Despite being off for the last couple days, things are still never dull for the 2017-18 Devils, as they pulled off a major trade this morning, dealing popular forward Adam Henrique, AHL forward Joseph Blandisi and a third-rounder to the Ducks for defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional third-rounder (basically based on whether Henrique re-signs in Anaheim after next year, and when he does). Whatever you may think of the trade as a Devils fan – and I’ll get into that in a bit – emotions have to be mixed at best based on Henrique’s six plus seasons of service on and off the ice, not to mention being responsible for one of the best non-Cup moments in the history of the franchise, with his OT dagger against the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012. Figured I’d have a little mercy on Derek and post the clip of Adam Henrique’s OTHER big overtime goal in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. After all if not for that goal in double OT of Game 7 in the first round against the Panthers, there is no ‘Henrique, it’s over!’ moment later on – which could have made a decent title for this post. After all…
Even Adam couldn’t resist harkening back to that famous call of the ECF winning goal from longtime Devils legend Doc Emrick when saying goodbye on Twitter.
Usually these days you find out about a big trade through Twitter and one of the many writers (or the team itself) that post it, but I happened to not check Twitter for at least a half hour this morning – oh the horror! – when I got a text from a friend that said simply:
Henrique and Blandisi to the Ducks for Sami Vatanen
That was pretty much my reaction too upon reading it. Not that I was really all that stunned Henrique was traded at ‘some’ point. After all it seemed as if once we traded for Marcus Johansson this offseason and drafted Nico Hischier, Henrique’s days were pretty much numbered here long-term with Hall and Johansson having top six slots at left wing, and Hischier doing more than enough to stick with the big team as an eighteen-year old, it really made little sense to commit big money and years to Adam after next season when he (along with Johansson) was due to be a free agent. With Johansson set to return from a concussion on the upcoming road trip, the timing fit for this move in-season. Especially after the end of Movember, which ironically enough was a charitable campaign Henrique had become the face of the last few years.
Still, trading one of the last links to our last playoff run, and a guy who had some productive years including a 30-goal season in 2015-16, and had become a good-will ambassador for the franchise on and off the ice during some lean years is going to sting on a personal level for many fans. In that vein I’m glad the GM and coach were both available to speak about the trade and talked of and to Henrique respectfully. That’ll go a long way I believe, to appeasing the fans who are upset on a personal level (a mistake another area team made this week botching the Eli Manning benching). Yes we root for the crest first but sports is still entertainment. Sometimes, you like the guys wearing the crest too – even if I’ve had my issues with Adam’s consistency and effort level on the ice at times, he never truly embarrased the franchise on or off the ice, and today’s not the day to get into criticism of him as a player anyway. Not to mention it’s been a while since the franchise made a huge in-season trade like this. You probably have to go back to Ilya Kovalchuk to find a bigger one during the season, and even that was ostensibly a rental trade since nobody dreamed we would re-sign him or be in for all the drama that ensued after 2009-10. I digress though.
Yet, as a sports fan I also know all too well you have to give to get and top four defensemen in the NHL are the most valuable trading commodities for GM’s. You’re just not finding top four defensemen in Woolworth’s or Dollar General. We didn’t exactly give up chopped liver, but Blandisi also didn’t seem to fit in the future plans of the team and had already been passed on the depth chart by several other younger wingers. So even though Adam’s a top six winger who can play center and Blandisi is a young winger with talent – for his dissapointing camp this year and inconsistencies so far in his career is still 23 years old himself – Vatanen fills a big need for the team at a less than a prohibitive cost, adding another top four defenseman to the starting lineup, and allowing guys like Damon Severson and Steven Santini to slot in on more reasonable pairings with reduced expectations.
I’m not going to give too much more analysis of Vatanen than that cause let’s face it, I hardly ever see him play being on the West Coast, although he was one of the names the internet GM’s would constantly kick around as a possibility to trade for with the Ducks’ alleged surplus on D and need at forward. From what little I’ve been able to ascertain he’s struggled last year and this, in part due to injury (last year) and recovering from it (early this year) but given he’s signed for the next 2.5 years hopefully we’re getting him just as he finds his game again. Vatanen also adds another option for the power play and provides more help on the blueline at breaking out of the zone which is a neccesity for the ‘fast, attacking, supportive’ system. I’ll let the GM and the coach speak about Vatanen (via Chris Ryan of NJ.com):
“At 26, he’s not old, he’s not young,” Shero said. “He’s good experience, he’s played with good players and has played very well in the playoffs for a good team in Anaheim and won a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 with Finland — over the United States unfortunately.”
Vatanen will meet the Devils in Denver, where they will play the Colorado Avalanche on Friday. Assuming Vatanen arrives without any hiccups, Devils coach John Hynes plans on getting him right into the lineup.
“One of the things we really like about him is he’s a high hockey IQ guy,” Hynes said. “So lots of times when you get a player like that that’s got a lot of experience, maybe we’ll have some quick pointers that we want to do defensively, but other than that, it’s letting him play his game and we’ll work with him as we go forward. But we want him to not overthink. We want him to play and compete.”
With Johansson returning and Vatanen arriving, it’ll be a very different Devils team in Denver tomorrow night than the one that left New Jersey on Monday.