Jesper Bratt

What is the Devils’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the New Jersey Devils.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

With Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman now playing elsewhere, the Devils’ long-term outlook is in the hands of recent No. 1 overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.

The Devils thought so highly of Hischier’s development — and potential — that they signed him to a seven-year, $50 million contract that pretty much makes him the new face of the franchise. While his offensive numbers may not be eye-popping, there is a lot to be said for a 21-year-old forward that’s already established himself as a 55-60 point player while also playing a complete two-way game.

Hughes is the player that has the big-time offensive upside.

Beyond those two, Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev are very productive top-six wingers and would make an impact on any contending team. The problem, though, is that both players are unrestricted free agents after next season, and while the Devils should have the salary cap space to retain them if they wanted to, it is worth wondering if such a long-term investment would be wise, especially when it comes to Palmieri who will be 31 years old when his next contract begins.

P.K. Subban has the biggest salary cap hit on the roster, carrying a $9 million salary for each of the next two seasons.

Damon Severson and Will Butcher are also signed long-term on the blue line.

Goaltending was a question mark at the start of the season, but MacKenzie Blackwood has had a very promising start to his career (.916 save percentage in his first two years, well above the league average) and is still only 23 years old.

Long-Term Needs

When you have missed the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons and been one of the league’s worst teams over the past two seasons there are obviously a lot of long-term needs.

Goaltending has been the big Achilles Heel recently due to Cory Schneider‘s decline, but Blackwood has shown a ton of promise and provided some optimism that he could be the long-term solution. But they still lack depth behind him in the short-and long-term.

The addition of Subban was supposed to give them a top-pairing, No. 1 defenseman to lead their blue line, but he will be 31 next season, is in the middle of the worst season of his career, and has almost certainly already played his best hockey. They not only need depth on their blue line, they need somebody to be a difference-maker.

Will Butcher is an underrated player while Ty Smith has a ton of potential, but there are more questions than answers when it comes to the long-term outlook of the blue line.

The other big need is that they need Hughes to be the superstar, franchise player they hope he can be.

Long-Term Strengths

You can not win in the NHL or compete for the Stanley Cup without impact players. The best place to get impact players is at the top of the draft. Fortunately for the Devils they have two of the past three No. 1 overall picks playing for them.

They may not be superstars quite yet, but Hischier is on track to being an outstanding player while Hughes is still only 19 years old and full of potential. Do not even think about writing him off just because he struggled at times as an 18-year-old.

Along with those two, the Devils are looking at the possibility of having three first-round picks in the 2020 class, including their own lottery pick. The other two picks are conditional as a result of the Taylor Hall trade (Arizona) and Blake Coleman trade (Tampa Bay, which sent Vancouver’s pick to New Jersey). The Arizona pick is top-three protected, while the pick from the Coleman trade will move to 2021 if the Canucks miss the playoffs this season. Still, those are a lot of quality assets — and potentially another very high pick — to add to the Hischier and Hughes core.

The Devils also have very few long-term commitments at the moment and as a result have a ton of salary cap space to work with. That could help with the potential re-signings of Palmieri and/or Gusev, as well as adding pieces around their new young core Hischier, Hughes, Butcher, and Blackwood.

More:
Looking at the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils
Devils biggest surprises and disappointments so far 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blues’ eight-game winning streak ends vs. Devils

Blues see eight-game winning streak end vs. Devils
Getty Images

The Blues saw their eight-game winning streak end in an unlikely place: New Jersey. St. Louis saw its run close out after the Devils beat them 4-2 on Friday.

Takeaways after Blues see their eight-game winning streak end vs. Devils

  • Sometimes the unlikely happens. Sometimes that includes unlikely successes from players with unlikely names. Dakota Mermis, an undrafted 26-year-old defenseman, scored his first NHL goal in New Jersey’s upset win. In doing so, he proved that he doesn’t just exist in the rough draft in a Hollywood script. (I’m thinking “rushed sequel to Point Break.”)
  • Jesper Bratt made a pretty sound argument that he likely deserves more ice time.
  • I mean, unless … you know, the Devils actually want to lose more often.

On that note, they might want to ponder some contrived ways to keep Cory Schneider on the bench and in a baseball cap more often.

Schneider began the 2019-20 season on the trajectory that’s become all-too-uncomfortably-familiar lately: as someone who might not be an NHL goalie, let alone a $6M one. He was 0-6-1 with a hideous .852 save percentage through Jan. 18.

Lately, Schneider’s looked like a new goalie, though. He’s now 3-0-1 over his last four starts, stopping 31 out of 33 shots against the Blues. At this rate, the Devils might heat up enough to see their draft lottery odds sink below those of the slipping Sabres.

(Also, Schneider nabbed an assist on that Mermis goal. Strange game, indeed.)

Blessing or curse for New Jersey to heat up?

Seeing the end of an eight-game winning streak leaves the Blues with precious little room to breathe against the Avalanche for the top spot in the Central. St. Louis only holds a two-point edge (90 to 88), while Colorao has one game in hand after also losing on Friday (67 games played vs. 68 for the Blues).

  • Circling back to that earlier draft lottery point, the Devils are also 6-2-2 over their last 10 games.

Inevitable(?) Taylor Hall joke: does Hall’s draft lottery luck count when he’s no longer playing for a team, but the pick involved was related to a Hall trade? Asking for a rather Coyote-like friend.

  • Either way, the Devils’ relative competence will inspire another round of existential debates about tanking.

Should the Devils be happy to grab some wins while closing out a disappointing season? Is this round of too little too late also going to be self-destructive?

Maybe Schneider isn’t the goalie you want to drive that tank. Consider that, in 2018-19, he was terrible before the All-Star break (strangely, the same .852 save percentage in the same number of games [9] as this latest pre-All-Star run) and then caught fire after (.921 save percentage during his last 17 games of 2018-19).

It’s too small of a sample size to say anything for sure, but maybe the Devils and/or Schneider linger as upset threats? They certainly did so on Friday, as the Blues saw their eight-game winning streak come to an end.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Scheifele lights the lamp three times; Binnington earns second straight shutout

Mark Scheifele #55 of the Winnipeg Jets
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Scheifele picked up his third NHL hat trick in the Jets’ 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.  The overlooked centerman completed the milestone with 1:33 remaining in the third period. Nick Paul kicked off the scoring to give the Senators an early advantage, but the Jets stormed back with five unanswered. Scheifele scored his first two goals late in the first period to help Winnipeg gain control of the game. He collected a loose puck near the top of the crease and buried a wrister to even the game, 1:11 after the equalizer, Scheifele redirected Neal Pionk’s shot from the point to give the Jets a lead they would never relinquish. With the win, Winnipeg claimed the top wild card spot in the Western Conference for the time being.

2) Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens

Chiarot recorded his second two-goal game of the season in the Canadiens’ 4-3 overtime victory against the Washington Capitals. The defenseman had two pretty goals, including the overtime winner when his blistering one-timer sped through the legs of Braden Holtby to help the Canadiens end a five-game losing streak. Early in the third period, Chiarot fired a wrist shot from the high slot to give the Canadiens a one-goal advantage. With two more years after this season remaining on his contract at an average annual value of $3.5 million, Chiarot is unlikely to be moved in the coming days even though the playoffs are a long shot for the Canadiens.

3) Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs and Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

Andersen rebounded from a tough performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this week and posted his second shutout of the season in Toronto’s 4-0 victory. It was Andersen’s first win in four starts since returning from a neck injury that sidelined him for four games. Binnington has not been tested frequently in the past two games, but two consecutive shutouts is an accomplishment despite the limited save totals. Mackenzie Blackwood’s 36 saves and Antti Raanta‘s 45 stops also deserve recognition on a solid night from a few goaltenders in the NHL.

Highlights of the Night

The between-the-legs craze continued when Nick Foligno fooled Brian Elliott with this beauty.

Chiarot is not known for his offense but hammered this one-time feed from Max Domi.

It didn’t take long for Gabriel Vilardi to score his first NHL goal.

Raanta was nearly unbeatable, but Ryan O'Reilly finished a precise pass from Brayden Schenn to lead the Blues past the Coyotes.

Kevin Hayes‘ game-winning goal wasn’t anything special, but his celebration following was something to see.

Pavel Zacha threaded a perfect stretch pass and then Jesper Bratt mesmerized Martin Jones with a series of dekes.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 0

New Jersey Devils 2, San Jose Sharks 1

Montreal Canadiens 4, Washington Capitals 3 (OT)

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 5, Ottawa Senators 1

St. Louis Blues 1, Arizona Coyotes 0

Vegas Golden Knights 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

Los Angeles Kings 5. Florida Panthers 4


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Cirelli, DeBrusk lead this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Zach Sanford, Blues – C/LW: Sanford recorded just 20 points in 60 games last season, but he averaged a modest 12:35 minutes. Through Jan. 9th, he had three goals and 10 points in 32 contests in 2019-20, but again his ice time was low at an average of 12:26. Over his last eight games though, his playing time has increased to 14:05 minutes per game and he’s scored three goals and nine points over that span. It certainly helps that he’s been regularly skating on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron. Sanford is still playing above his head right now and it’s questionable if he’ll be worth owning in standard leagues after this hot streak is over, but there is the potential for him to surprise people the rest of the way if he does keep getting decent minutes.

Kailer Yamamoto, Oilers – RW/LW: This isn’t the first time Yamamoto has been called up, but this is looking like the time he sticks with the Oilers. He has been so good with five goals and 10 points in 11 contests with Edmonton this season. Yamamoto has been highly regarded for a while, it’s just taken a bit of time for him to develop and now that he has, he could be a great offensive force going forward. He’s only owned in 10% of Yahoo leagues, so in most cases it’s not too late to take a chance on him.

Jake DeBrusk, Bruins – LW/RW: Debrusk is one of those players who isn’t quite worth owning all the time in standard leagues, but he’s not far off. He’s been solid offensively with 17 goals and 32 points in 48 games and his eligibility on both wings gives fantasy owners a nice amount of flexibility when it comes to using him. He’s just maybe a hair less productive than the low end of what you’d typically want on your team. As an injury stopgap measure though, he’s pretty much the ideal. If you’re hunting your free agent market for hot players, he also works there after scoring an impressive six goals and 12 points over his last 10 games.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Bjorkstrand was red hot with five goals and seven points in his last four games when he suffered a rib/cartilage contusion and an oblique strain that cost him four-to-six weeks. He returned on Jan. 19th and picked up right where he left off with another five goals and six points in his last four contests. At this point he has 17 goals and 29 points despite being limited to 40 games. He managed to score 23 goals in 2018-19 even though he was averaging just 12:20 minutes, so now that he’s getting 17:28 minutes per game, it’s not shocking to see him be such a significant goal scorer. He’s owned in 41% of Yahoo leagues and there should be use for him on teams in many of the leagues where he’s still available.

Zach Hyman, Maple Leafs – C/LW: Hyman couldn’t make his season debut until Nov. 13th and it took him a while to get going offensively with two goals and three points in his first 10 games. That’s partially masked how big of a threat he’s been for a while now. From Dec. 4th onward, Hyman has shined with 12 goals and 22 points in 23 games. In spite of that, Hyman is still owned in just 25% of leagues. That’s somewhat understandable given that in previous seasons he’s been good, but not great offensively and the high powered Maple Leafs’ offense features far bigger names who get most of the attention, but at this point, picking up Hyman is worthy of serious consideration.

Jesper Bratt, Devils – LW/RW: Bratt was having a pretty quiet season with six goals and nine points in 27 contests before Taylor Hall was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes. Since the trade though, he’s seen an uptick in responsibilities and his production has climbed up along with it. He went from averaging 13:12 minutes before the trade to 15:07 minutes over his last 13 contests. Over that recent span he has three goals and 10 points in 13 games. Bratt has been playing alongside Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri, who were Hall’s former linemates, so it has been a case of Bratt getting a nice opportunity as a result of the trade.

Kevin Hayes, Flyers – C: Hayes has been a hot-and-cold player this season. That combined with his center-only eligibility makes him a tough sell as a player to pick up and hold long-term. If you’re interested in short-term pickups though, you can attempt to strategically grab and drop him. In that regard, this might be a good time to consider him because it looks like he’s at the beginning of a new hot streak with two goals and five points in his last four games, including a three-point showing on Saturday.

Nick Suzuki, Canadiens – C/RW: The Calder Trophy conversation right now is basically Quinn Hughes versus Cale Makar – and for good reason, those two defensemen have had excellent campaigns. That said, there a few rookie forwards who have been standing out too and one of them is Suzuki. With 10 goals and 33 points in 54 games this season, he ranks fourth in the rookie scoring race. He’s had some prolonged cold streaks, such as his recent stretch from Dec. 31-Jan. 18 of just two goals and four points in 11 games, but he’s also had some really great runs and he’s on one right now with a goal and six points in his last four games.

Tyler Ennis, Senators – LW/RW: Ennis is having his best season in years with 13 goals and 30 points in 52 contests thanks in part to him having a significantly bigger role with Ottawa than he did in Toronto or Minnesota. He’s still been somewhat hot-and-cold, so he’s not a great option all the time, but right now he’s enjoying one of his hot streaks with two goals and five points in his last five games.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: From Jan. 14th onward, Cirelli has been one of the league’s top performers with four goals and 10 points in seven games. Of course, he’s been pretty good all season with 13 goals and 37 points in 51 games. His center-only eligibility is his biggest knock at this point, but even with that in mind, you could do worse than having him on your team long-term.

Players You May Want To Drop

Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets – RW: Atkinson had an amazing run of eight goals and 12 points in 11 contests, but that’s behind him now. He hasn’t gotten a point in any of his last four games, even as the Blue Jackets as a squad continue to excel. Atkinson is a player worth always keeping an eye on because when he’s at his best, he’s superb, but I think for some owners it’s okay to risk exposing him to the free agent pool during the stretches where he’s not producing.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal has a foot injury right now, but that might not end up being a significant injury. Even if you take that out as a factor though, Neal just hasn’t done that much. He had that amazing run of 11 goals in his first 14 games, but he’s found the back of the net just eight times in the 36 games that followed and that’s even with his hat trick on Dec. 31st. He hasn’t even really had a meaningful hot streak since October. Neal will almost certainly find his way back to the 20-goal milestone after falling well short of that in 2018-19, but that’s mostly just thanks to that hot start. If you missed out on that, there hasn’t been much benefit to owning Neal this season.

Alex Killorn, Lightning– LW/RW: With 20 goals and 40 points in 50 games, Killorn has already set a new career-high in goals and matched his 2018-19 points total. He’s never recorded more than 47 points in a single season, so it’s not at all hard to believe that this will be the 30-year-old’s best campaign to date. That said, he’s largely riding on his early success at this stage. From Nov. 18-Dec. 31 he was playing like an elite with 13 goals and 28 points in 23 games, but since then he has five goals and six points in 14 contests, including just three points in his last nine contests. Even if you decide against dropping him right now because, again, his season overall has been spectacular, you should keep a critical eye on him over the next couple weeks. It’s entirely plausible that his best days of the 2019-20 campaign are behind him.

Tomas Hertl, Sharks – C/LW: This one is more of just a reminder of the unfortunate. Hertl suffered a torn ACL/MCL on Wednesday and he won’t play again this season as a result, so dropping him if you’re in a single season league is a no brainer. I would however like to take this time to encourage you to keep him in mind when it comes to fantasy drafts for 2020-21. He was underperforming a little – along with the Sharks as a team – before the injury so that combined with his season being cut short could lead to him slipping in drafts next season. You might get very good value for selecting him as a result.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: Duclair is having a strong season with 21 goals and 34 points in 51 contests. The catch is that most of his production has been the result of a couple big hot streaks. He had five goals and eight points in eight games from Oct. 23-Nov. 9 and another 11 goals and 15 points in 10 games from Dec. 3-21. Since his latest hot streak, he’s been limited to just four assists in 14 games. Feel free to drop him for now and just keep an eye out for his next big run.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Maple Leafs’ Ilya Mikheyev taken to hospital with ‘significant’ laceration to wrist

Ilya Mikheyev
Getty

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Ilya Mikheyev had to be taken to a New Jersey hospital on Friday night after suffering a “significant laceration” to his wrist in their game against the Devils.

The incident happened midway through the third period.

As Mikheyev trailed the play on a back-check, New Jersey’s Jesper Bratt lost his balance with his foot flying up toward Mikheyev’s arm. As Mikheyev skated by, Bratt’s skate caught him in the wrist. The New Jersey TV broadcast had a camera angle that showed he was bleeding immediately as he rushed off the ice.

He had scored his eighth goal of the season earlier in the game.

Toronto ended up winning 5-4 in overtime thanks to New Jersey’s Damon Severson accidentally scoring an own goal.

UPDATE:

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.