Player movement sparks renewed interest in a long season and I have an under-the-radar idea for a target or two.
FanFirst Fridays are meant to put the wishes of the fans first, whether that’s talking about our greatest moment as a fan or how we first became a fan. Today, I want to cover something a little different, but something that ALWAYS gets attention from the fans: TRADES.
There’s been a ton of chatter this week about San Jose Sharks winger Timo Meier. And while it makes sense from a ton of different perspectives for the Devils since he’s a Swiss national team linemate of Devils star Nico Hischier, he is a physical beast and he is willing to shoot the puck from everywhere, the money will be complicated. Meier’s base salary right now is $10 million for this year with a cap hit of $6 million.
As many of you know, the Devils are up against the salary cap right now with little room to maneuver. So trading for Meier would likely require some salary dump with someone like the $3.4 million cap hit Andreas Johnsson (who could actually be relatively easy to dump considering his base salary this season is a mere $750,000 – you’d just need a team with cap room). They could also potentially ship out Damon Severson and/or Mackenzie Blackwood, who together add up to a fraction under $7 million in cap space. MacBlack, as covered here, has been injured and struggled in his first rehab assignment in Utica. If you did trade him and hand the crease to Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid, you’re obviously risking a lot on a still very young rookie and a guy that Washington eagerly jettisoned, not once but twice.
Severson, a favorite whipping boy for many on Twitter, so much so that he recently replied to someone there calling them a “vintage idiot”, would be an even more complicated loss. He will be an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason and with both Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec waiting in the wings for their shot at the NHL, it’s not likely the Devils allocate enough term to make Severson stay. Nemec, in particular, has been stellar for the Utica Comets, ranking fifth in win shares in the AHL for players under 21. Hughes is a star in the making and will showcase his skills at the upcoming World Junior Championship. But in the Devils recent run of play, Severson has been one of the better Devils defensemen while stalwarts during the 13-game winning streak Jonas Siegenthaler and John Marino haven’t fared as well. So do you risk shipping Severson out to create cap space and possibly derail the first good season the Devils have had in quite a long time? I’m not sure you do.
The Timo Meier dream may wind up being like the Alex DeBrincat dream. Or the Johnny Gaudreau dream. Or the Matthew Tkachuk dream. One you wish you’d remained asleep for and it became a reality. But alas, we all woke up.
What about something that could be a lot easier to do? The Vancouver Canucks have had a very up and down season. The Canucks are constantly involved in controversy, with Bo Horvat likely being dealt, Brock Boeser searching for his own new destination and Jim Rutherford seemingly constantly putting coach Bruce Boudreau on blast publicly. And while I’d love a Bo Horvat or a Thatcher Demko (I believe there’s a truly elite goalie there in spite of his putrid stats this season), what if they Devils looked at other potential trade targets from the Canucks? Ones that would be a lot more manageable under the cap. Andrei Kuzmenko is 26 years old (he turns 27 in February) and is only a $950,000 cap hit. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season so he might be a rental, but he has 26 points in 28 games for the Canucks and has been a true net positive for a team that hasn’t had a lot this year. Granted, playing with Elias Pettersson will help anyone statistically, but I think if he can keep up and produce with Pettersson, he would do the same with a Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier. He would also be a nice power play addition. Granted he’s shooting at 24 percent and that will likely regress, but hey, when you’re looking for cap savings, there will likely be downsides. Oh and yeah, this shootout goal on Wednesday was so very smooth.
And while we’re looking at Vancouver, why not also take a peek at Luke Schenn in possibly the same deal? He’s also a mere $850,000 cap hit and checks a lot of boxes of what the Devils are kind of lacking on their defense right now. Let his agent, former Devil Ben Hankinson explain it better than I could:
Luke Schenn…perfect deadline acquisition:
• A consistent pattern of top-four-quality play
• Versatility play any pairing
• Plays low-mistake hockey
• Physical & tough
• Kill penalties
• Vet leadership & winning personality
• 2X Stanley Cup champion https://t.co/lw3iObcrH8
— Ben Hankinson (@BenHankinson) December 8, 2022
Now he’s an agent doing agent things…you know trying to drive up player value and get him in a better situation than the toxic mess in the Pacific Northwest right now, but he’s not altogether wrong here. Now the CanucksArmy story he quote tweeted here was maybe a bit ambitious given that Schenn might just be in a good situation with Quinn Hughes as his partner. Oh wait, the Devils happen to have a defenseman coming also named Hughes who will likely wear number 43 and plays a style very similar to that guy in Vancouver. Yeah, the Devils defense is good but they also aren’t the most physical bunch, outside of maybe Brendan Smith. Schenn makes the Devils defense a lot more well rounded. Granted, I think Kevin Bahl could potentially be that guy, but the Devils don’t seem to want to give him a true chance. At least not yet. Though maybe another Severson gaffe or two and we shall see Bahl a lot more regularly.
So what about trading young assets and draft picks for Kuzmenko and Schenn? Given that salary cap concerns are a real thing for the Devils this year, if I’m Tom Fitzgerald, I take a long, hard look at this. Vancouver should begin the process of a true rebuild. Kuzmenko has likely priced himself out of Vancouver unless they can deal guys like JT Miller and Brock Boeser, two guys they signed to extensions this past summer.
Of course Meier is the preferred course of action here. At least for me. He also provides the Devils with something they haven’t had in a very long time. A power forward. But if the team is to look at other less complicated options, Schenn and Kuzmenko should be a first stop. Obviously Kuzmenko has only played 28 games in the NHL so you’re taking a risk that he can continue the scoring (not to mention that crazy 24 percent shooting). He’s also not the beast Meier is and as big of a sure thing as Meier, but when it comes to the cap, sometimes you just have to think differently.
Now I can’t be the only one thinking about circling the NHL and looking for affordable contracts who would provide significant value so the price for players like that would be significant, to say the least. But if the Devils show over the next few weeks that their torrid start wasn’t a fluke, you have to consider putting all the chips in on this season. In the salary cap era, even for a young team like the Devils, the windows for winning are fairly short so you need to strike whenever you can if you suspect the window is there at all.
What say you, the People Who Matter? Are there trade targets out there that people aren’t talking about? Affordable contracts that fit into the roster makeup and provide something the current roster is missing. Or maybe you just want to throw all caution to wind and move heaven and earth to get and secure Timo Meier long term? Let’s get some potential trade talk going in here.