At approximately 10am today, my phone started going ballistic. The New Jersey Devils had made a trade. General Manager Ray Shero had, once again, made the NHL world grind to a stop for a moment to marvel at his handiwork. This is not the first time he has done it, and it is unlikely to be the last. This time around, his partner in crime was the familiar Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks.
So to recap, the Devils send former 30 goal scorer, Center Adam Henrique and prospect Joseph Blandisi to the Ducks for Sami Vatanen and then there’s also a pick swap. So who won the deal? Well truthfully, this is one of those rare deals where everyone wins.
Why the Ducks Win:
The Ducks have been and will continue to be without centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler for a large chunk of the season. They’ve been playing around with other players at top line center but they haven’t had a true top 6 center on their roster. Adam Henrique comes in and immediately seizes the top line center role alongside Corey Perry. Henrique has proven to be very successful when he is put alongside a dominant player like Perry. His time as a center in New Jersey has been shaky at times, but he’s capable of delivering center depth to the Ducks in the short-term, and then center/wing depth once their star players return. His contract is manageable, and with it expiring at the end of 2019, he’s a really strong candidate to move at the 2019 trade deadline if things take a downward turn in Anaheim.
Also acquired was Joseph Blandisi. Blandisi was an offensive dynamo during his overage OHL season and has seen some time in New Jersey. He’s developed a reputation for playing on the edge, but has good speed and tenacity. It’s very possible that he could carve a spot for himself in the depleted Duck forward corps.
The emerging play of Brandon Montour and Josh Manson had made Sami Vatanen effectively expendable for Anaheim in this case. Losing Vatanen does little to shake the top 4 of the Ducks. Lindholm, Fowler, Montour and Manson are more than up to the task of shouldering the bulk of the minutes. The Ducks dealt from a position of strength to shore up a weakness.
Why Adam Henrique Wins:
The emergence of Nico Hischier and the return of Travis Zajac saw Henrique moved out of top 6. His utilization in special teams situations seemed to be gradually growing lesser also. The Devils have become a team with a logjam of young talent clamoring away for spots on the roster. Henrique had, unfortunately pretty much played himself out of a job for the Devils. In Anaheim he gets his first real fresh NHL start. Henrique has been a good soldier through the last 5 seasons in NJ, but it’s possible it has taken it’s toll on him. He will come into Anaheim with a pile of expectations on his shoulders, but a real opportunity to rise to the occasion and reassert himself as the scoring threat he once was perceived to be.
Why Joseph Blandisi Wins:
Blandisi had an exceptional training camp and was a surprise final cut from the roster. Simply put, he was cut because Brian Gibbons, and Blake Coleman were better. Coleman and Gibbons have cemented their bottom 6 roles by being key penalty killers for the Devils. Blandisi did not protest his assignment to the AHL but was obviously disappointed. The emergence of Nico Hischier and Jasper Bratt, along with a fresh crop of rookies to the AHL had pushed Blandisi to a point where no matter what he did, he was unlikely to crack the Devils’ roster. Anaheim is a team that needs forward depth, and Joseph brings some NHL experience and speed along with a hunger to that system.
Why the Devils win:
Media and blogs regarding the NJ Devils have zeroed in on the defense as a position of weakness. They have played better than initially expected. Will Butcher has been everything he was billed to be and more, while Steven Santini continues to grow into taking big minutes. Offseason acquisition Mirco Mueller seemed to be catching on as well until he was sidelined with injury. All that aside, the narrative was still; if the Devils had machinations of trying to take this team on a deep playoff run, they would have to make some kind of major upgrade to their defense. Sami Vatanen is a right-handed, defender capable of being in that top pairing role for the Devils. They might not use him there right away, but he certainly slots into the top 4. At 5’10 he’s not particularly big, but he has a big shot. His ice time average of 21:06 for the season was 3rd on Anaheim, and he’s averaged over 21 minutes per game for the last 4 seasons. He is the exact type of player NJ has been seeking to obtain since missing out on Kevin Shattenkirk.
The Devils, like the Ducks, dealt from a position of strength here. The bottom line is that Henrique’s contract would be wasted playing depth minutes for the Devils. For the past 5 years, Henrique has been a top 6 player on the Devils because there was no one better. This is no longer the case and he has not been able to assert himself as a top 6 player in NJ this season.
Why Sami Vatanen won:
Much like Henrique, Vatanen had seen himself made redundant. After returning from injury his production numbers have been a bit off pace to start the season. The Ducks started the season with Vatanen and Cam Fowler on IR. Brandon Montour and Josh Manson rose to the occasion, giving Anaheim a lot of flexibility and depth once Vatanen and Fowler returned from injury. It also meant that Anaheim had 5 top guys for 4 top spots. There’s nothing wrong with having that kind of depth available to a team, but with Montour due a new deal at the end of this season, and Manson and Fowler’s extensions kicking in next season, Vatanen or Lindholm were likely to have to go from a contract standpoint. Vatanen will be entering the New Jersey Devils with a chance to really seize a top pairing job and likely be given a longer leash to use his offensive tools. Vatanen’s skating ability and big shot are likely to be featured by the Devils and he stands to possible produce bigger numbers than he ever has on a team that generates a lot of its offense from the point of attack.
So there you have it. Time will tell, but this appears to be that rare trade where everybody wins.