Even though the New Jersey Devils are off to a surprisingly strong start this season, they were on the lookout for an offensive-minded defenseman.
The Devils filled that need Thursday, acquiring Sami Vatanen from the Ducks in a trade that sent forwards Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi to Anaheim. The Ducks also get a 2018 third-round pick in the deal and would send back a 2019 or 2020 third-rounder if they’re able to re-sign Henrique.
Ducks general manager Bob Murray called it “a classic sort of hockey deal” rather than one team buying and the other selling.
“It’s a good deal for both teams that we both had needs to fill,” Ducks general manager Bob Murray said on a conference call. “Hopefully this one works out for both teams.”
Murray said Vatanen was “rusty” coming off shoulder surgery, but the 26-year-old has shown the ability to put up points. He has 126 in 280 regular-season NHL games.
Vatanen has just a goal and three assists this season playing on a crowded blue line with Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour. He’s signed for two more seasons at a salary-cap hit of $4.875 million.
Devils general manager Ray Shero saw the trade as “an opportunity we didn’t want to have pass by.”
“In acquiring Sami, we bring on a right shot, top-four defenseman who can play in all situations,” Shero said. “This move also gives us contract certainty on the back end for the next two-plus years.”
In Henrique, the Ducks get center depth as they deal with injuries to Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. The 27-year-old has four goals and 10 assists in 24 games this season and is signed through 2018-19.
Henrique said he was “shocked” when Shero told him he’d been traded.
“It wasn’t something I was expecting,” Henrique said. “With everything going on in Anaheim with the injuries, it just makes sense. I think the Devils have obviously been looking for a defenseman, and I think everything kind of came together the last day or two here.”
Murray hopes to have Getzlaf back by mid-December and Kesler before Christmas. He thinks acquiring Henrique gives coach Randy Carlyle plenty of options to either stack the middle or move him to wing once Getzlaf, Kesler and Rickard Rakell are healthy.
“It makes us really strong down the middle if randy wants to go that way,” Murray said.
The conditional pick is exchanged in 2019 if the Ducks sign Henrique prior to making their third-round pick at that draft and in 2020 if they sign him afterward. If they don’t re-sign Henrique, no pick is exchanged.
“I think that’s fair for both teams,” Murray said. “It’s part of the hockey deal. Adam’s got one more year after this year, and we’ll see how it goes and how he fits in here.”
New Jersey’s forward depth, including the return of Travis Zajac from injury, gave Shero the ability to deal from a position of strength to fill a hole.
Murray and Shero wondered if Henrique might benefit from a change of scenery. Blandisi, 23, has been with the Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton but could be counted on to step back up to the NHL for Anaheim.
“Jersey has got a lot of forwards, talented forwards, and there was an opportunity for us to kind of fill in our depth where we’re kind of weakest,” Murray said. “He likes to score. He likes to be around the net. He knows how to play around the net, and he likes to shoot it. Could be a good opportunity for him.”
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