be traded to…if the Devils even dared ask him to waive it. I’d kind of prefer he finished out this season – and his career – here with a few games down the stretch tbh. Of course it’s his career and who knows what’s going to happen after the season.
Possible to unlikely to move – After the unable to move category there’s only three pending UFA’s left. I’ll put Stephen Gionta here, for all the crap he gets he’s carved out a role as a solid fourth-liner under three different coaching staffs. That said guys like Gionta aren’t ones that get ridiculously overpriced at the deadline, I seriously doubt that Shero would take a meager at best return just to move him, especially considering he’s a good locker room guy and it’s entirely possible they re-sign him after the year. I’ll also put a couple of other players here that have been mentioned in trade rumors…former first-rounder Stefan Matteau and blueline tease Eric Gelinas, both of whom have clearly fallen out of favor with current management and I’m sure they would like to deal either if they could somehow get a reasonable return.
In Gelinas’s case he had his chances to succeed and has gone steadily backwards in each of the last two years, to the point where even his offense has become nearly nonexistent. And if Gelinas isn’t going to provide offense his horrendous defense certainly isn’t worth dealing with. Don’t give me any shots allowed stats either, watch the games – Gelinas is horrible and gives up high quality chances playing against lesser players in protected minutes. It’s for those reasons that he’s unlikely to move though, especially being signed through next year. He may get another chance in the lineup before the year’s over but I’ve pretty much lost any hope in him. As far as Matteau’s concerned it would be nice if before the end of the season they would start playing him more frequently over Tootoo and Ruutu, neither of whom should be in the Devils’ present or future plans. If nothing else they need to find out if they have anything in this kid before a wave of third and fourth-line prospects come to camp next year competing for jobs and roster spots. Since he’s gotten even less of a chance than Gelinas though clearly he doesn’t seem to be in their future plans either, but I doubt he’ll be moving anywhere for ten cents on the dollar so he’s most likely stuck in purgatory until the team falls completely out of the race at the very least.
Likely to move – Basically I’d only put two guys in this category…pending UFA’s Lee Stempniak (might his goal against the Rangers on Tuesday night above be his last highlight as a Devil?) and David Schlemko. Both have had better than expected seasons after being bargain basement signings, in Stempniak’s case a real solid season while Schlemko’s been serviceable, but the value you could get back for either is extremely debatable. Despite the market overvaluing certain types of defensemen, Schlemko’s not the type of d-man that typically gets overvalued being he isn’t overtly physical or a great puck mover/offensive defenseman. Not to mention the guy was a scrap heap signing, you don’t typically get big resale value for those guys just months later. You could probably get something of value for Stempniak at least since he has been that good for the most part, though Pierre LeBrun cautioned on Twitter last night that since there are a good number of forwards on the market, supply may outnumber demand driving down prices.
Even if you were inclined to say this team doesn’t have a realistic chance at the playoffs and deal both off for value, the caveat to that is that if you want to re-sign one or both, trading them makes it less likely you’re able to sign them back in the offseason. For every Keith Thachuk that gets traded and returns after the season hundreds of other FA’s move on emotionally once they’re traded. Stempniak’s probably more important to re-sign than Schlemko given our utter lack of depth at RW, but you can’t exactly count on this type of season again for a guy that was mostly a third-fourth line player in the previous seven years before putting up a team-leading 41 points in 63 games so far this season. If it were me though, personally if you could get a two or better for Stempniak and a three or better for Schlemko I’d move both. You could always turn around and flip those picks for a roster player at the draft the way Shero did last June with Kyle Palmeri. Now if prices were lower than that, I wouldn’t really bother and just take my chances on re-signing them or not selling them at ten cents on the dollar. Especially in a year that’s supposedly a much weaker draft than last year, as stated by draftniks who forecast this stuff for a hobby.
Although I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to selling off anything at the deadline for reasons stated above, I am curious as to what Shero will be able to do. Clearly one thing that’s off the table now (or should be off the table) is additions after the Devils’ collapse the last two weeks losing five of six including horrific no-shows against the Flyers and Columbus and a frightenengly bad boys against men game against the Lightning last night where we were outclassed in every way imaginable. If there’s one silver lining it’s that this collapse happened just before the deadline instead of just after it. And the Devils did give us four plus months of more exciting hockey than expected, but I’m tired of being content with not sucking. Next year the goal needs to be getting back where the playoffs are a goal and not just a pipedream.