When the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired Blake Coleman from the New Jersey Devils a couple days back, it was noted how difficult it is to judge the winners and losers of a trade in the hours, let alone the minutes, that followed. As was said at the time, there are too many variables, too many unknowns, and it thus borders on impossible to say for certain which team really comes out ahead in any swap until the dust has settled.
But as with any rule, there are exceptions, and the Winnipeg Jets’ acquisition of defenseman Dylan DeMelo from the Ottawa Senators for a 2020 third-round pick tests the theory that time must pass before a trade victory is declared for one side or another.
From the Jets’ perspective, it’s hard to fathom a better scenario. Though DeMelo, 26, may not have been among the most prized deadline targets and was likely lower than the likes of Sami Vatanen and Brenden Dillon on a number of blueline wish lists, it’s hard to think of another rental defenseman who better fits the Jets’ needs. DeMelo's offensive output, which consists of 10 points, all assists, through 49 games, won’t blow anyone’s hair back, but with rearguards such as Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk, more offense from the backend wasn’t necessarily of utmost concern. Rather, Winnipeg was in dire need of was a shutdown defenseman capable of skating against the opposition’s top two lines and putting in minutes on the penalty kill. And DeMelo checks those boxes as well as, if not better than, any of the rental options on the market.
Just consider his underlying numbers on a Senators outfit that ranks below league average at five-a-side – and in some cases well below league average – when compared to the rest of the NHL. His Corsi percentage is 52.4 percent, shots percentage is 52.9 percent and he possesses a 55.8 expected goals percentage, which is in part the result of 54.9 and 57.7 percent scoring chance and high-danger chance percentages, respectively. What makes the numbers stand out most, though, is that DeMelo posted those numbers despite starting more than 55 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone. This is to say nothing, either, of the fact DeMelo had the highest relative rates of shot, shot attempt, scoring chance and expected goal suppression among all Senators with at least 500 minutes played.
As much as acquiring a sturdy defensive defenseman is a victory for the Jets because it addresses a glaring need, though, it can’t be said enough how remarkably low the buy was for Winnipeg. In order to add a defenseman who would have been an excellent cost-effective addition for any club – DeMelo has a $900,000 cap hit – all the Jets had to give up is a single, solitary third-round choice. Given their position in the standings and the very real possibility Winnipeg could miss the post-season, the Jets are best to be cautious in their spends to acquire talent at the deadline, and they’ve been that with this spend. It’s almost as if they’ve tag-swapped two items and managed to fool the cashier.
That’s the very reason the return for DeMelo is so downright puzzling from a Senators perspective, though. One has to assume Ottawa would have received a better offer for the blueliner at some point. Heck, it was only days ago the Devils received a second-round pick and minor-league defender David Quenneville from the New York Islanders for 37-year-old, past-his-prime Andy Greene. By comparison, that makes the return Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion received almost unfathomable.
There's not even a condition on the third-round pick. When the Canucks acquired Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings, there was a conditional fourth-round selection added to an already considerable return that’s contingent on Toffoli re-signing in Vancouver. In the past, teams have added conditions that convert an existing draft pick to a higher selection if a player re-signs, as was the case on the third-round selection sent to the Devils in the Taylor Hall swap with the Arizona Coyotes. But there’s none of that in Senators’ DeMelo trade. Instead, there exists honest-to-goodness potential for the Jets to insert DeMelo onto their blueline, negotiate a new pact with the unrestricted free agent-to-be, lock him in and leave Ottawa with nothing more than a mid-round dart to throw at the board. Winnipeg should certainly be attempting to ink DeMelo, too, with the Dustin Byfuglien-sized void on their blueline still in need of filling.
Perhaps the only positive for the Senators is that the selection adds to their already considerable cache of picks in the upcoming draft. That may give Ottawa ammunition to move up to a certain spot and nab a player they don’t want to miss out on with any of their five selections in the first two rounds of this summer’s draft. In order to see that silver lining, though, you have to squint, because it sure seems the Senators should have been able to squeeze more out of a player who had almost inarguably been their second-best defenseman this season.
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