Monthly Archives: January 2021

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While some understandably may see a pure, dynamic shooter like Pacioretty on the block and instantly push the Devils’ chips onto the table to go all-in on acquiring his services, it’s hard to really identify a path where that makes sense in New Jersey. At 32, Pacioretty is a full decade older than his potential linemate Nico Hischier and would be 34 when he becomes eligible for a contract extension in 2023. As fun as it would be to see the Connecticut native return to the East Coast to play out the remainder of his prime, that move doesn’t make a ton of sense.

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Marchessault, by contrast, makes a ton more sense – especially at the right price.

For those out of the loop, Marchessault is a center in a wing’s body who is equally comfortable playing on the left and right wing. He’s scored 20-plus goals and 45-plus points in each of the last four seasons and has the rare distinction of leading the Golden Knights in shot attempts during their inaugural season. Over his tenure with Vegas, Marchessault has been one of the most efficient five-on-five scorers in the league, averaging 2.10 points per 60 minutes. He’s also become one of the more reliable wing passers in the NHL today, averaging 32 assists a season as the Golden Knights’ premier do-it-all top-line offensive option.

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Fun fact: The Devils haven’t had a skater record 32 assists in a season since the 2017-18 season, when Taylor Hall, Will Butcher, and a rookie Nico Hischier all accomplished the feat.

With Marchessault in the fray as a playmaking winger, the soon-to-be-30-year-old could help to revolutionize the offensive games of both Hischier and Jack Hughes while providing the team with extra offensive firepower desperately needed in the top-six. His ability to play either wing position could also allow the Devils to shuffle around their top-six wing combinations to optimize their shooting, scoring, and playmaking, as Andreas Johnsson is also a versatile wing who can successfully play on either side.

A long-term top-six featuring Marchessault and Johnsson could look really, really good, especially if the team can find a lethal sharpshooter to fill out the depth chart – I’m looking at you, Alexander Holtz.

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We went into New Jersey Devils camp hoping that Jack Hughes would come in looking strong. Then, it came out quickly that he put on at least 14 pounds of muscle and spent the entire pause training hard. It seems to be showing on the ice as he is getting better with every day that passes in training camp. We know that he has superstar potential and 2021 could be the year that he starts to slowly become that. He has his flashes in 2019-20, but he didn’t really come close to his potential last season.

In yesterday’s scrimmage, Hughes played on Team Red’s top line with Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev. It is hard to see Gusev sticking on that line, especially if Pavel Zacha is okay and Jesper Bratt comes back, but it was interesting to see here. Palmieri might be a guy who gets to play with Hughes a lot at even strength, which could really help both of them. In this scrimmage portion of Training Camp on Friday, this line looked really good.

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In particular, Hughes looked awesome. He seems to be very comfortable with the puck and can use his vision to create for himself and his teammates. It is this type of skill that made him the number one overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. New Jersey really needs him to be an elite offensive centerman and the way this camp is going makes it feel like he is ready to go.

The game went straight to a shootout following a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation. It was one of those shootouts that the goalies started to save everything so some guys had to start shooting twice. Hughes was sent a second time and it sure was a nice way to end things. He took a blistering shot that ended it and showed just how much skill he actually has. There are things that he can do with the puck that not many in the world can.

This is all so good because they really need a lot from Hughes. When Nico Hischier comes back, they will be relied on to be this team’s top two centers for a very long time. They are both very different in terms of their play styles but they both can have a tremendous impact on their team. If each of them reaches their true potential with the Devils, this team will be a force for a long time.

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HOT: Sami Vatanen’s impact on the New Jersey Devils
We are under a week before the season starts so they need Hughes to keep playing well during camp. He looked great out there with Gusev and Palmieri and had a sweet goal to end the shootout. If he can carry some of this greatness into the season, many people on the Devils will benefit from it. In addition, it also might help them win a whole bunch of games.

But what would the Devils have to give up to acquire Marchessault from the Golden Knights? According to The Fourth Period, Vegas is desperately trying to facilitate some sort of trade without retaining any money on their books and may even be willing to attach a pick to get Marchessault or Fleury off their books. If the Devils could land the final four years of Marchessault’s contract for a mid-round pick, you’d have to think the team would do it in a heartbeat, right?

Sure, I imagine so. Then again, plenty of other teams, specifically the Nashville Predators, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Florida Panthers have expressed interest in Marchessault’s services, so that situation could rapidly turn into an unnecessary bidding war. What the Devils do have, that none of their competitors in the Marchessault-sweepstakes do, is a trade chip that could instantly push them to the front of the pack: Nikita Gusev.

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In theory, the swap makes perfect sense for all parties involved. Gusev is also a versatile, playmaking wing who can play on their side and put up 30-plus assists with ease. Clearly, the Golden Knights like Gusev at least a little bit, as they initially acquired his rights from the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2017 alongside a second-round pick, a fourth-round pick, and the contract of Jason Garrison. Sure, they ultimately traded his rights to Jersey before he so much as recorded an NHL stat, but that had more to do with straddling the insane beast that is the Golden Knights’ cap situation than a total disdain for what Gusev brings to the table. If anything, Vegas could have really used a player like ‘Goose’ in the 2020 playoffs, as they simply couldn’t overtake the Dallas Stars in a 2-3 series.

Flipping Gusev for Marchessault would all but surely make the Devils a better team, as it’d give the team a second 20-plus goal scorer, another veteran presence in the locker room, and a playmaking force who could surely help to further the offensive potential of both Hirschier and Hughes, but it wouldn’t make the Golden Knights that much worse in the process, which trading the Cap-Rouge, Quebec for a draft pick surely would. The Devils get a long-term building block with four-more years under contract, and the Golden Knights get a similar soon-to-be RFA forward who could seamlessly slide into Marchessault’s role and be retained on a new contract if things go well.

And the best part? The Devils can retain as much a $2 million of Gusev’s cap hit for the 2020-21 season, which would give the Golden Knights even more cap flexibility… and New Jersey enough money to still go after Mike Hoffman in free agency. Sorry, I had to do it (more on that here).

NEXT: The New Jersey Devils should weaponize the cap by signing Mike Hoffman
In an ideal world, the New Jersey Devils would be able to (virtually) walk right up to the
T-Mobile Arena center, hand the Vegas Golden Knights a mid-round pick and bring a moderately used Jonathan Marchessault back to the Garden State for the next four years. Unfortunately, with actual fringe playoff teams also in the market for his services, that may not be as easy as some may assume. No, to guarantee a player like Marchessault, who subjectively speaking is a perfect fit in Lindy Ruff’s top-six and the Devils’ rebuilding timeline, they’ll all but surely have to give up a player to make the deal work. While it’d be tough to see Nikita Gusev go, especially after he just added a young goose to his flock, a one-for-one swap makes a ton of sense for all parties involved and could be the key to both teams achieving their goals in 2020-21.

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He technically retires as a member of the New Jersey Devils, but Corey Crawford will always be remembered as a star with the Chicago Blackhawks. The 36-year-old won two Stanley Cups with the Hawks and spent 10 years in the NHL with the team before signing with New Jersey in the off-season, but he’ll never play a game in anything but a Chicago jersey now.

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The reasons behind Crawford’s retirement are not specifically known and while he released a statement upon announcing the news, the netminder is not making any further comments at this time. What is known is that Crawford tried to make a go of it this season with the Devils, but ultimately decided it was time to hang up his blocker.

“I wanted to continue my career, but believe I’ve given all I can to the game of hockey,” he said. “I would like to thank the New Jersey Devils organization for understanding and supporting my decision. I would like to thank the Chicago Blackhawks organization for giving me the chance to live my childhood dream.”

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Crawford has battled with injuries the past few seasons and concussions have been the primary culprit. Given all we know about brain injuries, it’s understandable that someone who has gone through the wars with concussions would not want to take any more chances, particularly since he is a family man.

The key part of Crawford’s statement to me is the reference to giving hockey all he could. No one can dispute this: the life of a pro hockey player is grand, to be sure, but it’s also a grind. Last season’s playoff bubble magnified that grind even further, isolating players completely from their loved ones. Chicago may not have spent a long time in the bubble, but the Hawks were still there.

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New Jersey Devils goaltender Corey Crawford, after taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team Friday for personal reasons, announced his retirement on Saturday.

“I have been fortunate to have had a long career playing professional hockey for a living. I wanted to continue my career, but believe I’ve given all I can to the game of hockey, and I have decided that it is time to retire,” Crawford said in a statement issued Saturday. “I would like to thank the New Jersey Devils organization for understanding and supporting my decision.

“I would like to thank the Chicago Blackhawks organization for giving me the chance to live my childhood dream. I am proud to have been part of winning two Stanley Cups in Chicago. Thank you to all of my teammates and coaches throughout the years. Also, thank you to the fans who make this great game what it is. I am happy and excited to move on to the next chapter of my life with my family.”

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The 36-year-old Crawford, who signed a two-year deal with the Devils this past offseason at an average annual value of $3.9 million, had not practiced since training camp opened last week. His absences were first described as “maintenance days” by coach Lindy Ruff, before the team said he was taking personal days on Wednesday and Thursday.

He had been the Blackhawks’ starting goaltender since 2010-11 — and helped them to two Stanley Cup championships — but the team decided not to re-sign him this offseason.

Crawford ended his Blackhawks career ranked third in franchise history with 260 career wins, trailing only Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall. Crawford is the Blackhawks’ franchise leader in postseason wins (52) and is the only goalie in team history with multiple Stanley Cups.

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“Corey has an unforgettable place within our organization, in our fans’ hearts and in Chicago sports history,” the Blackhawks said in a statement. “We congratulate Corey on a Hall of Fame-worthy playing career — one we celebrate with him today as a member of the Blackhawks family forevermore. ‘Crow’ is not only one of the greatest goaltenders in Chicago Blackhawks franchise history but was also a pillar in our local community throughout his entire career.”

Crawford put in 10 solid years in the NHL, but he also spent five seasons before that as a pro, mainly in the AHL with Rockford, plus the occasional start with Chicago. So yes, he’s put in his due. And truly, he put as much – if not more – into the game as he got in return.

In terms of legacy, Crawford retires as one of the best goalies in Chicago’s history, right up there with Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall. That’s heady company, but neither of those Hall of Famers have as many Cups as Crawford (though he’s the only of the three never to win a Vezina, having to settle for two Jennings trophies).

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Is he a Hall of Famer? Probably not, since on his own dynasty Hawks teams, he’s likely behind Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. In terms of goaltending peers from this era, he’s behind Carey Price, Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist – plus Martin Brodeur has already been inducted.

But Chicago should seriously consider retiring his No. 50 if they haven’t planned on it already. Crawford was the backbone of an incredibly good team during the Hawks’ finest era ever. Even at the end of his career, Crawford was excellent in turning aside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers in an upset series win in the Return to Play bubble.

As for the New Jersey Devils, the timing of this obviously isn’t ideal, but the organization has options. Mackenzie Blackwood was very good last year and in a 56-game season, he should be able to carry much of the load. New Jersey could still add a veteran to help Blackwood out, with options such as Jimmy Howard already on the market. This was still going to be a rebuilding year in New Jersey anyhow, though it would have been nice to have Crawford on board.

Nonetheless, ‘Crow’ has made his choice and it’s important to respect it. He was a winner, he was a battler and his legacy is clear.

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Sharangovich was tremendous while on loan in the KHL, where he totaled 17 goals and 25 points in 34 games. Kuokkanen has three seasons of AHL experience and looks ready for a shot at a regular NHL role. While Boqvist primarily played left wing last season, he’s looked much more comfortable at center during camp. It may be a line of three rookies, but their performance as a unit during the scrimmages suggests they might offer the Devils some depth to start the season.

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The fourth line, at least out of the gate, should have some familiar faces. Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha are likely to begin there, but there’s still one spot to fill alongside them. Nathan Bastian looks to be in the running for that opening, as does Michael McLeod, which would give the Devils some size and scoring punch on the fourth line.

Related: Devils Have Uphill Climb to Qualify for 2021 Playoffs

All of this will change when Hischier and Bratt return, though. It’ll be interesting to see where everyone fits when that happens, especially if the Sharangovich, Boqvist, and Kuokkanen line clicks during game action. That could give Ruff some difficult decisions to make in the bottom half of the lineup, but that’s not a bad problem to have.

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Defense
The Devils’ defense will have a mixture of new and old faces after a few offseason moves. They acquired Ryan Murray from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a fifth-round pick. Despite having chronic lower back problems, Murray has been an effective top-four defenseman when in the lineup. If he can stay healthy, he’ll give the team a significant boost on their top pair.

Also joining Murray is Dmitry Kulikov, who the Devils signed during free agency to a one-year deal worth $1.15 million. Kulikov isn’t going to have the significant role Murray will, but he should provide the team with some defensive depth as their no. 6 or 7 defenseman.

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In a somewhat surprising move, the New Jersey Devils have brought back defenseman Sami Vatanen on a one year contract worth $2 million for the season. Vatanen will need to quarantine and arrive in New Jersey before he can participate in team activities. His timetable to join the team and be ready for games is yet to be determined. Vatanen brings a familiar presence on the backend that does nothing but strengthens the depth of the Devils blueline.

The Devils originally acquired Vatanen from the Anaheim Ducks for fan favorite Adam Henrique, en route to the first playoff appearance since the run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. The Devils then traded Vatanen almost one year ago to the Carolina Hurricanes for Janne Kuokkanen, Frederick Claesson, and a 2020 3rd-round draft pick that became Nico Daws. Kuokkanen looks to be a lock for the opening night roster and could make a major impact on the Devils. Claesson is still a free agent and Dawes waits in limbo for the OHL season to start.

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Vatanen did not play a game in the regular season for the Hurricanes last season due to an injury, which added to the drama of the conditional draft pick acquired by the Devils. He did play seven games in the playoffs, accumulating three assists in those games.

An NHL ready player and a 3rd-round pick is a steep price for only seven playoff games in hindsight for the Hurricanes. This only adds to the legend of good moves that Tom Fitzgerald has done so far in his tenure.

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The move does throw some confusion to the roster though, as it was thought the Devils already had their blueline set up with the assumption Ty Smith would make the team. Right now, if Ty Smith makes the team, the Devils would have 8 NHL caliber defenseman on the roster. PK Subban, Damon Severson, Connor Carrick, and Vatanen would be on the right side. Ryan Murray, Will Butcher, Dimitry Kulikov, and Smith on the left. It is yet to be seen how the Devils roster will shake up over the course of the season while the question of how the taxi squad will be used remains.

NEXT: How Devils Turned Jason Arnott Into Shakir Mukhamadullin
In all, this is a good move for the Devils to bring back Vatanen. He was seemed to be well liked by his teammates and he is capable of being a player the Devils could really use. He can work the powerplay as well as the penalty kill. The only question is, can he stay healthy? Like Murray, if health isn’t an issue, both players are top four quality defensemen. If they aren’t healthy, the Devils will be back to square one and more questions than answers. But all in all, bringing Sami back is a smart decision.

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Ryan Murray Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Returning for his second stint with the Devils is Sami Vatanen, who signed a one-year deal worth $2 million less than a week ago. Like Bratt, he needs a work visa then has to quarantine for seven days before joining the team. So he’s likely to miss their first couple of games, at a minimum.

In addition to those three defensemen, the Devils return Damon Severson, Will Butcher, P.K. Subban, and Connor Carrick. Subban looks like he’ll start the season paired with Murray, while top prospect Ty Smith looks as if he’ll play alongside Severson on the second pair. Once Vatanen is eligible to play, the Devils’ defense pairs should look something like this:

Murray – Subban
Smith – Severson
Butcher – Vatanen
Kulikov – Carrick (extras)
No one will mistake the Devils’ blue line as the best in the NHL. With that said, it’s a pretty capable group. Subban had the worst season of his career in 2019-20, so giving him top-pair minutes won’t work if he doesn’t rebound to some degree. Though, it does help that Murray is the best defenseman Subban will play with since becoming a Devil.

Smith looked terrific during the Devils’ camp scrimmages, and he appears ready for the NHL. Severson was the team’s best defenseman in 2019-20, so Smith looks to be walking into a favorable situation to start his NHL career.

Once Vatanen is eligible to play, he and Butcher should give the Devils a reliable third pair. Butcher is one of the team’s more effective puck-moving blueliners, and he’s put up good numbers paired with Vatanen over the last three seasons. Vatanen should also get some meaningful minutes on both the power play and penalty kill.

New Jersey Devils Sami Vatanen
New Jersey Devils Sami Vatanen (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
And with Kulikov and Carrick as the team’s seventh and eighth defensemen, that makes the Devils’ defense one of their better position groups.

Goaltending
Goaltending looked like it was going to be a strength heading into this season. But it’s now the Devils’ biggest question mark after Crawford announced his retirement. Crawford had a .917 save percentage (SV%) last season and would’ve been a significant upgrade as a 1B to Blackwood.

Now the Devils are left scrambling to find a backup to Blackwood with just two days before the regular season begins. Scott Wedgewood is the de facto no. 2 goaltender with Crawford retiring, but he hasn’t played in an NHL game since 2017-18. His recent AHL numbers aren’t all that encouraging either – he had a .893 SV% last season and .908 SV% in 2018-19.

If the Devils want to be competitive this season, they need to find a veteran backup behind Blackwood. They could look to the trade market, but it might be a challenge finding a willing trade partner since teams must carry a goalie on their taxi squad.

The Devils’ best bet seems to be scouring the waiver wire and hoping someone useful ends up on waivers. One team to watch is the Toronto Maple Leafs. If Jack Campbell wins the backup job to Frederik Andersen, as expected, the Leafs could place Aaron Dell on waivers with the intent of sending him to their taxi squad.