In the past week's, I've made a few cases for what the New Jersey Devils should do in the short term. I've stated how costly a high draft pick is in the NHL Entry Draft; basically why the Devils shouldn't rush him into the league immediately. I've explained why Alexander Urbom and Jacob Josefson should remain in Albany and let their contracts slide into next season - both from a business and developmental standpoint. Before both posts, Tom made the case that the Devils should be sellers at the trade deadline back on January 3.
I point out the date of that post since that was back when New Jersey was in dead last in the NHL. Now, the Devils are among the hottest teams in the NHL, if not the hottest. Since trading Jamie Langenbrunner on January 7, the Devils have earned an incredible record of 12-2-2. They are no longer the worst team in the league or even in the Eastern Conference, and spirits have risen among the fanbase. There have been a few FanPosts tracking the Devils' playoff hopes; such as this post by Alamoth, this post by Alan Wright, and this post by FrankG929, who's hosting his own tracker on his webspace. There are other articles around the hockey media praising the Devils' return to form, like this recent one one from John Grigg at the Hockey News. (thanks to ILWT user joshd12 for posting this up as a FanShot).
It's great to see the Devils finally getting some breaks (Jacques Lemaire said as such as reported by Timo Seppa after the San Jose game); and the team has become far more watchable than they were in the first half of the season. That's definitely good for business, and the organization is aware of it. Now that "One Game At a Time" has been splashed on the front page of the Devils' website, they know that promoting the playoffs as a possibility will help sell tickets and keep fan interest as long as possible.
That's all well and good. However, I believe Tom's earlier point is still true. As I said on Episode 20 of Taking Red, I believe they should still be sellers for the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline. I'll explain why and what the Devils should be looking for after the jump.
Accept It: The Playoffs Aren't Happening in Newark in 2011
For those who aren't aware, the deadline is two weeks from today. The deadline is precisely at 3 PM EST on Monday, February 28, 2011. As it stands, the Devils are enjoying an excellent run of results. The big question the Devils have to answer before the 28th is whether the playoffs are a realistic possibility.
I believe this is a simple question. The answer is no, they are not at all a realistic possibility.
Don't misunderstand me, I love the fact that the Devils are now scoring goals and getting 'W's. I'm not hung up on whether the Devils will finish in the draft lottery or not. At the same time, it would be foolish to ignore the situation the team has been in this season. It wasn't until February 3rd when the Devils got out of 30th place in the league. At that point, the run was 8-2-1, which is great on it's own. The hot streak had to continue for the Devils to leapfrog the Islanders, who are now only one point behind the Devils right now. That's how deep the hole the Devils were in. They need to rattle off an incredible run of games just to get out of last place and there's no guarantee they won't be jumped.
Am I to really believe that the Devils are going to make up 5 spots to get to 8th place? It's not as simple as making up a 14 point gap, they have to surpass (as of now) Carolina, Atlanta, Buffalo, Florida, and Toronto while fending off the Isles.
To hammer home the point, check out this site called Sports Club Stats. It gauges where a team is likely to finish based on their current record, the games left remaining, and factors in results in other games. They run simulations everyday for the rest of the season and factors in final positioning. It's a pretty cool site. So what does it say about the Devils' chances? As of right now, the site has determined that New Jersey a 0.043211% chance for the Devils to make the playoffs.
Yeah, it's not even near 0.1%.
Most of the simulations require the Devils to win at least 17 of their next 26 games - and even then it's not a guaranteed trip to the postseason. Sports Club Stats has the Devils more likely to finish where they are in the Eastern Conference.
Basically, I don't believe the Devils will make the playoffs - it's that unlikely to happen. Therefore, they should look to sell at the trade deadline
But Even If You Do Believe in the Postseason, The Devils Should Still Sell
The big reason for the Devils to sell at the trade deadline is to clear space for 2011-12. As per CapGeek, the Devils will have $9,222,250 in salary cap space for next season with only 15 players on the books. Even if the salary cap increases for 2011-12, the Devils will (hopefully) use most of that space to tie up Zach Parise, leaving little money for the rest of the roster to answer more immediate needs. So if you want to keep, say, Parise and Andy Greene and still fill out a NHL roster, then the Devils need to move salary.
Of course, the Devils don't have a lot of cap space now. CapGeek currently figures the maximum full-season cap hit the Devils can take now is at $1,755,833. I highly doubt the Devils can acquire a difference maker at such a low price. And I believe that space goes away if Zach Parise does get off long term injured reserve later this season, as the player hoped per this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. Basically, because of the cap, the Devils really can't be significant buyers at the trade deadline. Besides, I'm sure Jeff Vanderbeek and Lou Lamoriello aren't interested in increasing payroll any further than it is already.
If the Devils can move some salary now, then they can help themselves out for this upcoming summer and next season.
Plus, consider who has and hasn't been hot during this run and their long term future. Will pending unrestricted free agents Jason Arnott, Andy Greene, and Johan Hedberg want to return? If it's clear right now that they do not, then can either command something of interest in a trade? Even if they want to return, perhaps renting them out could net the Devils something in the meantime like a late draft pick.
Even if the team doesn't want to disrupt what they have - and that's understandable - they still have to know who has and has not been important to the team's performances. If, for example, Jason Arnott or David Clarkson aren't playing to satisfaction in the eyes of management in the middle of a hot streak, then what's the point of keeping them when things go south?
The Devils may even get a chance to sell high. One of the hottest players in this 12-2-2 run has been Brian Rolston. In this recent range of games, he has scored 6 goals, put up 8 assists, and has actually given an effort every night. Rolston's contract is still terrible, but if his recent performances are enough to convince someone to make a deal with him, then shouldn't the Devils consider accepting it?
These are the questions the Devils have to consider even if the intention is to go as far as possible to make the postseason. With the frenzy of speculation and discussion, the Devils may be able to set themselves up to have more cap space and come away with some cheaper assets on March 1 without blowing up the whole team. They can still be quite competitive depending on who they choose to move.
Striving for Cheap Assets
Even if you completely disagree with me, let's discuss what the Devils should be looking for in a trade: draft picks and prospects.
Ideally, I'd love to see the Devils get a couple more picks for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and even a few for 2012. The Devils do have a conditional pick from Dallas from the Langenbrunner deal. It'll be a third round pick unless the Stars win a round in the playoffs or they re-sign Langenbrunner before the draft. Then it becomes a second round pick.
However, the Stars may not even make the playoffs. Derek Zona at the Copper & Blue has this excellent post on how the Pacific Division may shake out. It doesn't bode well for Dallas. Therefore, I want the Devils to be proactive and try to get a second round pick for 2011 along with others. While a draft pick isn't guaranteed to generate a player, it gives the Devils more options on draft day and allow them to beef up their system depth.
I also wouldn't mind if the Devils got some prospects on an entry level contract or a minor leaguer on a two-way contract in return. They are a little more expensive since, well, they have contracts. It will cost the Devils space to have them on the roster. However, they can remain in the minors or in developmental leagues (junior, college, Europe) if they're younger. You never know if the player will develop better in the New Jersey system or possibly get a shot here that he wouldn't get at his former team. I doubt the Devils will get any high-level prospects unless they make a big trade; but getting a few mid-level guys to stock up in Albany wouldn't be so bad. The AHL affiliate has several pending free agents after this season too and will need players anyway to fill up the roster.
The Devils should avoid taking NHL players since, as noted earlier, they don't have the space. They won't be able to add anyone of significance. Also, the Devils need to plan for this upcoming summer and next season. Adding a non-expiring contract doesn't help unless Lou figures the player in their future plans.
Lastly, the Market is Already in Action
The Devils made a minor deal last week with San Jose, swapping minor leaguers for minor leaguers. However, throughout in the NHL, more significant deals have been made. The basement dwelling Senators have already begun selling last week. Nashville picked up Mike Fisher from Ottawa, who has 2 more years on his deal at a $4.2 million/year cap hit for draft picks. Florida and Chicago made a trade, where the Panthers moved Michael Frolik (selling him low) and Alexander Salak in exchange for Jack Skille, Hugh Jessiman (yes, the Hugh Jessiman), and David Pecan. Philadelphia just acquired Kris Versteeg from Toronto less than an hour ago.
The trade deadline is only 2 weeks away and there's already this much action. The Devils can't wait it out and then decide to sell or not. They need to consider what interest they are getting now and be willing to hear out all parties.
By all means, I don't want Lou to blow up the team or take a bad deal just to make a deal. But I don't want the Devils to do nothing just because they still have an incredibly low probability of making the postseason or to make a point. I find that to be just plain silly. I want them to trade soon-to-be gone players or bad contracts for cheaper assets. I want them to be sellers at the 2011 NHL Trade Deadline.
That's my entire spiel on the subject. In the coming two weeks, expect more trade-deadline-based posts regarding players from myself and the other writers. Hopefully, you continue to go to In Lou We Trust for intelligent and reasoned discussion regarding this exciting time of the season. Therefore, I want to know what do you think. Do you agree that the Devils should be sellers at the trade deadline? If not, then why do you think the Devils should do nothing or look to be buyers? Who do you want to see traded? What do you want to see in return? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.