Kyle Palmieri averaged 30 goals annually across his first five seasons as a New Jersey Devil. Soon, he’ll bring that scoring touch to the right-wing for a new team. It’s all but written at this point after the Devils held him out of Sunday’s game for precautionary reasons in preparation of trading him between now and the April-12 deadline. Palmieri is a pending UFA, and the Devils sit 11 points out of a playoff spot in the East Division, chasing a team that has two games in hand. The Devils and Palmieri’s camp whiffed on their last-ditch attempt to work out a contract extension, so it’s time to move Palmieri, 30, as a rental.
“We all know it’s that time of year,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff told reporters on a Zoom conference call after Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Washington Capitals. “Players know that. “We’ve got a young group that maybe don’t realize how hard it is for us, for management, for myself to not have a guy like that in the lineup. But it is a product of where we’re at right now. We haven’t won enough games to put us in position where we’d be in better shape. We spent too much time this year talking about missed opportunities and not finishing opportunities. It is what it is right now, and it’s a hard place to be.”
As Ruff pointed out, the Devils’ season is extremely tough to evaluate since they were ravaged by COVID-19 early on and lost captain Nico Hischier to injury. But it doesn’t change the fact the Devils are out of the hunt and must cash out an expiring asset.
Palmieri has an eight-team no-trade list, leaving at least 22 possible destinations if he won’t waive the clause. He’s endured a difficult season, with his current goal-scoring pace pro-rating to just 19 over 82 games. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the bad year isn’t his fault. For one, his linemate quality has declined. Across the three seasons preceding this one, Palmieri most commonly played with Hischier and Taylor Hall. This season: on a Jack Hughes line or a Pavel Zacha line. Palmieri’s luck has also turned. His shooting percentage of 9.5 is tied for the worst he’s ever posted in a season. He’s actually averaging more shots, shot attempts, scoring chances and high-danger chances per 60 minutes this season than he did his past couple seasons. Theoretically, then, he could start finishing chances and get hot with a new team.
So which teams are the most logical suitors for Palmieri? Consider these destinations, listed alphabetically.
The Bruins already said farewell to Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara last off-season. This summer, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask are UFAs. With leaders Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand also on the wrong side of 30, if feels like the Bruins are nearing the end of an elite-contention era. They may as well push forward while they still have a realistic chance at a Stanley Cup. Secondary scoring has been a bugaboo in recent years, and the problem is even more pronounced this season.
The ‘Perfection Line’ of Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak accounted for a massive portion of Boston’s scoring pie over the past few seasons:
2018-19: 41.2 percent of Bruins’ goals
2019-20: 47.1 percent of Bruins’ goals
2020-21: 47.3 percent of Bruins’ goals
The Bruins haven’t gotten the lift they expected from Craig Smith, and Ondrej Kase has been sidelined since mid-January with an upper-body injury. Few teams need a right-wing upgrade more than Boston does.
The Avs are already pretty loaded on the wings with Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Brandon Saad and Andre Burakovsky occupying the top two lines, so Palmieri would obviously be a luxury for GM Joe Sakic. But Palmieri would add a right-handed shot to lefty-heavy group and give Colorado a few more looks to try on the power play. The Avs are also swimming in assets. Meeting the Devils’ asking price for Palmieri, be it a first- or second-round pick or a secondary prospect such as Conor Timmins, wouldn’t be a problem for Sakic. It would barely put a dent in Colorado’s youth crop.
The Oilers own, at worst, two of the top three offensive weapons on the planet, they’ve gotten vastly improved play from their defense corps this season, and they have their best shot at a Cup run in the Connor McDavid era with a Canadian team guaranteed to emerge from the North Division and reach the final four. That could mean GM Ken Holland is ready to treat his team like an alpha-dog contender and pursue all upgrades necessary. As a natural goal-scorer, Palmieri would be an intriguing fit on the top line alongside McDavid, with Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto, who have been impressive but inconsistent, dropping to the second and third line.
New York Islanders
Lou’s last day as president of the New Jersey Devils was July 23, 2015. About a month before that, the replacement GM he’d hired, Ray Shero, acquired Palmieri from the Anaheim Ducks. Lamoriello didn’t make the deal himself but was still running the Devils when it happened, so perhaps he’d be interested in acquiring Palmieri again. The Devils are Palmieri’s hometown team, and a trade to the Islanders would be a relatively convenient move geographically. He was actually born in the Long Island area and owns a summer home there. The Isles are legitimate Cup threats and badly need a boost on the wings after losing captain Anders Lee to a torn ACL. Lee is a left winger, so Palmieri wouldn’t replace the position perfectly, but Palmieri would replace Lee’s goal-scoring contributions.
The Penguins are comfortably in a playoff spot but have Evgeni Malkin, Kasperi Kapanen and Teddy Blueger injured. They badly need some reinforcements on their scoring lines. One could make the case the Pens are better off targeting a forward who can play center, such as Mikael Granlund, but the truth is they need help at center and the wing. The biggest obstacle for the Penguins in pursuing a rental like Palmieri is that they’re low on assets. Their prospect pool ranks among the NHL’s weakest, and they already sacrificed their 2021 first-round pick in last season’s Jason Zucker trade. With Malkin also expected to come off LTIR before the season ends, it might be tricky to fit Palmieri under the cap without the Devils retaining salary and/or the Penguins moving another contract to New Jersey in the deal.
OTHER PALMIERI SUITORS TO WATCH: Florida Panthers, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs