Welcome to Oilersnation’s Deadline Targets series. Over the next few weeks heading into the trade deadline, I’ll be walking through the teams expected to unload at the deadline and the players who could be fits on the Oilers for their playoff push. Today, we have the New Jersey Devils.
This isn’t where the New Jersey Devils expected to be.
Ray Shero had gone all-in in the off-season in an attempt to accomplish something before Taylor Hall could become a free agent. After selecting Jack Hughes first overall at the draft, he acquired P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators, Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights, and signed Wayne Simmonds in free agency.
Things went completely sideways. Rather than gearing up for a playoff run, the Devils sit dead-last in the Metropolitan Division, Hall has already been dealt, Shero has been fired, and assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald is now steering the ship in an interim position.
Given the fact the organization doesn’t have a second- or third-round pick this year or a second-round pick in 2021, you have to assume that Fitzgerald is going to look to recoup some assets at the trade deadline. Even though their top trade chip in Hall has already been shipped off to the Arizona Coyotes, New Jersey has a handful of interesting options who could make sense for the Oilers come deadline time.
A couple of veteran names you can cross off your list right off the top, though, are Travis Zajac and captain Andy Greene. I doubt the Oilers would be interested in the latter given the fact they already appear set on the blueline and wouldn’t pay a premium for Greene, but the two-way veteran Zajac would have fit nicely as Edmonton’s third-line centre. Unfortunately, he’s already said he wants to stick around in New Jersey and that he won’t waive his no-trade clause.
“I know there’s obviously teams calling. For me, it’s just … I want to be here,” Zajac told The Athletic. “I want to be in Jersey. I think we’ve got a good young group. Like I’ve said from the beginning, we’re going to mature and we’re going to be a really good team.”
Moving along, another veteran rental option the Oilers could consider is Wayne Simmonds. Just last year Simmonds was traded from Philadelphia to Nashville in exchange for Ryan Hartman and a fourth-round pick. A similar package from the Oilers this year would be Jujhar Khaira and a mid-round draft pick.
Simmonds is far from the 30-goal power forward he used to be. He scored just three points in 17 games for the Predators down the stretch last season and he has only 19 points in 49 games for the Devils so far this year. But Simmonds won the Mark Messier Award for leadership last year and would be a good veteran addition to the team in a depth role, even if his offence isn’t there anymore. If the cost of acquisition is the same as it was last year, which it likely will be, it’s worth exploring.
New Jersey’s most interesting options aren’t their rentals. They have a few players who could help the Oilers beyond this season.
Two names with an extra year of term who could help the Oilers this year and next are Blake Coleman and Kyle Palmieri. P.K. Subban could also be a candidate to be moved, but I don’t see the Oilers as a fit given his massive cap hit, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Coleman is an attractive option because, beyond being a spark-plug with 19 goals this season, he boasts positional versatility by playing all three forward positions. He could slot in as Edmonton’s third centre or move up the lineup as a winger in a pinch. He also only carries a $1,800,000 cap hit. Palmieri would be more difficult to manage with the salary cap. He has a cap hit of $4,650,000 for one more year after this one, which is a pretty big investment to make at the trade deadline, even though Palmieri is a good player.
Finally, there might be a move involving a couple of struggling former top draft picks. 2015 sixth-overall Pavel Zacha is putting up another disappointing season offensively. In three seasons in the NHL, the big Czech pivot has posted 24-, 2-5, and 25-point seasons, which is a far cry from what the Devils were expecting when they took him as high as they did in the draft nearly five years ago.
While Zacha lacks much of an offensive kick, he plays a strong, defensively-responsible game. With Hughes, Nico Hischier, and prospect Michael McLeod up the middle, the Devils could look to move Zacha for another reclamation project. Would this be the sensible struggling former top pick swap Ken Holland has been looking for when it comes to the estranged Jesse Puljujarvi? The young Finn would get his fresh start and the Oilers would get a guy who can improve their bottom-six.
We know Ken Holland is skeptical to give up his first-round pick, which is what it’ll take to find an upgrade like J.G. Pageau from Ottawa. But there could be a more creative deal to be made with the Devils as they look to recoup draft picks from their failed off-season.