General manager Ray Shero said if the New Jersey Devils were holding a Stanley Cup Playoff position, he may have had a different mindset leading up to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday.
But, through games played Sunday, New Jersey was three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second and final wild card into the playoffs from Eastern Conference, so Shero decided to do what he felt would benefit the Devils in the future, not for the stretch drive of the 2015-16 season.
The Devils made three trades Monday before the deadline, sending forward Stefan Matteau to the Montreal Canadiens for forward Devante Smith-Pelly, forward Lee Stempniak to the Boston Bruins for a fourth-round pick at the 2016 NHL Draft and a 2017 second-round pick, and defenseman Eric Gelinas to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2017 third-round pick.
"I think we're being realistic with where we are (in the standings)," Shero said. "You don't have to be a mathematician to figure out that after loses to the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders last week, it was going to be tough."
The Devils have nine picks for the 2016 draft, including one in the first round.
The decision to trade Stempniak may have been the most difficult for Shero; the journeyman forward was the Devils' feel-good story this season after coming to training camp on a professional tryout contract.
"[Stempniak] has done a fantastic job this year, and I have a lot of respect for what he's done with us and over his career," Shero said. "He'll be a great addition for Boston, but getting the draft picks, especially the second-round pick, was important."
Stempniak, who skated with the Bruins during training camp in September before signing with the Devils, led New Jersey with 25 assists and 41 points in 63 games. It's the fourth time in his NHL career he's reached 40 points, the first since 2009-10.
Stempniak, 33, who will play for his ninth NHL team in 11 seasons and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, has been moved on Deadline Day in consecutive seasons; the Winnipeg Jets traded him to the New York Rangers in 2015. He has played 771 NHL games for the St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, Rangers, Jets and Devils. He was traded by the Rangers to the Jets on March 1, 2015 for forward Carl Klingberg.
"The (trade of) Matteau for Smith-Pelly was more of a hockey trade," Shero said. "We were looking to fill the right side after trading [Stempniak], and Smith-Pelly just made sense. There's a hole on the right side, so we'll see what he can do."
Smith-Pelly can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Matteau, 22, has one goal in 20 NHL games this season and three goals and five points in 44 career games in the League. The Devils selected him in the first round (No. 29) of the 2012 draft. Smith-Pelly, 23, has six goals and 12 points in 46 NHL games this season and 21 goals and 55 points in 195 games with the Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks.
Smith-Pelly played with Devils right wing Kyle Palmieri in Anaheim.
"[The Devils are] a hardworking team," Smith-Pelly told Sportsnet. "I'm hardworking. Pretty much exactly how you described [the Devils] as a whole: gritty, feisty. I pride myself on being able to jump up and down the lineup and being able to produce offense in spurts."
There was speculation that Shero would also trade journeyman defenseman David Schlemko, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The Devils signed Schlemko, 28, to a one-year contract Sept. 10.
"I don't think we ever got close to moving [Schlemko]," Shero said. "David was in the playoffs with Calgary last season and is having a good year with us; he's an unrestricted free agent after this season, but I was never pushing to move him. If there was a situation that was too good to turn down, great, but I really think he's done a good job and the fact we moved [Gelinas], I was happy to keep Schlemko."
Gelinas, 24, who can become a restricted free agent July 1, 2017, had one goal and five assists in 34 NHL games this season. Selected in the second round (No. 54) of the 2009 draft by the Devils, Gelinas has 14 goals and 54 points in 156 NHL games.