NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — With the NHL trade deadline a week away, the New Jersey Devils may as well have a giant “for sale” sign hanging outside the dressing room.
Interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald gave a clear indication the Devils are ready to unload when he shipped defenseman and captain Andy Greene and forward Blake Coleman in separate deals Sunday for prospects and draft picks.
With New Jersey looking at a potential second straight bottom-five finish, expect Fitzgerald to move more players.
“I’m guessing my phone will ring a little more now because of what I did,” Fitzgerald said Sunday evening. “But I’m not looking to get rid of players. I’m looking to really move the organization, continue moving forward. And there are players here that will do that and help us.”
Fitzgerald said there are several players he will not trade. Centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall selections in 2017 and ‘19, respectively, are untouchable, as is rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who has 19 of the team’s 22 wins. Centers Pavel Zacha and Travis Zajac, who has a no-trade clause he is not going to waive, also are staying.
The rest of the roster seems to be on the market. The most interesting players on that list are forwards Kyle Palmieri and Wayne Simmonds and defensemen Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen.
Palmieri is the best player. He has a team-high 22 goals and is a legit top line forward who is good on the power play. Simmonds has struggled in his first season in New Jersey with seven goals, but he remains a net-front presence.
Vatanen, 28, is in the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He is currently on injured reserve with a foot injury so that would have to heal if he is to be moved.
The 25-year-old Butcher has slipped a little in each of the past two campaigns after having a 44-point season as a rookie.
Defense is the area the Devils need to improve. They have given up 204 goals, which is third worst in the league.
New Jersey has some young players who might be ready soon. Kevin Bahl, who was acquired in the December deal with Arizona for Taylor Hall, and former first-round pick Ty Smith have had very good seasons in junior hockey.
The deal that shipped Coleman to Tampa Bay on Sunday night gave the Devils a couple of assets. They picked up a first-round draft pick this year that belonged to Vancouver and prospect forward Nolan Foote.
Foote could be the find. The 6-foot-4 son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote, has all the tools at 19 years old.
“I saw him in the summer at the world junior camp and was impressed with his size and hands around the net and definitely the shot,” Fitzgerald said. “So those type of players don’t grow on trees, so when that’s being offered to you, you have to think.”
If Vancouver makes the playoffs and Arizona does not get a top three pick in the draft lottery, their first-round picks will go to the Devils, giving them three in what is considered a good draft.
The problem is New Jersey has a long way to go. It has made the playoffs once since going to the Finals in 2012. Its coach, Alain Nasreddine, and general manager have interim tags.
Ownership has shown little patience this season. John Hynes was fired as coach in early December and Ray Shero was fired as general manager a month later.
“I don’t think we’re going to snap our fingers and next year we’re going to be contending for a Stanley Cup, or the year after,” Fitzgerald said.
New Jersey has three pillars for the future in Hischier, Hughes and Blackwood, and some young players with potential.
“If I can add things in the summer, I don’t see why this team can’t be competitive and scratch and claw to that point of playoffs (next season), but continue to grow it the right way,” Fitzgerald said.
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