2011 Offseason: Should the New Jersey Devils Try to Trade Someone This Summer?

Last week, I spelled out how dire the salary cap situation is for the New Jersey Devils for this offseason.  They may not have enough space to retain all of their restricted free agents, much less look to sign any unrestricted free agents. While the salary cap limits may increase this summer, the Devils will likely be up against the proverbial wall for another season unless they clear some space.  Sure, the Devils will have plenty of money coming off the books; but what they do in the next few months will affect what space they'll actually have a year from now.  Therefore, it's not an outrageous suggestion for the Devils to try and clear up some space now.

The Devils basically have two ways to do clear space.  I brought up the first way earlier this week: buying contracts out.   I explained who the Devils could buy out, why they may or may not want to do so, and how much savings it would provide in the short term. Admittedly, it's not a great road.  A buy out means another roster spot to fill, dead cap space to last as long as however would be left on the original deal, and the savings isn't all that much.   Today, let's talk about the second way: trades.

Between the Devils' cap situation and the sheer number of players on their roster that could make the NHL team, I just have this hunch that the Devils will make a deal with someone else this offseason.  I could be wrong, but this is not an avenue the Devils should ignore.   However, trades are literally easier said than done.  Often, most trade proposals that come from fans and others tend to not make sense for one side either in terms of talent or money. The reasons for that are myriad, but that's beside the point. For the purposes of this discussion, I'll focus on who on the Devils should try to move in a trade rather than come up with a laughable proposal that will likely favor one side or the other or forget something as important as cap space.   My thoughts on who should be targeted as well as the general trade option for the Devils this summer.

No Trade Clauses Aren't Completely Binding Anymore

Last season saw Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott traded to Dallas and Washington, respectively.  What is significant about both deals was that each player had a no trade clause in their contracts and they waived them for the trade. As far as I know, this is the first time a Devil has waived a clause to be traded elsewhere.   Therefore, a player having a no trade clause (or a no movement clause) should not be seen as complete protection. 

Before anyone starts proposing that a certain forward should be dealt, they do still give the player some manner of control over where they are dealt, depending on the kind of NTC they have.   I would not assume anyone would immediately waive it.

The Goal Should Be Clearing Space

The whole point for a team to trade a player is to get something in exchange.  This can be another player, a draft pick, the piece of mind of not having said player on the roster anymore, and cap space.  The last point should be the most crucial.   Sure, the Devils can make a deal to address a team need.  The Devils are still lacking an offensive defenseman, after all.  Hence, the question of whether to be interested in Mike Green has been raised by Kevin and David Fine.   I personally do not think they should because Green (11-12 cap hit: $5.25 million) is too expensive for NJ.  The Devils need to create space, not remove it.   That will be my main motivation for the following suggestions. Feel free to argue otherwise in the comments, though.

Who's Safe?

A quick look at CapGeek is fairly instructive as to who's pretty much safe from being traded.  The sheer lengths of Ilya Kovalchuk's, Henrik Tallinder's, and Anton Volchenkov's contracts protect them.  Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur are core players and Devils legends, they're safe too.  I'm not sure who would be supremely interested in obtaining an impending free agent to talk to them early.  Zach Parise is the only big-time free agent from NJ this summer, and he's restricted.  His rights will undoubtedly stay in New Jersey, so he's not going to be dealt this summer.  Lastly, I think Bryce Salvador won't be dealt if only because it's unclear whether he'll be able to play next season.  I can't imagine what team would want to acquire him given his current health issues.

Beyond them, it's fair game.  Given his role on the team and his talents, I would classify Travis Zajac as someone who is incredibly unlikely to be dealt.  Only if there's a massive deal; but I don't see the Devils dropping their #1 center any time soon. Especially not to make cap space.

Who on New Jersey Should Be Targeted for a Trade?

Since I think a trade should clear up space for NJ, why not a straight up salary dump? For those unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is to move a player with an awful, awful, awful contract - usually in the final year, throw in a prospect or a pick to make it palatable, and move them to a team that could use someone eating up space in the short term. 

Well, the Devils have most of that available.  Brian Rolston and his $5,062,500/year deal is entering it's final year; and Florida has 10 players on the books for 2011-12 only making $17,465,834 according to CapGeek.  Rolston won't help them much on the ice, but he can really help the rebuilding Panthers get to the cap floor without overpaying any free agent they come across.  The Devils would clear plenty of space to keep Parise, their other RFAs however they wish, and could even re-sign Andy Greene along with getting a UFA backup goaltender or re-sign Johan Hedberg with a little space left over.

That said, I almost want to file this possibility under "U" for "Unicorn." The first is the inconvenient truth that Rolston went through waivers last season and passed through completely.  That the other 29 teams in the league passed up on taking Rolston at half-price doesn't bode well for trading him.  Especially since he'll be a year older.   The second is that for the trade to be justifiable for Florida, the Devils may have to include a serious prospect or a high pick.  I really don't know which promising youngster the Devils can live without just to get five-ish million off their cap for next season.   Or what kind of return the Devils can possibly expect except for a mid-level draft pick or a mid-level prospect of sorts - if anything.

The Devils may be able to get away with a more traditional trade for Dainius Zubrus.  While his contract isn't expiring after next season (2012-13 is the last season), Zubrus is a far more capable player than Rolston with his versatility, size, and experience.   Not to mention he'll be six years younger than Rolston next season. He may even command an asset of value (less than $3.4 million hopefully) in return.  Getting his $3.4 million off the books would definitely be useful.  At the same time, it's not exactly a secret that he's not all that productive, his own offensive game has it's own ceiling, and what you see is what you get from him these days.  It's not easy to entice another team to add that knowing it'll cost $3.4 million per year for the next two seasons.   I think it would be an easier sell than Rolston.  And he doesn't have a no trade clause that can hinder a deal.

You know who else doesn't have a NTC? David ClarksonI advocated the possibility of trading him back in February, and to be frank, I think the time to deal him is nigh. The concerns remain the same: he could bounce back next season, and he brings some grit and a right-handed shot for the Devils forwards.    At the same time, I think more teams would actually be interested in acquiring someone like Clarkson.  He's not old, several teams can appreciate his style of play, and his cap hit isn't so odious.  While the Devils' potential saving of $2.667 million isn't massive, it would provide some relief to the team's situation.   I understand there are many fans of Clarkson, but you have to trade someone other teams may actually want to make it work; and I feel the Devils could be fine without him at right wing next season.

In terms of a budget deal, I wouldn't count on David Steckel being safe.  He's wonderful on faceoffs and is a fine defensive forward for the fourth line.  I don't think his deal is too bad.  Still, moving his $1.1 million for the next two years and replacing him with someone at a little more than half the cost is still some relief.  I don't know if there would be much interest in Steckel by himself; and he was dealt from Washington to essentially rent Jason Arnott.  He doesn't have a lot of value; but I don't think it's outrageous to think Steckel could be part of a package deal.

Speaking of packages, the prospects could come into play here.  Again, I don't like thinking about who could move.  I'd like to think Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby, and Alexander Urbom are well regarded enough that they wouldn't be traded unless it's to complete a major deal.  I don't want to see Jon Merrill or Eric Gelinas moved before the Devils get a chance to see them go pro.  I don't know if Nick Palmieri or Adam Henrique would be enough for a team to accept a salary dump since their potential isn't as high (or highly touted) as Josefson, Tedenby, or Urbom. 

I really, really, really don't want to see Mark Fayne included in a package. He showed real promise last season, he's cheap, still on his entry level contract, and looked quite well alongside Henrik Tallinder. I could see teams asking about him if they are to accept taking back a sizable contract because of those first three factors.

Let Me Know What You Think

Alas, that's the main trouble with trades.  They only work if both sides agree to what the other will get, and other teams will usually inquire about Devils we may not want to see go elsewhere.  Throw in additional factors like the salary cap, how each player is values, roster concerns, and it's easy to see how difficult it is to put together a trade. Amid all of these offseason posts, I've learned that making any decision, much less a good one, is incredibly difficult given all of the factors to consider.  No wonder you don't see teams re-signing guys right after they're out of the playoffs or trading guys until the draft.

In any case, as the section title indicates, I want to know what you think about the Devils possibly trading someone this offseason.  Do you agree that they should make a trade or two to clear up space? Who from New Jersey would you trade, and why? Who from New Jersey should they not try to trade, and why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about trades for this offseason in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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