It is officially official: trade season is here.
With the NHL trade deadline less than a week away, a big East Division swap went down Wednesday night when Tri-State clubs, the Devils and the Islanders, traded players and picks. The New York squad snagged forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac while New Jersey got two minor leaguers and some draft picks — one being a first-rounder.
It’s a good deal for both clubs as the Devils stock the cupboards and the Isles get two guys that could help the Stanley Cup contenders up front.
Here’s how the teams did:
Islanders received from New Jersey:
Kyle Palmieri (F) and Travis Zajac (F)
Devils received from New York:
A.J. Greer (F), Mason Jobst (F), 2021 first-round pick, 2022 conditional fourth-round pick
New Jersey will retain 50 percent of both Zajac and Palmieri’s salaries.
Devils grade: B+
Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald knows how to make moves. Last year at the deadline (when he was the interim) he made three deals, and that was after he sent Blake Coleman to the Lightning and Andy Greene to these same Isles. This year he traded two guys who will be unrestricted free agents this summer, who they could have lost for nothing, for something.
NHL TRADE TRACKER 2021: List of deals completed before the deadline
With a young core including Jack Hughes, Ty Smith and netminder Mackenzie Blackwood, Fitzgerald went out and added at least one more potential young star with that first-round pick. New Jersey now nine picks in the 2021 draft, including two in the opening round. Greer is a 2015 second-round pick and Jobst went undrafted; both had been playing in the AHL with Bridgeport.
“It sets us up really well for the future,” said Fitzgerald on Zoom after the deal. “We feel we got three really good prospects that can come in and develop under our development program and grow these players to be the players we project them to be.”
While the 2021 draft isn’t considered as deep as 2020, the Devils could get a quality guy in the latter portion of the first round, which is where Fitzgerald is expecting the pick to fall.
“I hope it’s the 32nd pick, I really do. I hope these two gentlemen can win a Cup and we get the 32nd pick. I would love nothing more than that,” he said.
Islanders grade: A-
The Islanders lost captain Anders Lee, who was tied with Brock Nelson for the team’s goal lead (12), to a season-ending knee injury in March. According to NHL.com’s Brian Compton, GM Lou Lamoriello noted that the way the team responded after Lee went down (8-4-0), he needed to make a move to help bolster the lineup.
“I know what they bring on the ice,” Lamoriello said regarding his newest acquisitions. “I also know what kind of people they are and what they bring to the locker room. Chemistry is extremely important to me.”
Lamoriello especially knows Zajac who he drafted with the 20th overall pick in 2004 for the Devils. The two-way center has spent his entire career in the Garden State and amassed 550 points in 1,024 games. He also has 28 points in 57 playoff games, including 14 points during the Devils 2012 Stanley Cup runner-up run.
He’ll probably be a bottom-six guy for Barry Trotz’s club but what he brings as a grizzled veteran — and that long playoff run — is intangible to the squad. It should be noted that Zajac waived his no-trade clause to go to the Island and considering it’s a short drive (traffic permitting) from NJ to Uniondale, it was probably a big reason why.
“I’m extremely excited for this opportunity,” said Zajac. “At [this] point in my career and where I’m at, I want a chance to win. I just believe this is a team that has all the aspects of a winning hockey team and to be able to try and be a part of that and help them in any way possible … I think it was just, for me, it was the right time.”
As for Palmieri, he was the blue-chip in this deal. Before the move, he was considered one of the top players expected to be moved. (TSN’s Trade Bait board had him at No. 2.) The 30-year-old winger has only potted 17 points this season (in 34 games) but he’s consistently notched 20-plus goals in each of the previous five seasons. In 595 career games between the Ducks and Devils, he has 183 goals and 172 assists. A change of scenery, and playing with the likes of Mat Barzal could spark his offense.
“The opportunity to go and be a part of a team that has a chance to do something special is something every player wants,” Palmieri told reporters. “That’s all you can ask for. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity.”
Aside from joining a team that could go on a long postseason run, the two newest Islanders will also be welcomed — from a social distance — old friends and teammates Greene and Cory Schneider (taxi squad).