Edited Jan 31 at 2:01
Devils are still in desperate need of a top pair of D. They need a puck moving offensively oriented PP D (maybe Ty Smith) and a top pair shutdown D (none in system that I'm aware of). Severson and Vatanen, both solid, are best suited for 2nd pair in my opinion. Butcher is a major defensive liability and Greene is excellent as a 3rd pairing D moving forward.
Yep, the Devils and almost every other NHL team (excepting Tampa & Boston & Buffalo and maybe Toronto now, Columbus, Carolina & Washington, Calgary & San Jose, and Dallas & St.Louis) could use an upgrade on their top pairing. But top to bottom the NJD blueline is without a doubt in the bottom 1/3 of the League.
Looking more closely, the right side is solid in terms of depth but everyone is probably slugging a bit above their weight as there is no legit top pair RD. The Devils have Severson & Santini
signed for the next 2 years after this season and, behind them, some combination of Mueller, Josh Jacobs
(2014 2nd Rounder), and the newly acquired Murphy
should be able to fill the 3rd pair RD and 7th D roles well between the 3 of them.
On the Left, there’s a reasonably solid 1st pair LD in Vatanen
but the depth after that is concerning. Greene
is really a 3rd pair D-Men at this stage and Butcher
is strictly a 3rd pair PP guy - asking either of them to play higher in the lineup is setting them up to fail. Next season, it’s likely that Ty Smith
will be able to step into the 3-LD role (maybe with some time down in the AHL to adjust to the pro game). His arrival will make Butcher immediately expendable as Smith can start as a 3rd pair LD and PP specialist (basically Butcher’s role) and work his way up from there. Greene likely retires in 15 months when his contract expires and Butcher could be trade bait at the 2020 trade deadline, if not this trade deadline, to maximize his value.
So, finding a Top pair RD would be great but those are like unicorns. More realistically the Devils may be able to find a 2nd pair LD to slide into the lineup below Vatanen and above Greene/Butcher and focus on obtaining young D-Men thru the drafts and trading older players. What can they get for Johansson? For Lovejoy? Maybe a couple mid-round picks or a decent prospect? What about trading Butcher for a younger D-prospect? Would trading Palmeiri be on the table? It’s likely by the time the Devil’s rebuild is complete he will Be past his prime.
The Devils may have the answer to their LD conundrum in-house with Yakovlev
, who has looked solid in the AHL as he adjusts to the NA game. I imagine slotting into such a role was why they brought him to NA in the first place. I’d look to the Devils to resign him in the coming days if they still see a role for him - if not Yakovlev (a UFA despite it being his first year) will be gone by the trade deadline.