The New Jersey Devils have been in the rumor mill about upgrading the goaltending position ever since their season ended at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes back in May. Vitek Vanecek had an abysmal playoff run, while Akira Schmid took the NHL world by storm with his shutdown performance against the New York Rangers. However, the young net-minder may not be ready for the full-time role in the crease. Enter the Winnipeg Jets and Connor Hellebuyck.
Now, it has been reported that the Devils have targeted Hellebuyck and that there has been mutual interest between the player and club about a potential acquisition. Hellebuyck would certainly be an upgrade over both Vanecek and Schmid, respectively. Although Hellebuyck has only one year left on his contract, it would still be wise for the Devils to upgrade the most important position on the ice. But what if the Jets fully tank and let go of another franchise mainstay?
Mark Scheifele is also entering the last year of his contract, and it has long been reported that the Jets may not be willing to extend their 2011 first-round pick. Scheifele is a center who scored 42 goals last season, setting a career-high in the category. He is a dynamic offensive forward who can put up points, proven with his career high 84 from 2018-19. His one major flaw is his defense. In recent years, his defensive play has bogged down his offensive stats, which makes him a less appealing option. However, for the Devils, it may be worth the gamble.
The reason why the Jets have not traded Hellebuyck and Scheifele is that it seems they are still trying to remain competitive (also the price was probably high for most of the offseason). Hellebuyck and Scheifele are key cogs in the Jets roster. Removing them would cause their playoff hopes to take a massive dip. So, for a deal for both of these players, it would have to happen around the trade deadline. Around that time, the picture for both the Devils and Jets should be a lot more clear as to how far each can go in the postseason or even make it at all.
The Devils are expected to compete this year. The long-awaited jump forward finally happened last season. If the Devils are in a position to buy, which they were when they made the Timo Meier deal, a Hellebuyck/Scheifele blockbuster would put them at the top of the list for potential Stanley Cup contenders.
It is hard to predict injuries to players. The Devils and their fans did not expect Ondrej Palat to miss the majority of the season. Expect the Devils to remain mostly healthy; adding a potential 40-goal scorer to a lineup that already includes Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Meier makes them even more dangerous. The Devils currently have a spot up for grabs in the bottom six. Alexander Holtz is slotted in the third-line right-wing spot, his spot to lose. If Holtz does not take that step forward, the Devils will need depth pieces like Chris Tierney, Curtis Lazar, and potentially Shane Bowers or a prospect like Graeme Clarke to step up into that spot. Adding Scheifele eliminates that issue.
A top six of Bratt-Hughes-Mercer and Meier-Hischier-Toffoli would be complimented well with a bottom six of solid veterans. Moving Erik Haula to the left wing and putting Scheifele in the middle with Palat on the right is a playoff-ready line. The defensive play of Haula and Palat can make up for Scheifele’s defensive liabilities.
If the Devils are competing, that would mean Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid are having a successful year. Devils fans were pained watching Vanecek’s play in the playoffs. It does not matter how good Vanecek can be in the regular season if his play in the postseason is going to completely undo his stellar regular season play.
Vanecek has a career .834 save percentage complimented with a 4.52 goals against average in the playoffs. Schmid stepped in, but seemed at times did not have the same magic that he had in the first round. Hellebuyck, on the other hand, has a .916 save percentage and a 2.58 goals against in the playoffs. His one bad year in the playoffs was this past season when the Jets were completely overwhelmed by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights.
Moral of the story: adding two veterans with the caliber of Scheifele and Hellebuyck would be a good move. What would it take for the Devils to get both at the same time?
The Devils gave up their first-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Meier, so it seems as if general manager Tom Fitzgerald is not afraid to deal high picks if he knows those picks will be in the high 20s or early 30s. With the recent success of late-round picks the Devils’ scouting department has had in recent years, the Devils can afford to trade away higher-round picks.
For any deal for both players to work, the Jets must retain half of each salary. Even with that, the deal doesn’t work. The player that would need to be added at the deadline for the trade to work would have to be Vitek Vanecek. Vanecek makes $3.4 million for only two more years. The deadline space of the Devils would make the deal work mathematically. Compensation-wise, the deal is still way off.
Even with the addition of Meier and the trade that included many prospects, the Devils’ system is still stacked. If the Devils added a prospect or two not named Simon Nemec or Luke Hughes, the deal should be considered. That would mean Holtz, Seamus Casey, and KHL prospect Arseni Gritsyuk could be on the table. After the Devils left the Meier deal without losing any of them, some might expect Tom Fitzgerald to pull some magic again.
The difference between the Meier deal and a potential Jets deal is that both Scheifele and Hellebuyck are both pending unrestricted free agents. The Devils had the time to figure things out with Meier, who was a restricted free agent. They thankfully got things figured out sooner rather than later, and now he’s signed for eight years.
It has been reported that Hellebuyck is open to an extension with the Devils, who seem to be interested as well. The one negative about this is that it seems as if Hellebuyck wants Andrei Vasilevskiy money in the $9 million range. Hellebuyck is entering his age 30 season. That is the wrong part of his career for an eight-year mega deal. However, if he would be open to a short-term deal worth $7-8 million, it would be wise for the Devils to explore the deal.
Even if the Devils make the trade and do not extend Hellebuyck, it seems they have enough confidence in Schmid to take over the full-time duties. If they extend Hellebuyck, Schmid would be in a great position to back up one of the best goalies in the world for a few years before he is truly entering his prime.
While there would be a small dilemma with the Hellebuyck addition, Scheifele would be a pure rental. All contending teams consider rentals at the trade deadline, and the Devils should be no different when their competitive window is just opening.
Adding players to this roster to obtain the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup with a foregone conclusion, the Devils still need to add the right players. With Hellebuyck and Scheifele seemingly on the block, Tom Fitzgerald would be wise to look into trading for both of them. It is not often that a 40-goal scorer and a consistent Vezina candidate are available for a trade. It is even more rare to have the luxury to trade for both, which is a luxury the Devils currently have.