Devils’ split in Florida leaves team nine back, immediate future still cloudy

Now, the waiting can begin for the Devils – at least until 3 PM tomorrow when the trade deadline passes. The team’s done all it could with its play the last few weeks (17-2-2) to discourage GM Lou Lamoriello to be a seller at the deadline, a task that Lou hasn’t had to worry about for almost two decades. Sure, the weekend could have gone better if the team didn’t give up two goals off of faceoffs Friday in a tough loss at Tampa but you can’t expect to literally win every game. And with all the close games we’ve had it’s amazing the team’s even had the record it does…it seems like every game comes down to one goal, for a team with no margin for error in its season or each individual game to only have one regulation loss in a month is remarkable.

So what happens now? Most of the players after the team’s 2-1 win against the Panthers this afternoon didn’t want the team to be broken up. Brian Rolston, among others was the strongest in his comments during the postgame interview with Steve Cangelosi when he admitted he’d be disappointed if anything happened. However, goalie Martin Brodeur was more realistic in his postgame press conference, alluding to the fact the team gave up a lot this offseason (in the Ilya Kovalchuk deal) and if they could get something back for their future – i.e. a draft pick – it would no doubt be a consideration. However, Brodeur also said he didn’t expect the nucleus of the team to change.

Given the fact Brodeur’s one of the few people outside of Lou’s office who could give an educated guess on what the GM would do, Marty’s comments seem to point to an obvious solution to the deadline dilemma…dealing Jason Arnott but nobody else. And really Arnott’s expendable since he has just four goals from December 2 on and twenty-two points on the season. Yet, his value will probably be inflated because of the lack of centermen on the trade front so if you could get a second-round pick for a guy that’s basically getting third-line minutes with limited production, it’d be more than understandable to do that move. However, dealing someone like David Clarkson or even Andy Greene (though I’m not sure we re-sign him this offseason) I don’t think would be on the table at this point.

Speaking of the Hall-of-Fame goaltender, he played his first game in three weeks this afternoon and was tested right from the hop, as the Panthers outshot the Devils 9-2 early, getting five pucks on net in the first couple minutes. It was as if the Panthers were determined to test Brodeur’s sharpness early, not to mention his movement on that sprained MCL but as usual Brodeur was up to the task. And Brodeur’s return also ensures the Devils have two veteran goalies at the top of their game as they head into the final twenty games of the season. After he held the fort, the team gradually settled down and gave a workman-like performance for most of the game with second-period goals coming from Clarkson and Rolston to give the team just enough to withstand a late Cats surge after Marty Reasoner‘s goal with four and a half minutes remaining.

That final, frantic minute included no fewer than three icings and irony of ironies, Arnott was on the ice for the last important faceoff of the game. During the postgame, Arnott tried to conceal his intentions as to whether he would waive his no-trade clause but admitted ‘we’ll see what teams are interested’ when he met with Lou later on, a meeting that’s probably happening as I’m typing. Owner Jeff Vanderbeek also accompanied Lou down to Florida as there are just nineteen hours left before the deadline. Honestly at first I’d forgotten it was Monday this year, usually the deadline has been on a Tuesday in the past but putting it on Monday is a bit of a welcome change given the light schedule of NHL games tomorrow night. It’s always been a bit problematic for teams to trade for players and not have them available for that night’s game, or be the trading team and wind up short of players because of guys you’ve dealt off.

Ironically there might be fewer deals than normal this year, both because of the number of teams who still have a chance to make the playoffs in each conference and also because some big deals have already been made. More and more, GM’s are agreeing with the Leafs’ Brian Burke, that it’s in your best interests to get business done early and it seems this year that business is getting a bit more staggered. All through this last month there’s been one deal one day, another couple of deals the next day. Yet there is definitely suspense around the Devils and what Lou will do. Giving up and tanking are two phrases not in Lou’s vocabulary but I don’t think dealing Arnott will fall under either category, so my prediction is that’s what will happen tomorrow.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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