Did The Devils Become A Better Team?
My heart says no, but my head says… well, let’s find out:
According to a quick Twitter poll I threw up on Thursday, 91% of the 55 respondents think that the Devils did indeed get better.
However, to analyze this transaction, I’m going to briefly describe player profiles, detail the effect on the Devils’ roster, and discuss the move in relation to organizational health. Let’s begin:
Hurts. Period. Adam Henrique was a fan favorite for the personality he brought to the locker room, the philanthropic effort he gave back to the community, and some unforgettable moments on the ice. We’ve been spoiled to watch a 21 year old 3rd round pick blossom into the dependable veteran leader Rico has become. As much as he will be missed in NJ, I have no doubt his style of play will translate well to Ducks team currently deprived of NHL caliber forwards.
Helps. Known for his skating and powerplay scoring ability, the 26 year-old Vatanen has been in the League since the 2012-13 season. Over 280 career games, Vatanen has managed the following career stats in all situations:
His Points per hour is high for defensemen, his CF%, GF%, and xGF% are all on the right side of 50%, likely boosted by his above average powerplay performance and usage. Having a career PDO (Save Percentage + Shooting Percentage while on the ice) of over 100.0 paints a picture of favorable play again likely influenced by his utilization. Generally speaking, Vatanen brings mobility, passing ability, and a hard shot to the blueline in New Jersey.
Before the trade, we saw a strong top 6 relegate Henrique to a depth position on the third line while the defense corps remained woefully thin.The Team Gamescore/60 before the trade was 7.11 points per hour. Use the tabs at the top left of the dashboard to toggle between before and after the trade:
After the trade, the projected lineup features Pavel Zacha assuming Henrique’s spot centering the third line while Vatanen has the potential to hop straight into the top pairing with Andy Greene. The next forward into the lineup by this metric is Jimmy Hayes on the fourth line to the right of Brian Boyle. This new lineup achieves a Team Gamescore per hour of 7.31. By this measure, the Devils did indeed improve the quality of their roster by about .20 Gamescore points per hour.
Cap Perspective: Marginally Negative Impact
Henrique carries a $4M cap hit this year while Blandisi comes in at $680,000. Going the other way is Vatanen’s 4.875M which is marginally more than Henrique and Blandisi combined. The net effect to the Devils cap space this year is essentially a wash.
Youth Perspective: Slight Improvement
At the NHL level, the Devils get younger by about a year as a 27 year old Henrique is exchanged for a 26 year old Vatanen. The prospect pool also gets younger as the depth chart position once occupied by the 24 year-old Blandisi has been vacated. This essentially moves each player in the Devils’ system up one rung of the organizational depth chart.
Term Length Perspective: A Win for the Devils
Both Henrique and Blandisi have deals expiring after next season, with Henrique becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent and Blandisi maintaining his Restricted status. Vatanen becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent after the 2019-20 season, making his term one year longer than both Henrique and Blandisi.
The Devils got better, younger, and gained contract term whilemaintaining a comparable cap situation, making this another strong organizational move.
Of course, the prevailing concept behind this trade is that Shero is trading from a position of strength. Before the trade, there were 7 players on the Devils NHL roster listed as centermen, without mentioning promising prospects such as Mike McLeod, John Quenneville, Jesper Boqvist, and Blake Speers who are jockeying for spots on the organizational depth chart. The infusion on forward talent via the draft, free agency, and trades has made Henrique expendable and it has been no secret that the Devils were weak on the blueline.
I wish Henrique all the best in Anaheim, but after considering a few perspectives, I side with the 91% - this transaction made the Devils a better hockey team right now and improved the organizational health moving forward.
*Data from corsica.hockey.com