After missing the playoffs last season, the New Jersey Devils entered 2019-20 with a renewed sense of optimism.
During the offseason, general manager Ray Shero acquired star defenseman P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators, while also signing two-way winger Wayne Simmonds and training for Vegas Golden Knight winger Nikita Gusev.
Not only that, but Shero had luck working in his favor as the Devils won the 2019 NHL Draft lottery. And with the first-overall pick, he selected highly-touted prospect Jack Hughes.
In the meantime, franchise player Taylor Hall was entering the final year of his contract, and coming off season-ending knee surgery, it was hoped he'd regain the form that won him the Hart Trophy in 2018.
Shero's additions and Hall's improved health prompted many experts to predict New Jersey would become a serious playoff contender this season, as fans hoped the club's projected improvement might convince Hall to sign a contract extension.
Fast forward two months later, and the Devils are mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Head coach John Hynes was fired on Dec. 3, replaced on an interim basis by Alain Nasreddine. That move did nothing to reverse their declining fortunes.
Hall, meanwhile, is no closer to signing a new contract with New Jersey. Shero is reportedly listening to trade offers, sparking suggestions the 28-year-old winger could be moved before the Dec. 19 holiday roster freeze.
As per Sportsnet's Chris Johnston that teams believe it could take “four pieces” to acquire Hall. He adds the belief around the industry is the Colorado Avalanche are the frontrunners. Still, Hall might not be the only pending free agent the Devils put on the trade block this season.
Simmonds, 31, inked a one-year, $5-million contract last summer. With 11 points in 29 games, he's no longer the 20-goal, 50-point player of his youth. Nevertheless, he could draw interest from a postseason contending seeking an experienced, physical winger.
Wayne Simmonds on the breakaway. Always a fun combo. pic.twitter.com/kCdZcg0sQ6— NHL (@NHL) November 14, 2019
Defensemen Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen are also eligible for UFA status next July. Greene, 37, career is winding down, but he could still attract some interest from clubs seeking veteran blueline depth.
The 28-year-old Vatanen, however, could have more value. A skilled puck-moving right-shot rearguard, he also plays a responsible defensive game. Despite an injury history, his all-around skills could make him an enticing trade target. The Las Vegas Sun's Justin Emerson believes Vatanen would be a good addition to the Vegas Golden Knights' defense corps.
Shero's asking price for these veterans could be draft picks, prospects, and young NHL-ready players. He'll want to build around promising young Devils like Hughes, Nico Hischier and Will Butcher.
A quality goaltender could also be part of the return. Injuries have caught up with veteran Cory Schneider, while backup Mackenzie Blackwood has yet to prove he's ready for the starter's job.
Subban's future with the Devils could also come in question. The 30-year-old rearguard is off to the worst start of his career, with just five points in 29 games — which puts him on pace for a career-low 15 points. The New York Post's Brett Cyrgalis recently insinuated that Subban was putting marketing himself over playing hockey.
With two years remaining on his contract at an AAV of $9 million, he could prove a difficult sell in the trade market.
Nevertheless, Subban is a former Norris Trophy winner and a finalist for the award in 2018. He also lacks no-trade protection in his contract. If the Devils are willing to pick up part of his cap hit, they could find a club willing to gamble on Subban regaining his Norris form on a deeper roster.