With the trade deadline nearing, the Devils are facing the familiar question of whether to be a buyer or seller in the days leading up to March 5th. The fanbase seems pretty split right now between blow it up and go for it. Do you trade for a top-line left-winger? Do you sell off anyone you don't expect to keep around beyond this year? Right now, perhaps neither is a great option for the Devils. I'm still waffling a bit on this issue, but right now I'm leaning toward the team just riding the season out as currently configured. I don't think this approach ends up being too popular with the fans, but allow me to explain my reasoning.
Why Not to Sell
It's pretty well documented that this has been an endlessly frustrating Devils team this season. Every time they appear poised to get themselves into the playoff picture, they will drop a few games and sink back in the standings. They have to battle a lot of teams for the last playoff spot down the stretch and are sitting three points back of the final spot coming out of the Olympic break, so it's easy to be skeptical of their chances. I still think this is a team with a decent shot at making the playoffs at the end of the season, though.
Maybe it seems crazy, given how this season has shaken out to this point, but I truly do believe a solid team is lurking here. They are a very strong team, territorially, and with Cory Schneider seizing the reins in net, they look pretty damn good in goal going forward as well. The offense is lacking, to be sure, but I think there is enough there to win games with how strong their other two phases have been. Add in the fact that the Devils have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the NHL, as well as a disproportionate number of home games the rest of the way and the playoffs still seem like a real possibility, despite the hole they have dug themselves. Also, if they do get there, I think they are built to give teams a lot of trouble with their team defense and goaltending.
The big driver of people wanting to sell seems to be the Devils' lack of a first round pick this coming off season. I definitely understand this thinking and the specter of missing the playoffs is doubly scary with that in mind. But if the Devils are still within striking distance at the deadline, is it worth packing it in for this year for a pick that (at best, if it's a first) probably ends up being in the low-to-mid-20s range in a not-necessarily-deep draft? I'd personally only want to sell if I'm sure the team has no shot, but your mileage may vary.
Why Not to Buy
There are definitely a lot of people clamoring for a top-six winger in New Jersey and they have been for some time. It's no secret that the Devils currently have a dearth of scoring at forward, and the team has been searching for a LW to play alongside Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr for a while now. Do the Devils really want to part with any of their young talent at defense to find a band-aid for this team right now, though? While the Devils still have a shot at the playoffs, they do have a bit of a climb to get there. It's certainly a distinct possibility that they remain on the outside looking in at season's end.
The issue for me is that I don't know that one guy fixes the scoring problem, or really even puts much of a dent in it. I understand the current personnel they carry at forward aren't setting the world on fire, but is there really anyone out there who would be a legitimate game-changer at a price the Devils are willing to pay? Mike Cammaleri is a nice player, but giving up any significant assets for a month of a player of that level seems unwise from the position that the Devils sit in right now. When you consider someone like Thomas Vanek, who is more likely to make a real difference, the cost will probably outpace what the Devils are willing (or even able) to pay. With a prospect pool as light on talent as the Devils' is right now, they are stuck in a spot that they can't really afford to give up the pieces they do have for a rental.
Since, like I said, I haven't fully made up my mind on this issue, I'll offer up a few caveats to the whole 'standing pat' argument:
- If you can move a guy like, say, Bryce Salvador for anything more than a bag of pucks, I think you have to do it. Nothing the Devils have done/said indicates that they are willing to do this, but a man can dream.
- If the Devils go into a tailspin in the next week-plus leading up to the deadline and appear dead in the water, playoffs-wise, then I think you start considering moving Jagr, Zidlicky, and perhaps others to try to recoup whatever value you can.
- I'm skeptical of the possibility, but if there is a swap out there that entails bringing back a young, talented forward in exchange for one of the Devils' young, talented D, then I'd consider it. Basically, if it's a trade for a player under team control for the next few years (i.e. not a rental), I'd be on board, provided the guy coming back is good enough to justify the price.
What deadline strategy would you like to see the Devils employ? Are you in the "buy," "sell," or "status quo" camp? Lou Lamoriello would probably appreciate my current answer, but how do you feel about it? I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, so let loose with your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading.