This Devils season has been a tough ride for everyone involved, including the players, the coaches, the fans, and management. After the high of returning to the playoffs a season ago, the team has staggered through this season, lurching from losing streak to losing streak most of the way. The team currently sits 25th in the overall standings and after dropping last night’s game to the Islanders, they are 13 points behind the Penguins for the final wild card in the East. It wasn’t supposed to go this way in 2018-19, but regardless of what everyone’s hopes were for this season, it’s time to accept the reality staring everyone in the face: this season is finished. The Devils may have 35 games remaining, but none of them will include meaningful playoff implications for the team from New Jersey.
Now, how you would like the Devils to approach the remainder of the season may vary. Some may be all in on Team Tank, with management angling for the highest pick possible through the team sinking to the bottom of the standings (they don’t exactly have far to go). Others may want the team to try to build momentum for next season with a stronger second half. Maybe you want the team to focus on player development down the stretch and get a few more young players some experience. Wherever you land among those options, though, one thing should be clear: Ray Shero should be moving whatever players he can before the trade deadline arrives a little over a month from now.
There should be no shortage of sellers at this year’s deadline, between the number of teams who appear to be done at this stage of the season and the chance of landing a top-two spot in this summer’s NHL Draft and selecting Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. The issue facing Ray Shero is that he doesn’t really have a game-changing rental piece to recoup major assets, so he will have to get some good value at the margins or think of trading players under contract beyond this season if he wants an upper tier prospect or picks high in this year’s draft.
The players with expiring contracts have been a topic of trade conversation among Devils fans for weeks now, but let’s run through the list of potential tradeable rental pieces.
Marcus Johansson: Johansson strikes me as the potential rental piece with the most value to a contending team. He’s had dreadful injury luck in New Jersey and he’s never really been able to settle in in his two seasons in Newark, but teams know that he’s a player who can play effectively in a second-line role when he’s on the ice.
Ben Lovejoy: Lovejoy is not a guy who can fix a big issue for a team, but a contender in need of a steady third-pairing presence with loads of postseason experience could be interested in a player like Lovejoy’s services. Many people soured on Lovejoy in his first season in New Jersey when he was handed a first-pairing role he was in no way equipped for, but since being shifted to the third pairing last season, he has been quite good in that spot. He can stabilize the bottom of a good team’s defense and he can play solid minutes on a penalty kill unit. That should garner at least some decent return from teams in the hunt.