If this regular season hasn’t already become a dream come true for Devils fans on the ice, GM Tom Fitzgerald today put an exclamation point on that this afternoon by pushing his chips to the middle of the table in a long-rumored and nerve-wracking trade negotiation before finally getting his man in Sharks winger Timo Meier just days before the Friday trade deadline. Meier – who has 31 goals in 52 games this year after scoring 37 last season – was clearly the key prize of this year’s trade deadline, and with the Devils in the market for another big top six winger since at least this offseason after the ill-fated Matt Thachuk and Johnny Gaudreau negotiations, Meier became Fitzy’s latest white whale.
This time, the white whale got bagged though. It feels a little silly to obsess over what we gave up, but make no mistake it was a lot in terms of quantity at least.
Perhaps the most questionable thing about the deal is the lack of an extension in place for Timo in it, at least on paper. However, given the Devils’ Swiss connection and upward trajectory combined with all of what they gave up I’m not too worried they’ll figure out a way to sign the 26-year old long-term at some point soon. It’s not likely any of the other names we got back will factor in with the big club – apart from maybe the veteran Harrington as an #8D – since the Sharks needed to shed some organizational depth being almost at the limit of fifty contracts. Swapping late round picks in 2024 feels so random, almost as if that was what was needed to balance it out on a trade meter in NHL24.
As far as what we gave up, obviously the inane rumors of Dawson Mercer had no legs and they clearly weren’t giving up prized prospect defensemen Luke Hughes or Simon Nemec. Giving up Fabian Zetterlund wasn’t exactly my favorite part of the trade but it seemed like he was on too short a leash at times here this year, at least he’ll get a full run with the Sharks and will probably be a solid role player in years to come. Mukhamadullin was a fairly recent first-round pick playing in the KHL who even Fitzy admitted was almost ready for a look at the NHL, but given the fact we had three core defensemen signed long-term plus Hughes and Nemec higher up on the prospect value chart, the chances for Muk to make a big impact seemed very narrow.
To a degree the same was true of Okhotyuk, a 2019 2nd rounder who actually did get in some NHL games last season and this, but would have almost certainly topped out as a back-pairing defenseman here. Maybe elsewhere he’ll have a shot to carve out a little better celling than that. I’m sure a main reason for giving up as much stuff as we did was also the fact that Timo’s salary for this year was basically offloaded between the 50% retention on his contract and the Sharks also taking back Andreas Johnsson’s bloated cap hit. That alone was probably worth at least an Okhotyuk with Timo returning the equivalent of either three first-rounders, or two firsts and a second. If we’re giving up the second first-rounder it’ll be because we at least made the Conference Finals in one of the next two years so it’s not like we’d be ceding a lottery pick in any case.
What was almost comical is how word of the trade for Meier leaked at 4:30 yet it took over four more hours for all the details to officially leak, secrecy that would have made Lou Lamoriello himself proud. Perhaps the delay was at least in part because Muk was still asleep overseas and couldn’t be notified for a while. Even Zetterlund hadn’t been notified an hour later (per a call from beat guy Ryan Novozinsky) as the trade call still hadn’t gone through at that time. Also apparently an injury concern for one of the minor parts of this deal held things up, per Elliotte Friedman.
Finally we got all the details though, just in time for prime time in the East haha. And almost instantaneously, both Fitzgerald and Meier met the media earlier tonight. In fact, the first thing I’m going to do after finishing this blog is listen to both before bed (or not, after seeing both are about twenty-five minutes long). I’d rather get away from the computer now as it’s been a long day, with too many hours obsessively checking for first whether there would be a trade, then news on the actual trade itself.
One thing I did see though, was the quick four minute hit that Fitzy did with team reporter Amanda Stein on YouTube before the formal presser.
You’d think there wouldn’t be much newsworthy to come out of a four-minute quickie on the team website but, Fitz actually did say something quite notable remarking on how building the team was about ‘adding players like Dougie, adding guys like Palat, bringing in guys like Tatar, signing Jack, Nico and Jesper will be next‘. Uh…what? Assuming Fitzy isn’t drunk on optimism after this trade, there might actually be some light at the end of the tunnel for the Jesper Bratt contract saga now.
He also made the obligatory comment about hoping to sign Meier long-term but if any team’s positioned to do that given our cap space in future years, given our contention window is now wide open and given the Swiss connection, it’s us. Clearly Fitz and the organization isn’t content to just return to the playoffs and take their bows with a gallant early exit, they’re not backing down to the Hurricanes, Rangers or even the Bruins at this point. This is go time and I’m all in for it!
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