Summer’s first blockbuster sends Markstrom to the Devils


Below-average goaltending held the New Jersey Devils back in 2023-24. So it was clear that upgrading at the position was a top priority this offseason.

Their trade with the Calgary Flames for Jacob Markstrom has checked that box.

The Devils sent defenseman Kevin Bahl and a top-10-protected first-round draft pick in 2025 to the Flames in exchange for Markstrom, and the Flames will be retaining 31.5% of his salary for the two years remaining on his contract.

How did both GMs do in this swap? Here are our grades for the first blockbuster of the NHL summer.

The New Jersey Devils have built a roster that has championship potential, from a superstar in Jack Hughes to impact players such as Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier and Dougie Hamilton to the next wave of young standouts such as Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec.

But that construction was atop a foundation of wet tissue paper otherwise known as the team’s goaltending.

Over the past three seasons, the Devils were 30th in team save percentage. That’s where they were last season too, when porous goaltending subverted any momentum the team was able to build during a disappointing follow-up to their playoff breakthrough in 2023.

At the trade deadline, the Devils finally began to address the issue by acquiring Jake Allen from the Montreal Canadiens, who is signed through next season. But GM Tom Fitzgerald was candid about trading for another impact veteran goaltender to complete the tandem. Internally, the target was always Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames. On Wednesday, they acquired the target.

There was no solution available via free agency. There were only three significant goaltenders available via trade, assuming that Juuse Saros probably signs an extension with the Nashville Predators. There was Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins, the 2022-23 Vezina Trophy winner who has some trade protection. There was John Gibson, once an elite goaltender who languished with the Anaheim Ducks during their rebuild and has three years left on his contract at $6.4 million average annual value. And then there was Markstrom.

The Swede is entering his 15th NHL season, the last four of them with the Flames. When he’s good, he’s very, very good: In 2021-22, he had a .922 save percentage and finished second for the Vezina, and he was solid last season with a .905 save percentage and 12.8 goals saved above expected, sixth best in the NHL per Stathletes.

When he’s not good, it looks like 2022-23, when he posted a .892 save percentage and a whopping minus-15.7 goals saved above average. The Devils hope they didn’t just trade for that guy.

This would seem like a good landing spot for Markstrom, and not just because the Devils have more upward mobility than the Flames at the moment. Their new coach Sheldon Keefe had the Toronto Maple Leafs as the ninth best team in expected goals at 5-on-5 over the past three seasons but 15th in goals against per 60 minutes — in other words, a solid defensive system let down by porous goaltending (16th overall). In theory, Markstrom should benefit from Keefe’s system. Having a capable backup in Allen should ensure he’s not overworked as well.

From a cost of acquisition standpoint, this should be a win for the Devils in the short term. Bahl is certainly not someone they wanted to give up — 6-foot-6, 23 years old and a growing physical presence. But you have to give to get, and there’s always the potential that the Devils could find a veteran replacement on the left side this summer. How about the size and snarl of Nikita Zadorov, for example?

Trading the 2025 first-rounder means they retain the 10th overall pick in this draft. Obviously, the Devils figure with improved goaltending that 2025 pick won’t be in the lottery. And if it is, then it’s top-10 protected.

Getting the Flames to retain 31.25% of Markstrom’s cap hit, meaning the Devils are on the hook for $4.125 million annually for the next two seasons, was another win.

Obviously, this grade comes down to what kind of Jacob Markstrom the Devils see next season. The good news is that if this goes sideways for some reason, it’s only two years of term left for him.

But given what they gave up and the landscape of the goalie market, this can’t be anything but a win for a team that was as desperate for a solution in goal as anyone in the NHL.

This isn’t a bad return for the Flames. It’s a tad underwhelming if you consider they had something that several teams were frantic to acquire: a legit NHL starting goaltender. But that reaction is absent knowing what teams like the Ottawa Senators would have given up for Markstrom, and it might not have been as rich as a young NHL defenseman and a first-round pick. It’s also unknown whether Markstrom would have agreed to a trade there.

This was Bahl’s first full season in the NHL. As such, he made mistakes and was often a target of some derision by Devils fans because of them. But under the hood, Bahl had a pretty strong season: The best Devils defenseman in goals above replacement and their best defenseman in expected goals against per 60 minutes at even strength.

The Flames have their share of puck-movers on the roster, but needed some help on the left side. They get a huge body in Bahl who has the potential to blossom and, at 23, a player they can control contractually for some time.

The first-round pick from the Devils could give the Flames multiple picks in the 2025 draft’s opening round. And again, getting a first and a young roster player for a 34-year-old goalie with full trade protection isn’t bad, even if they had to retain some money.

That’s especially true when that goalie isn’t in the long-term plans. The Flames will turn their crease over to promising 23-year-old goalie Dustin Wolf, with a solid tandem partner in Dan Vladar. Those two are the future. Markstrom isn’t. And Calgary did fine in maximizing the return for him.

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