After a quiet offseason I was looking forward to the expansion draft leadup. I admit I was as guilty as anyone of thinking the Devils would be able to get something big done this week before the draft. I underestimated the impact that Vegas’s secret side deals could have on the pool of available players though, especially in the first post-cap expansion draft. Once Tampa finally traded Johnathan Drouin that reduced the number of teams jockeying to get back assets for potential unprotected players, and defensemen Jonas Brodin and Sami Vatanen weren’t even traded – unless it was to Vegas themselves, since Vegas’s deals can’t be announced till their roster is on the night of the NHL Awards Wednesday night.
Given the biggest name players to move yesterday were Mike Smith and Nathan Belieau – an old journeyman goalie and a meh defensemen who was a healthy scratch at the end of the playoffs, perhaps it was inevitable yesterday would end with a dud for most teams. Although the Devils did make a trade in the end – dealing 2nd and 4th (picks #49 and 123) rounders for Mirco Mueller and a 5th rounder (pick #143) from the Sharks – I’m honestly less than enthused about it. Yes Mueller is only 22 and a former first-rounder who still has time to break out, and the parallel to how our one-time high pick Adam Larsson fell off the map here with the same head coach is uncanny. But his production both at the NHL and even AHL levels hasn’t really been there. To me Mueller’s a cross between two guys we already have, the pedigree of John Moore (also a former first-rounder) and the game of Jon Merrill (a stay-at-home guy who isn’t adding much to the offense). Or at least had since Mueller’s acquisition means we’ll probably lose one of those guys – or RFA forward Beau Bennett – in the expansion draft, unless we cut a deal for Vegas to take Mike Cammalleri.
It’s not even so much giving up the 2 that bothers me since we still have a high 2 and ten picks overall, or the fact that we have to expose Merrill or Moore in the expansion draft, it just seems like this is yet another solution to the D we bought at Sanford and Son – and didn’t exactly pay a discount on for a guy who was likely to be exposed in the expansion draft in San Jose – because we don’t/can’t spend any real assets to fix the dumpster fire that was our D last year, which seems to be getting worse by the season. Even if you think Mueller has something to offer under the right staff, I’m not exactly confident in OUR staff being the one to develop him.
The results of two years with this staff working with our younger D have been extremely mixed, they let Larsson continue on the upward path he’d been on the previous season last year before trading him for Taylor Hall. Damon Severson is still making the same mistakes defensively and his offense (particuarly on the PP) is still a bit underwhelming at times though he at least adds something on the other side of center ice unlike almost everyone else on the D. To the staff’s credit when he played Merrill looked back to being the solid stay-at-home guy he showed as a rookie but with the same limited upside he’s always had, and the same penchant for missing twenty games a year. Eric Gelinas completely flamed out and was eventually traded for what turned out to be the first pick in the third round this year. Moore adds goalscoring potential that nobody else on the D has, but little else besides speed.
With expansion draft lists being due out in an hour I’m not expecting major surprises. Given the Devils traded for a defensemen it’s even more likely they’ll go with the eight skater method of protection and protect Severson, Mueller, captain Andy Greene and one of Moore or Merrill, along with forwards Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. Anything else would be a major surprise and worth a post revision. I’m not expecting this to be GM Ray Shero’s last move before the draft concludes this weekend by any stretch. But I’m not going to lie – I’ll be very dissapointed if we make no major additions to the roster in UFA or at the draft.