Sami Vatanen Should Be Part Of New Jersey Devils Future Plans

WINNIPEG, MB - NOVEMBER 11: Sami Vatanen #45 of the New Jersey Devils looks on during the pre-game warm up prior to NHL action against the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell MTS Place on November 11, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
WINNIPEG, MB - NOVEMBER 11: Sami Vatanen #45 of the New Jersey Devils looks on during the pre-game warm up prior to NHL action against the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell MTS Place on November 11, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The New Jersey Devils have a problem on their hands if they keep losing games. Even if they start emptying out the cupboard, Sami Vatanen should not be one of them.

Things are not going well for the New Jersey Devils this season. There is no argument there. The Devils have spent more time in the basement of the Eastern Conference than they have in a playoff spot. Any spot. Even for a day. As we head into the hard part of the December schedule (that’s right, we haven’t even hit that yet), it’s time to ask some hard questions about this team’s roster.

Some of the easy questions revolve around the Devils pending free agents. Marcus Johansson looks like a goner if this team doesn’t turn it around, because he’s probably going to give the Devils a better asset than they gave up for him. Ben Lovejoy will also likely be traded if the team can’t turn it around. He’s not getting re-signed, and teams love to overspend for a third-pairing defense (see Nick Holden‘s deal last season).

There are some harder decisions, like Brian Boyle (he’s such a fan favorite), Mirco Mueller (he’s still so young, and shows some promise), and Keith Kinkaid (what do you do in net when he’s gone). Yet, there hardest decision by far is that of their current top defenseman Sami Vatanen.

Vatanen has one year left on his deal after this season. There’s no doubt his value has increased since he joined the Devils, playing top-pairing minutes for a playoff contender last season. The Devils gave up Adam Henrique, Joe Blandisi, and a third-round pick they will get back this season. Vatanen gets much better in terms of future assets than what the Devils gave up. What that is depends on when they traded him, but Tyler Kelley sets it up quite nicely in this article.

Kelley’s point was that trading Vatanen is not out of the question because of Damon Severson‘s emergence and his value at this point. It’s clear that Vatanen has taken a step back, but in my opinion there are some fixable factors why. For that reason, I will give a counter point to Tyler Kelley’s point.

Vatanen showed last season he was a top guy. The Devils defense looked completely different with him on the ice, even when John Hynes confusingly paired him with Andy Greene. He proved he can make up for the mistakes of his partner, and even if he is prone to the mistake here or there (he’s scored on his own goal twice since he’s been in a Devils uniform), his positives far outweigh the negatives.

Do I believe Vatanen is a number-one defenseman? Depending on the situation, but generally no. He’s definitely a 1B on most contenders, but he’s likely not a 1A.

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This season, something seems seriously off. He’s making more mistakes, is out of position more in a week than we saw in a month last season. I think there is one reason for that, his knee injury.

Vatanen went into the boards hard last month, and left the game and never came back. He went in feet first, and limped off the ice. Miraculously, he only missed a couple games. The Devils were in the middle of losing almost every game, so he rushed his way back. He’s never looked the same, and honestly looks a little slow.

Now back to the point, Vatanen could be a building block for a defense that could be really good as soon as next season. Take Vatanen, and pair him with supreme rookie Ty Smith. Then, you could either keep the Damon Severson-Greene pairing together or put Severson with someone else and drop Greene to the third line with Will Butcher. The Devils could replace Lovejoy and Mueller with a mixture of a returning Yakovlev who is now used to the NHL ice and rules, a free agent of the Calvin de Haan type (sorry Tyler), or give the shot to Reilly Walsh off his freshman season at Harvard.

Counterpoint: The Devils Should Consider Trading Vatanen. dark. Next

That would be the last season of Greene’s contract, who takes $5 million off the books immediately. Vatanen will no doubt want a raise in his next deal, but is $6 million really that crazy for a defenseman of his caliber? I’m not saying he will be the top defenseman. In fact, he could end up being third best behind Smith and Severson when it is all said and done, but does that mean the team should lose this major asset because they have deals on two other assets? Severson’s contract could become the best deal in the NHL. Yes, the entire league.

Giving Vatanen a $6 million deal is not crazy. Neither is trading him if the Devils bottom out, in my opinion, but it’s not the smartest move. The Devils defense could go from weakness to strength overnight with one tweak (that could already be in the system), and developing Smith to where he will likely go.