On July 11, Ilya Kovalchuk surprised many in the hockey world by retiring from the New Jersey Devils and walking away from the remainder of his ridiculous 15-year, $100 million contract he signed with them a few seasons ago.
With the Devils now left with a gaping hole in their first line on the left wing, the speculation immediately turned to the Buffalo Sabres and their purportedly available star left winger Thomas Vanek.
Now, it's important to state that any talk to this point has been completely speculative and the idea of a N.J.-Buffalo trade has, as far as anyone knows, been the complete product of that rampant speculation.
Yet this is not just everyone grasping at straws.
The Devils have a serious need for a top-line winger now and the Sabres may have one available for them. For the right price, of course.
That is where this speculation starts to hit a wall called reality.
While the deal makes a lot of sense in theory, there are a few considerations that make it much less likely than some would have you believe.
First, the Sabres' initial asking price is likely starting at Adam Henrique, the Devils' 23-year old center who also happens to be a restricted free agent looking for a sizable pay day. The problem here is that Henrique is likely the Devils' "guy" now. After losing Zach Parise last offseason, and David Clarkson and Kovalchuk this year (Clarkson signed with Toronto as a free agent), the Devils do not have much left on the roster. Henrique, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac are really the only top-six forwards the team has left.
So, essentially, despite the fact that Henrique is going to get paid well, he is almost as untouchable as it gets right now. Therefore, the Sabres would have to look elsewhere on the roster.
That brings us to the second hurdle: the Devils' shallow prospect pool.
The Devils, despite their long-ranging success, are quite bare in the prospect cupboard at the moment. There are seemingly only four prospects the Sabres would even consider trading Vanek for: Adam Larsson (if you still consider him a prospect), Jon Merrill, Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau.
Larsson and Merrill are their best prospects, but they are also defensemen. Given the logjam the Sabres have at the prospect and NHL levels at defense, their value is likely significantly reduced.
That leaves Boucher, a mid-sized winger with skill, and Matteau, a two-way center. Given the choice of those two, the Sabres would probably lean toward Boucher, but is that enough?
Probably not, which brings us to what may be the biggest problem: The Devils must forfeit their first-round pick in the 2014 draft due to the cap circumvention penalty they incurred due to the (funny enough) Kovalchuk contract.
Right now, on paper, that pick is going to be in the lottery. That would be extremely attractive to the Sabres, but seeing the earliest they could cash in on a first-round pick from New Jersey would be 2015, that, again, reduces its value—although two potential chances in the Connor McDavid contest may be extremely valuable.
So, while it makes theoretical sense, unless New Jersey surprises most and moves Henrique, Vanek will likely not be headed to the Devils.
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