Why the New Jersey Devils Won the Kyle Palmieri Trade

The first domino of the NHL 2021 Trade Deadline season officially fell last night, when the New Jersey Devils dealt Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to the New York Islanders in exchange for A.J. Greer, Mason Jobst, the Islanders’ 2021 1st round pick and a conditional 4th round pick. In this deal, the Devils will retain 50% of each of Palmieri and Zajac’s contracts that expire at the conclusion of the season. If the Islanders reach the Stanley Cup Finals this season, the conditional 4th round pick becomes a 3rd, and the Islanders have the option to send their 2022 or 2023 3rd rounder to the Devils to complete the trade. Former Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, now with the Islanders, has traded his 1st round pick in back-to-back trade deadlines (for J.G. Pageau last season), as well as acquired his former Devils players in both years (Andy Greene last season).

Kyle Palmieri has scored eight goals this season, as well as nine assists for seventeen points in thirty-four games. He is a minus-two +/- wise in that span. This season, for the first time ever, we at Hockeyfreeforall have compiled a halfway point database similar to the ones we make at the conclusion of the season for trade deadline purposes. At the time of our halfway-point database’s completion, the Devils had played twenty-four games due to a Covid-19 outbreak through the team earlier on in the season sidelining them for a couple of weeks. In that twenty-four game span, Kyle Palmieri’s individual AB score was the second lowest on the team at a -6.71, only higher than P.K. Subban’s -7.04 score. If this highly negative score holds, this will be Palmieri’s third straight negative individual AB season, as well as the lowest in his entire career. Ranging back to 2010, Palmieri has registered five positive and five negative individual AB seasons, with a career AB score of +1.69.

It was rumored in the weeks leading up to this trade that Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald had been actively working with Palmieri’s representation to come to terms on a new contract. We decided to run him through our arbitration analyzer using his midseason score. We determined that his comparable contracts were San Jose’s Timo Meir ($6 million), and Pittsburgh’s Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2 million). Since Palmieri’s 38.29 arbitration number fell directly in between Meir and Kapanen’s, we decided to add the two together and divide to get $4.6 million, which is fifty-thousand dollars less than what he currently makes. This is one of the rare NHL contracts we think is perfectly valued for that reason, however we have no doubt Palmieri will be getting a raise in free agency. This being said, he is thirty years old with declining production and AB scores, and we would be hesitant to sign him to a long-term, big-money type deal GM’s hand out in free agency. We believe the Devils were smart to move off Palmieri while they still could and get a solid asset in a first round pick as opposed to letting him walk in free agency for nothing. We also find it interesting that GM Tom Fitzgerald has an immense amount of trust in his scouting staff, as draft picks in today’s Covid world have become more of a gamble then they already were as a result of scouts shifting to video scouting due to the inability to attend games. In some leagues, teams have either started late or have yet to play at all, which really makes scout’s lives more difficult. We predict 2022 and beyond picks may be dealt more than 2021 picks for that reason this deadline season strictly based off the uncertainty we just discussed.

The lack of a Palmieri extension also is a huge deal for Fitzgerald and the Devils as it has major expansion draft implications in our eyes. To refresh your memory, due to the fact that the upcoming July Seattle Expansion draft has the same rules and regulations as the Vegas expansion draft in 2017, teams must protect either seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie, or eight skaters and a goalie. Teams must also protect players with no trade or no movement clauses, and 1st/2nd year players are exempt. These 2nd year players are players who are entering their 3rd NHL season for clarification purposes. This being said, we decided to include a mock expansion draft protection list for the Devils now that Palmieri will not be on it. We believe the Devils will elect to do the seven/three/one option, as most of their defensemen are pending unrestricted free agents and will not need to be protected. Credit to CapFriendly’s Mock Seattle Expansion Draft tool in assisting this list construction. Keep in mind when viewing the list that Jack Hughes, Ty Smith, and the majority of the Devils prospect pool is exempt, and Sami Vatanen, Dmitry Kulikov, Nikita Gusev, Connor Carrick, Ryan Murray, Scott Wedgewood, Aaron Dell are all pending unrestricted free agents. Unless they are signed to extensions prior to the expansion draft, they won’t be protected.

Forward 1- Nico Hischier

Forward 2- Pavel Zacha

Forward 3- Miles Wood

Forward 4- Jesper Bratt

Forward 5- Andreas Johnsson

Forward 6- Yegor Sharangovich

Forward 7- Janne Kuokkanen

Defenseman 1- P.K. Subban

Defenseman 2- Damon Severson

Defenseman 3- Will Butcher

Goaltender 1- Mackenzie Blackwood  

Notable Exposed: Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, Nick Merkley

The biggest takeaway from the lack of a Palmieri extension for the Devils to us, is that they now have the ability to protect both of Janne Kuokkanen and Yegor Sharangovich. Both of these players are currently having outstanding seasons for the Devils, as they are both in the top three in terms of AB on the team (+1.70 and +2.56 respectively). In some sense, the Devils essentially acquired one of Kuokkanen and Sharangovich on top of the first rounder in this trade, leading us to further believe they won this deal. The expansion draft doesn’t appear to be too devastating for the Devils unlike certain other teams that may face some problems come July. Following this deal, we believe the Devils will likely lose former first round pick Michael McLeod to Seattle. McLeod has a -1.92 career AB score in only one season of data that we have on him. We could see the Devils trading a late round pick to Seattle in order to keep one of the players exposed, however, it is still not as devastating as it could’ve been had they lost Kuokkanen or Sharangovich, or perhaps even one of the other players we protected as well.

The last major piece of this trade is longtime Devils leader Travis Zajac. Having just played his 1000th game for the team this season, Zajac is almost a lock to have his number hanging in the rafters of Prudential Center at some point in the future. At thirty-five years old, he scored seven goals and eleven assists for eighteen points in thirty-three games. His +1.54 individual AB score is his highest since 2015-16 should it hold. Prior to this season, Zajac had registered four straight seasons of -3.8 or worse individual AB seasons. That 1.54 individual midseason score for Zajac was the fourth highest on the team trailing only Sharangovich (+2.56), Johnsson (+1.8), and Kuokkanen (+1.7).

Overall, we think that Palmieri and Zajac were interesting adds for the New York Islanders this deadline season. However, this has a more long-term effect on the New Jersey Devils than most people see at first glance. We think Tom Fitzgerald has kicked off his second trade deadline in charge just how he finished his last one, successfully. With Fitzgerald at the helm, in the last year, the Devils organizationally improved across the board, and we think that the Devils’ gradual progression to being competitive again for is on the right track based off of his moves. Remember, this is only the first domino to fall league wide, as we expect a wave of deals to occur before Monday’s trade deadline. We can’t wait to see what happens next, and we will continue to post regularly with our thoughts on all of the moves. Much more to come, and enjoy deadline season everyone!

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