The New Jersey Devils return from the NHL Olympic break tonight to begin the final push of 22 games before the end of the regular season. The NHL trade deadline is also rapidly approaching, and it will be interesting to see which teams are “buyers” and which teams are “sellers” at the deadline on March 5th.
The Devils are competing in a very tight race in the Eastern Conference for a playoff spot, and the questions surrounding the roster of this team at this point in the season are more prevalent than any season I can remember in a long time.
I think part of that criticism which borders on skepticism from some within the Devils own fan base, is due to the frustration over missing the playoffs after the magical run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. The New Jersey fans, like any other fans, want their team to make the playoffs every season.
The team at this point has some issues, but it also has a very talented roster and strong goaltending. The penalty killing unit has played exceptionally well at points, but New Jersey has a struggling offense at this point.
The Devils are ranked 28th in the league in Goals For (only the Florida Panthers and the Buffalo Sabres are worse) with 135 total goals in their first 59 games this season. In comparison, the Chicago Blackhawks are the top goal scoring team in the NHL with 202 goals in 60 games, and 5 other teams have scored 175 goals or more this season.
All of this data leads to the question: do the Devils need to obtain a scoring player? The current roster of players have struggled this season so far, some through just bad luck (Adam Henrique), others because of injury (Ryane Clowe, Patrik Elias), and others because of inconsistent play (Steve Bernier, Damien Brunner).
Lou Lamoriello and the rest of the New Jersey front office staff have a big decision to make with this team. Mr. Lamoriello has to determine if this roster needs a change, or if that change will disrupt the chemistry in the locker room and backfire.
The chemistry in the locker room is a critical component in any sport, and the fans and media pundits who are criticizing this New Jersey team should be reminded that the Devils have a large number of new faces on this roster that were not here a year ago.
A trade at the deadline risks the chemistry that these players have built over the first four months of this season. The wrong player could come through the door and change the whole situation surrounding this team in a negative manner.
The other inherent problem with a trade is the loss of players from your current roster to complete the deal. The Devils have practiced this week with one extra defenseman more than they need on the active roster, and they have plenty of young defensive players in the minor leagues performing well also.
Therefore, the Devils could try and trade from a position of strength and deal a defenseman, but they need an offensive player who can score goals in return. Many teams will not be willing to part with an offensive player in exchange for a defenseman without getting an offensive player in return.
Other teams in the Devils position would try to deal an offensive prospect in the minors to complete the trade, but New Jersey does not have any real offensive prospects in Albany. In fact, Albany is one of the worst offensive teams in the AHL.
The trade partners for the Devils would most likely have to be teams that are strong offensively and have some issues defensively, which they would like to fix prior to the playoff push.
The New Jersey front office has to evaluate the market of potentially available players against what they would have to give up in order to obtain an offensive scoring player. The front office also needs to determine the potential of their current roster to generate more offense. They may feel that with more time playing together this team will turn this situation around.
In the event that the trade would hurt the team in the long run and only improve it slightly in the short term, the Devils are historically conservative in that situation. I think they would stand pat with the roster that they have currently.
In my own view, I have mixed feeling about the potential for changes to this roster. On the one hand, the lack of offense frustrates me as a fan. The Devils could have converted so many of these games into wins if they had scored only one more goal than the opposition, and their playoff positioning would be much better than the situation they are in presently.
On the other hand, I think this roster is very talented and I have seen them play at a high level this year where they earned victories against difficult opponents. I think some of their losses have been the result of just bad luck at points as well. I am a strong proponent of team chemistry too, and I am concerned that a trade would alter the team in a negative way both in the short term and the long term.
Let me know what your thoughts are, fellow Devils fans, should the team make a move for an offensive player or not?
I may not know the answer to that question, but I do know that I am glad the Devils are back from this break and I am excited to begin the home stretch of this season.
(Statistics courtesy of NHL.com, background information courtesy of Newark Star Ledger)