With the Devils sitting essentially six points behind everyone in the playoff race (other than Pittsburgh, who has three games in hand and is three points up) it was obvious that any trades that Ray Shero made at this deadline would be with both eyes toward the future. Even if only the Lee Stempniak trade to Boston could be classified as a true ‘sell’, getting rid of former first-rounder Stefan Matteau and Eric Gelinas – both of whom have fallen by the wayside this year – shows that Shero and coach John Hynes are wasting no time remaking the roster in their mold. Overall the Devils picked up second and third-rounders in 2017, a fourth-rounder in 2016 and prospect turned project Devante-Smith Pelly for the three players. I can’t say I have any real problem with any of the three deals and in fact on balanced liked Shero’s deadline day even if there were reasons not to do all three and reasons any of them could backfire. Let’s look at them one by one:
Shero’s first deal at about 1:30 PM might have been his most surprising, coaxing a third-rounder out of Colorado for Gelinas, a one-time hope of the future on the blueline with a cannon of a slapshot that led to a 29-point season in his rookie year, but in the last two years he’s only put up 25 points in 95 games to go along with worse defense and decision-making. In recent weeks he’s fallen out of the rotation on the blueline and even before that got taken off the power play after a series of critical mistakes that could no longer be ignored. With six defensemen clearly ahead of Gelinas in the rotation and afternoon waiver claim David Warsofsky coming over from Pittsburgh to take his spot on the roster there was no more room for Gelinas, who would have had to go through waivers to be sent back to the AHL. So now he takes his talent to the Rocky Mountains, and I’m not sure how it’s going to work out long-term for him there given the Avs play a fast up-tempo system that doesn’t really fit into Gelinas’s skillset. Of course if he ever did put it together Sheldon Souray-style we might rue giving him up but at this point he wasn’t part of the team’s future plans anyway so at some point something was going to have to give.
Right up till 3 PM it looked as if the Gelinas deal might be the only one that got made but just after the end of the trade deadline word came in that Stempniak was traded to Boston in what the winger himself perfectly described as ‘bittersweet’. It was certainly understandable that the Devils recouped a 2nd round pick (’17) and 4th rounder (’16) for a guy who was going to be a free agent at the end of the year with the team falling far outside the playoff bubble but getting a team-leading 41 points and two draft picks for a guy that came to camp as a tryout can only be described as a success. Although you can’t help but feel bad for Stempniak, now on his ninth team – at least he’s getting a chance to compete in a playoff race and he also has family in Boston, so it’s not a total uproot. Really the only rational argument for keeping Stempniak at this point was if you wanted to sign him to a short-term deal to patch up our RW depth, and certainly trading him doesn’t improve our chances of re-signing him after the season. In fact the Devils did decide to hold onto fellow UFA David Schlemko so there’s more of a possibility he could be re-signed.
Our third and final deal announced was eye-opening, if not that surprising given that one-time first-rounder Matteau had fallen even further down the food chain than Gelinas, playing in twenty games this year with exactly one goal and no assists. In many ways it’s a dissapointing forward for dissapointing forward trade as Matteau was dealt to Montreal for Devante-Smith Pelly, who came into the league like a house afire in his first playoffs with the Ducks but has since bounced around and been relegated to fourth-line duty for the most part. Montreal gets the younger (by two years) player and a LW for Smith-Pelly, a RW who will add to our pitiful depth there and with any luck get Jordin Tootoo and his -234325 out of the lineup. I still think Smith-Pelly has a higher upside than Matteau but either way Matteau was stuck here after an underwhelming three seasons with bad roster management in his rookie season making him waiver-eligible and thus unable to be sent down to the AHL this year.
In a way trading Matteau ends one of the biggest contreversies in Devil history as many fans including me till can’t get over the fact that former GM Lou Lamoriello kept the #29 overall pick in 2012 when we were supposed to give up a first-rounder in the next three years. Instead of forking over the pick which turned out to be Matteau we wound up losing a #10 pick two years later and moving twenty spots back after the league did give us ‘a’ first-rounder back. We could have drafted Wings super rookie Dylan Larkin but instead wound up with John Quenneville, who might prove to be okay down the road. Everything about Matteau seemed doomed to a star-crossed failure here from the pick contreversy to having a dad still very active in Rangers alumni to the shameful unneccesary burning up of an ELC year as an 18-year old that caused the roster problems this year. Maybe if he was in the AHL he would have gotten a chance to prove himself to new management there instead of sitting on the bench here in favor of guys like the immortal AHL scoring leader Mike Sislo.
In any case I don’t have an issue with what Shero did today although going forward I worry about the new toy Warsovsky getting minutes over defensemen Jon Merrill and Damon Severson down the stretch – even if Severson is now eligible to participate in the AHL playoffs after the year. Honestly the most annoying thing about today is the once again never-ending Ilya Kovalchuk rumors but I’ll save that rant on that player for another day when his now inevitable return to the NHL gets closer. While for the most part I’m content with the return in all the deals I’m not content over the fact once again we were compelled to trade for next year. In any case here’s hoping the three picks and Smith-Pelly all have a positive influence on the future.