Devils have right assets to make deadline splash for playoff push


They have essentially no projected cap space, and there are nearly three months to go until the March 3 deadline hits, but if the Devils are in position to go for it, if the organization that’s been out of the playoffs nine of the past 10 years doesn’t feel like waiting in line, then who would they go after on the rental market? 

A big-time goal-scorer such as Patrick Kane or Vladmir Tarasenko to play with Jack Hughes, or a lock-down center such as Jonathan Toews or Ryan O’Reilly to anchor the third line? 

If the hierarchy wants to strike, if the first two months have not represented a mirage, the Devils surely have the assets to make a splash. Defensemen Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec — fourth-overall in 2021 and second-overall in 2022, respectively — would be off-limits. 

But defenseman Seamus Casey, 46th-overall in 2022 and currently at Michigan with the younger Hughes, might not be if the right deal comes along. Alexander Holtz could be bait. Of course, the team has all of its first- and second-rounders the next three years. 

This all has to play out. Ondrej Palat, out since the end of October following groin surgery, should be back in approximately a month. Perhaps his return obviates the need to seek a rental in a high-end district. The guts of the season still lay ahead. 

And there are cap issues. The team would have to divest cap space in order to import the aforementioned blue-chip rentals even with 50 percent retained. The way to do that would be to move pending UFA Damon Severson and his $4.167 million charge. 

Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald
Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Again, it is early. In Year 11 of the rebuild, the Devils may be ahead of schedule. The next 10 or so weeks should tell us — and tell the hierarchy — whether to push it. 

By the way, if you’re Kane and your no-move clause allows you to choose your landing spot, is there a better option going than playing on Hughes’ right side? 

You know what strikes me about the difference between the past two Norris Trophy winners, who will compete for the trophy for years? 

It’s that Cale Makar plays with an arrogance that escapes Adam Fox entirely. They each wear a cape, but the “S” on Fox’s T-shirt still stands for “subtlety.” 

So is Mitch Marner, who entered the weekend riding a franchise record 21-game point-scoring streak, the best player to have been selected fourth-overall in an NHL draft, and the answer to the question is a somewhat surprisingly resounding no — not unless the Toronto winger has surpassed Steve Yzerman … or Clark Gillies … or Ron Francis … or … 

It was obviously a quirk, not a feature, but over the 12 amateur/entry drafts conducted from 1972-83, seven future Hall of Famers were selected fourth overall. Then two others made it to the Hall out of the four-hole in the 1990s. 

Ranking the Fourths: 1. Yzerman (19830; 2. Francis (1981); 3. Lanny McDonald (1973); 4. Paul Kariya (1993); 5. Gillies (1974); 6. Mike Gartner (1979); 7. Steve Shutt (1972); 8. Larry Murphy (1980); 9. Roberto Luongo (1997). 

My Willie, Mickey or the Duke question at the start of the season in which I asked who you’d rather have for the year, Mika Zibanejad, Mat Barzal or Jack Hughes? Well, what happens if the answer is, D) Nico Hischier? 

The great mistake in Philly was committed either by general manager Chuck Fletcher or ownership in refusing to embrace a bottoming-out that might have yielded a best chance at Connor Bedard. 

Instead, a professorial John Tortorella is attempting to squeeze points out of a rock based on structure when structures are being overwhelmed by sheer talent. 

John Tortorella
John Tortorella
NHLI via Getty Images

You know what the three years (after this) on Kevin Hayes’ contract at an annual cap hit of $7,142,857 per should tell anyone? 

The buyout, surely inevitable this June unless the Flyers can move No. 13 at 50 percent, will cost the Flyers between $1.61 million and $4.754 million on the cap for each of the following six years. 

Forget the Blackhawks giving Alex DeBrincat the bum’s rush out of town. Of all the tanking moves, the Ducks signing John Klingberg to a one-year free agent deal seems to be the winner. 

I’m kind of getting the idea that the Senators might not have won the summer. Anyone with me? 

If Johnny Gaudreau wanted to leave Calgary in order to escape the spotlight, mission accomplished, wouldn’t you agree? 

When coaches pull their goaltenders earlier and earlier and now even with three-goal deficits as the Devils’ Lindy Ruff did on Friday against the Islanders, this leads to an explosion of empty-net goals. 

Indeed, there have been .346 empty-netters scored per game through Friday, as opposed to .115 per 10 years ago during the lockout 2012-13 season. That represented a particular low during the 48-game schedule but even five years ago the league clocked .276 empty-netters per. 

In the League of Young Men, 35-year-old Sidney Crosby entered Saturday second in the NHL with 12 goals at five-on-five, second to Jason Robertson’s 13. 

As per usual, the NHL’s most critical race is the one to avoid finishing second or third in the Atlantic, where the powerhouse Tampa Bay-Toronto-Boston axis still stands. 

It would matter to the Bruins, and it could matter to the Lightning, but it would mean the world to the Maple Leafs to avoid going through the first-round gauntlet.

Finish two-three and get that opening cage match. Finish on top, and get the Islanders, Penguins, Rangers, Red Wings or Panthers. 

Finally, that 6:02 shift from Jack Hughes to close out Friday’s 6-4 defeat to the Islanders in which No. 86 was on for 7:33 of the final 7:52 while New Jersey played with an extra attacker? 

Alex Kovalev says hold my beer. 

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