I’ll be honest, it’s still hard for me to get into watching the Devils right now. Even if there are some genuine reasons for optimism going forward with both Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes each putting up points at over a PPG pace. Except for Taylor Hall’s MVP season, no other Devil has scored at that rate since Ilya Kovalchuk in 2011-12. Coincidentally, those were the Devils’ last two playoff seasons – a stark contrast to this season where the team is still puttering around twelve games under NHL .500, with just 22 wins in 61 games after being whipped 6-3 in back-to-back games on their Western Canada swing, yet another setback for the franchise after a promising homestand where they won three out of four – including a stirring comeback from 3-0 down to beat the Avalanche.
Of course, it doesn’t help that right when there was a ray of hope after the Devils’ most recent homestand they were playing late weeknight games – one of which I was more interested in the Rutgers NCAA tournament play-in game on at the same time anyway. Not that I missed much in either game other than Nico Daws’ Cinderella story reaching midnight after being pulled in two straight games following a solid eight-game stretch where the team went 5-3 and he only allowed eighteen goals on 250 shots. Even during that stretch I was fearful of the bottom eventually falling in for the 21-year old rookie and seemingly that happened with some bad goals allowed in both games contributing to second-period pulls. He shouldn’t be playing but sadly he’s the best option available considering just how awful Jon Gillies is. Still, at a certain point you have to start prioritizing what’s best for this kid’s development over attempting to win a couple more junktime games. Even if I’ve been harping on the fact the rest of the team needs to start earning better results, there’s a balance between going for results and doing what’s best for development.
With the trade deadline mercifully upon us on Monday, action is finally starting to happen around the NHL. I wasn’t necessarily expecting the Devils to be among the big wheelers and dealers (and still really don’t), given our only expiring contract of any significance is PK Subban, who might not even want to be dealt to begin with. If he does, I doubt he has much value given his cap figure – even with 50% retention you’re talking about $4.5 million prorated, which will be hard for win-now teams who are cap strapped to justify for a middle pairing defender. PK or maybe a 5th rounder for Jimmy Vesey is not going to inspire me to refresh Twitter over the weekend or Monday.
All that said, there may well be some action beyond our slim UFA pickings with rumors of them finally having enough of Pavel Zacha and soliciting offers for the mercurial Czech – who’s gone back to being a disappointment this year after seeming on the verge of a breakout last year and early this season. While there haven’t been any rumors yet on Damon Severson, if you’re GM Tom Fitzgerald you have to at least throw it out there to see what his market value is given that from the few moves that have happened so far it seems to be shaping up as a sellers’ market, especially for guys with team control beyond this season. At the very least, I can’t see us re-signing both Severson and Ryan Graves, who are pending 2023 UFA’s. Neither Severson or Zacha is the biggest name rumored to be on the block, however.
What’s telling is that it’s hard to figure out the meaning of being on the same page, and where it’s coming from although there are some clear possibilities. Is the team still skeptical of Blackwood after his well-publicized vaccine hesitancy in the fall, and/or do they feel he hasn’t managed his injuries well (or been honest about the extent of them)? Or is Blackwood the one annoyed over the team’s handling of his injuries, or them leaning on him to get the vaccine the way 99% of the NHL has? Whatever the case, Blackwood did change agents recently, and you generally don’t do that if you want to maintain status quo. Not long after he gained new representation is when these trade rumors have been popping up. So perhaps it’s his camp trying to engineer his way out.
I can’t see what kind of market he would have at this point coming off of two bad and injury-plagued seasons, although given that we’re apparently being held hostage just trying to find schlebs on the goaltending market, maybe Blackwood still has more trade value than I think. It’s hard to see how a contender could think he would be an immediate answer with his questionable health status. I’m not sure a deal happens now, but it sure seems likely these two parties are headed for divorce one way or another by this offseason. Clearly there’s blame to go around for everyone with this mess, but the bottom line is if the player had played better the last two years it’s unlikely we’d be at this point, to where he wants out and we’re relying on a 21-year old kid to play down the stretch.
I kind of have the feeling something happens at the deadline, I just don’t know what. I’ll be surprised if we only move Subban, disappointed if we really don’t trade anyone at all (or trade for anyone) but I’m not expecting miracles either. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes by Monday afternoon.