It has been an ugly season since COVID ravaged the New Jersey Devils. There were at least 20 players and staff that either tested positive or had to be quarantined. Since then, it has become more and more of a struggle, especially at home. New Jersey has just four wins on the season and that continued on Tuesday night as the Devils fell to the New York Rangers 3-0 at Prudential Center.
Quotes aside may not speak volumes at this point. The song remains the same for a team that generates tons of chances at even strength but cannot seem to finish. Natural Stats Trick does not lie here. It is ugly.
The second period last night was one of the better 20 minutes I have seen at home for New Jersey this season. Despite that, New Jersey scored zero goals yet again. Igor Shesterkin was good for the Rangers but he was not that good. There were chances that New Jersey was just a fraction of a second off. Those inches err millimeters matter.
It was also the return of Nico Hischier as well so there was a considerable adjustment. Hischier took time to get going at the start of the season. This year has been a broken one for him along with many of the other New Jersey players. That is the reality but still, more can be expected from the other veterans. By the way, New Jersey plays their crosstown rivals three more times this week.
At least, they are 10-5-3 on the road. There is always a bright side.
In the meantime, let us dig into what happened at the NHL Trade Deadline.
New Jersey, Tom Fitzgerald, and the NHL Trade Deadline
The New Jersey Devils now have an average age of 24.3. That translates to the youngest team in the NHL. The Devils did get younger at the deadline as Tom Fitzgerald traded Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri to the New York Islanders for a 2021 first-round pick, a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick, AJ Greer, and Mason Jobst. Greer and Jobst are depth for Binghamton who has sorely needed it due to COVID and the taxi squad.
The #Isles acquired 30 y/o Palmieri (Yr 5/5 $4.65M Cap Hit – 50% retained) & 35 y/o Zajac (Yr 8/8 $5.75M Cap Hit – 50% retained) for Greer, Jobst, '21 1st & '22 Cond 4th.#Isles add $5.2M Annual Cap Hit (Greer & Jobst not in NHL).https://t.co/uSoR90sDor
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) April 8, 2021
After the trade, Tom Fitzgerald was candid about the process and about weaponizing the cap space New Jersey keeps accumulating. Also of note, after this deadline, New Jersey has one salary retention slot to use. That is significant for later.
Palmieri and Zajac were pillars for New Jersey and particularly Travis Zajac. The center played over 1000 games for New Jersey in his career. It was an important milestone for someone who epitomized team player and leader. Even though his skills had eroded again this year, he never let that show to his fellow teammates. Ever.
It was said that the veterans let down New Jersey offensively. Zajac had one more point than Kyle Palmieri before the trade. That should never happen. Period. Not even Jack Hughes could carry Palmieri though the winger at least improved some after a brutal start.
Finally, there was the Dmitry Kulikov trade which had its own snag. It was something that kind of got forgotten with the VISA err passport rule. Nonetheless, a trade happened that probably cost New Jersey a slightly higher pick. However, think about how little New Jersey signed Kulikov for. Then, ponder how well he played. Kulkov did return a conditional 2022 mid-round draft pick.
— Daniel Nugent-Bowman (@DNBsports) April 13, 2021
Kulikov will bring a bit of a snarl and defensive acumen to the Edmonton Oilers that they sorely need. However, wait!
New Jersey also acquired Jonas Siegenthaler from the Washington Capitals who was not utilized by the Capitals in quite the same role as the Devils may use him for. Most forget he is 6 foot 3 and almost 215 pounds. The hope is that he can provide a little more physicality. He had two hits in his debut for New Jersey. Siegenthaler played 15:45 last night and was a -1.
The idea is he can move the puck a bit better than most think. However, he is not above average at that skill. His ability to block shots and hit are things that New Jersey could use on the penalty kill and even strength.
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One last thing…or two…
Nikita Gusev had his contract terminated for the purpose of signing somewhere else and he did sign for the rest of the year with Florida. Then, there was Sami Vatanen. He was put on waivers by New Jersey. Dallas put a claim on him. This opened up more additional slots for younger players to essentially audition for bigger roles.
Some grow tired of this but the reality is here. Tom Fitzgerald expects to be here for the long-term and the hope is that he can do what others have failed — even Lou Lamoriello. Can he build a team that experiences sustained success? This will be a stern test.