COLUMN: Devils of Late Can Impact Long-Term Ambitions

by | Mar 14, 2022

COLUMN: Devils of Late Can Impact Long-Term Ambitions

by | Mar 14, 2022

The Devils, winners of 5 of their last 9, have felt like a different team over the last two and a half weeks. You could even argue the last month, in that the amount of competitive contests after the 50-minute mark has been consistent. Of course, the highlights in this stretch would include winning efforts over the league powerhouse’s–Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Tuesday’s comeback from down 0-3 to win 5-3 over the league-leading Avalanche.

They’re the kind of wins that stand to frustrate the clear-cut better of the two teams while being a detriment to the draft lottery odds of the victor. There is perhaps another school of thought by which New Jersey, already stockpiled with young, NHL-playing talent, are in fact benefiting the long-term project by having contests that exceed competitive game scripts beyond the 40 minutes. That, somehow, the Devils could be better off for experiencing what it took to get to the Nate Bastian goal on Tuesday versus Colorado 13:04 into the third; or, that Tomas Tatar’s game-tying goal on Saturday that proceeded a nifty shootout tally to take a point away from Anaheim, are in fact the kinds of products of progress that should hold some kind of value to an organization.

Of course the value in progress of a team not poised to make the postseason and what could be the prize of the draft class headlined by Shane Wright are separate matters entirely. But, I digress. There are signs of moving this thing along and that on its own is welcomed news.

“These kind of games, they’ll come with experience,” Tatar said following New Jersey’s 2-1 shootout win over Anaheim on Saturday. “We’re becoming more and more mature team as the season is going and you know, we know how to play tighter, we’re harder to play against, we’re not giving up as much opportunities on the other side. It’s great to see. I’m looking forward to the next games. It’s very much fun to play.”

Damon Severson, who has probably seemed more frustrated at times this season that you could recall since coming on board as an NHL regular in 2014-15. He pointed to Tuesday against Colorado, the climb back from an 0-3 hole in the first 26 minutes, to tying the game in the second, scoring a go-ahead power play goal and killing a late penalty against a Colorado power play that featured Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar.

“You hope so moving forward this would be one of those wins,” he said. “You hate to go down by two and then three in the second. It’s one of those things, you don’t forget wins like this because Colorado is such a solid team. They’re not an easy out for sure and we weren’t going to be an easy out for them because of the standings and the way they look.”

And you would suppose if the fruits of labor are starting to show with this group, it would stand to reason that Tom Fitzgerald may in fact give pause to being an active player at the trading deadline as he has the last two seasons.

Which could mean Pavel Zacha, heading into his final RFA season is kept around instead of being the leading contender to be part of any Devils ‘hockey trade’ and that, Severson is off the table at this point–Fitzgerald already suggested to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, that it would take a lot to move the coveted right-shot blueliner with an affordable cap hit for the rest of this season and next. It probably doesn’t mean the versatile Jimmy Vesey won’t be moved, but he has fit the way the younger core of the club plans to play and could be in line for an extension.

And, if the upcoming three-game road trip in Western Canada that begins Tuesday in Vancouver and concludes Saturday in Edmonton is in fact P.K. Subban’s final three-games (if he plays in all three) with New Jersey, it’s hard to think of a deal that makes the math work. Perhaps the organization sees the only suitable option for club and player to be a Nikita Gusev-esque mutual termination, making No. 76 a free agent ahead of next Monday, able to explore his options on a contending team at a digestible cap hit. That decision though belongs to Subban, who is under no obligation to accept those terms, but is also without any trade protections.

A quiet deadline for the Devils shouldn’t disqualify them as a team content with their present state of affairs, but would suggest that organizationally, there’s a belief in this group taking a larger, greater collective step and that experiencing whatever they may against contenders, bubble teams and soon-to-be Shane Wright enthusiasts will benefit the long-term outlook. That, and there may just be things around in the summer that don’t presently exist today and are unlikely to crop up a week from Monday.

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Among the class of 75-plus point teams with at least $700,000 in projected salary cap room, at the time of writing this: Colorado, Boston, Rangers. Bubble-team Nashville has in excess of an estimated $10 million, according to CapFriendly. And, let’s not forget those who are still in LTIR space, the Leafs with near $4 million in LTIR. So, it’s perplexing to see the market this quiet one week out from the deadline.

The NHL, long a copycat league, is awaiting the next shoe to drop. Tyler Toffoli deal was one month ago, but that was a rolling, motivated Calgary team that was wanting to take on his additional two seasons and were willing to part with a first. Other suitors seem more hesitant by the price points teams have set for mostly-UFA remaining talent. It’s a staring contest right now. Someone is going to blink before Monday and set off a handful of trades in some GM’s back pockets.

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Max Comtois collected a primary assist on Troy Terry’s goal, was credited with 4 hits and 18:49 of ice-time Saturday at New Jersey. He had three shots on goal Sunday versus the Islanders. In 36 games this season, he’s scored two goals and seven assists. It’s been a frustrating campaign, but he’s one year removed from 33 points (16-17) in 55 games. He’s also a 23-year-old with another season on his contract that carries a cap hit of just over $2 million until 2023-24 and will hit RFA status with arbitration rights at that point.

His name has been mentioned in the industry as a trade speculation. And I have wondered if Buffalo, who had a scouting presence Saturday in NJ, is interested in him.

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Here’s what you would assume the Flyers plan of action is this week: No games til Thursday when they’ll host Nashville while Claude Giroux will play his 1,000th career game–all in black and orange. It’s unlikely he plays Friday in Ottawa or Sunday afternoon versus the Islanders.

Immediately following Thursday’s game, Chuck Fletcher will begin calling the suitors vying for the services of the longtime Flyer who has spent the last 9 seasons as captain. A pending UFA, his longstanding role as a top-line center mixed with his abilities to slot in as an immediate upgrade to most team’s top-six, he remains the most-coveted piece ahead of Monday. He’s likely to garner a future package of picks, prospects and perhaps an NHL player under team control.

Danny Briere, who serves a variety of capacities within the Flyers organization, was among the listed personnel taking in Colorado earlier this week. The Avs remain a presumed landing spot for Giroux. Florida makes sense, too. You’d think the Rangers have kicked tires, even if the rivalry lines are hard to blur; and, where there’s a will, there’s a way, so you have to loop in Tampa, eying their third-straight Cup.

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On the blue line, Ivan Provorov, who has three years remaining on his deal after this year, carries a $6.75 million cap hit. There’s $21.875 million left on his contract including $7 million due out in bonuses between 2022-2024. That could make this the absolute worst time to try and move out the sixth-year Flyer after the team already paid assets to move out Shayne Gostisbehere’s contract–Ghost, by the way, has 36 points in 58 games with Arizona.

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Toronto is struggling between the pipes. This you know. Jack Campbell is dealing with a rib injury, but was struggling prior to being shelved. Petr Mrazek has tried to take on the burden, but a pair of back-to-back starts saw him pulled after allowing four goals on 12 shots to Arizona on Thursday and at the Heritage Classic on Sunday, he stopped 33 shots, but still allowed four or more goals for the eighth time this season.

It’s by far the most pressing need for the Maple Leafs, but they didn’t do themselves any favors on Sunday, outscored 3-0 and outshot 15-9 in the third period versus Buffalo.

Scott Wedgewood, a journeyman goaltender, stopped 34 shots and preserved a Coyotes lead through nearly 50 minutes. He’s 9-11-2 with a 0.909 save percentage since being claimed from the Devils off pre-season waivers. Pending UFA, $825,000. I’m not saying he’s Plan B to fall on if the Leafs can’t net Marc-Andre Fleury, but he might be a safe Plan C and he should cost accordingly.

Staying in town for a moment: Josh Donaldson, the Yankee seems about as right as Claude Giroux, the Penguin. Right?

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Seattle’s Marcus Johansson at $1.5 million is an asset. And a relatively cheap one at that. Reunion in D.C.?

Wouldn’t it be something if Mark Giordano is Alberta-bound, but in Edmonton’s top-six defense by 4pm ET next Monday?

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