The New Jersey Devils’ trade for Sami Vatanen can be viewed as the second part of the deal they made in 2016 to land top scorer Taylor Hall.
To acquire Hall, the Devils surrendered young top pairing defenseman Adam Larsson. That created a significant hole that Devils general manager Ray Shero filled Thursday by picking up Vatanen for proven scorer Adam Henrique, forward Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 third-round pick. The Devils will also get a third-round pick back from Anaheim if Henrique re-signs there.
When New Jersey ownership hired Shero in 2015 they hoped that his aggressive, yet calculated, management style would expedite the rebuilding in New Jersey.
Two years later it appears the hiring of Shero was the correct decision as Vatanen, 26, joins a 14-6-4 Devils team that has serious aspirations of being a contender.
The Vatanen deal could be as important as the Hall swap because Vatanen is a two-way defender who can log 21-25 minutes per game. He can be an offensive contributor and measure up defensively against the league’s top players. He's young enough to be a factor for many years to come.
Vatanen is 5-10, and given his size, puck-handling ability and overall game, he might remind New Jersey fans just a little of former New Jersey player Brian Rafalski.
What we know for sure is that Vatanen can stabilize the Devils’ defense for a cost that the Devils can afford to pay.
Henrique has four goals this season, but he netted a total of 50 over the two previous seasons. The Devils gave up quality to obtain quality.
This is also the correct move for the Ducks because it addresses their need for more scoring. Currently, the Ducks are playing without Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler because of injuries and Patrick Eaves because of Guillain-Barre syndrome.
This could be a deal that helps both teams significantly. Henrique will be a 20-goal scorer for Anaheim. Vatanen was expendable because the Ducks are deep on defense. It was no secret that Vatanen would be dealt.
The Devils could part with Henrique, 27, because of the rapid development of young forwards Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. Brian Gibbons has also been a big surprise up front with 11 goals in 24 games. The Devils feel as if they have enough goals. As of this morning, the Devils were tied for eighth in the league in goal scoring and were 19th in goals against.
This is the perfect trade for the Devils and cements Shero’s reputation as a strong dealmaker. In an era when general managers complain about how difficult it is to make a trade, Shero has managed to trade for an elite scorer and a premium defenseman over the last 18 months.
His deal last summer for Marcus Johannson could also be significant, although his injury has delayed a complete analysis of how he fits with the Devils.
But the latest trade does make it clear that the Devils have turned a corner on their rebuilding journey.
Shero may not have received enough credit for how quickly the Devils have turned around this team. The hockey world has rightfully exalted the Toronto Maple Leafs for their expedited rebuilding effort. But hasn’t Shero’s work in New Jersey been just as impressive?