Devils’ Sunday makeover and shootout win combine for a wild night

Coming home to write this blog about one of the wildest days ever as a Devils fan, I figured I’d try to just go through what happened and my feelings in chronological order, and I’m still going to try to do that.  I’m just not sure I can remember everything exactly in order or completely given how the news has been coming fast and furious all night, along with loosely trying to actually watch the hockey game in front of me – at least in the last two periods and OT/SO of the Blackwoods’ shootout win over the Blue Jackets.

Let’s just start with the pregame, I was preparing to eat dinner at home around 4 PM and leave right after that for the Devils’ game against Columbus with a 6 PM start time when I saw the notification surfing Facebook – Devils trade Andy Greene to Islanders for a 2nd rounder and defenseman David Quenneville.  It was another ‘huh?!’ moment.  Not that I was entirely surprised to see Greene dealt, in fact if you had to put odds on it they would have been high that he would get dealt to the Islanders who have a certain GM that knows Greene very well.  Especially given the convenience factor for Greene’s family not having to move or be seperated since he could stay in the area.

I can’t exactly complain about the price either – a 2nd rounder for a depth defenseman seems more than fair although the fact the 2nd rounder is in 2021 instead of this year is meh, but whatever…can’t be too picky given that I’m sure the list of teams Greene would waive his NTC for was probably short and I’m not sure we get a 2nd from a GM that isn’t Lou Lamoriello since Greene was pathetically underrated in hockey circles for years in his prime.  Not to mention over-the-top complaining by Devil fans since his prime, because given the state of our defense he had to remain on the first pair with no better options when he would have been better served as a second-pair defenseman, which he probably will be for Lou’s team.

Perhaps the only thing that bugged me about the deal was the timing.  After all, we already fired a GM and a coach literally around two hours before a home game that same night, now we’re going to trade our captain two hours before a game too?  I know we’re not exactly trying to win, but you can’t reasonably expect your locker room to be completely ready to play a game when you throw something franchise-changing into their lap.  Especially for guys like Travis Zajac, who pointed out simply in the postgame that he’s spent fourteen years with Andy, since both were rookies in 2006.  Not to mention the broadcast team, who’s also known Andy longer than most of the current players.  According to people who were watching, both Ken Daneyko and Bryce Salvador had red eyes in the pregame, no doubt emotional over the Greene trade.  Especially in Sal’s case, the dude actually played with him, and was succeeded as captain on the team by #6.

Honestly this night should have been a proper tribute for a solid player and better person who played over 900 games as a Devil, served admirably in both the good times like the 2012 playoff run, and under trying circumstances like the last couple years.  Greene made himself into a valuable NHL player from being an undrafted free agent signed by Lou in 2006 after four years of college at Miami of Ohio.  It took a few years for Greene to fully break out but he did so in 2009-10 with a 37-point season.  Scoring wasn’t exactly his game though, after all he put up just one assist in 24 playoff games during the team’s 2012 playoff run and his career high in points was during that 2009-10 season, yet was a valuable member of the team nonetheless as a first-pairing shutdown defenseman who was a stout penalty killer.  Surely there’ll be more time for reflection when the Islanders come to the Rock in late March and Greene gets a deserved ovation.

Yet I hadn’t even had much time to process the Greene trade (basically a half hour) when the Blake Coleman rumors started to hit the Twitter-sphere.  My feelings turned from resignation to annoyance at that point.  Even if the initial rumor from Renaud Lavoie of Coleman being dealt to Colorado proved to be incorrect, there was definitely smoke around the rumors when Coleman was scratched from the pregame lineup due to ‘precautionary reasons’ – which is generally code for a trade’s coming.  GM Tom Fitzgerald’s message was basically clear at that point, this was going to be another long-term rebuild if a guy like Coleman was on the block.

Granted, I could understand trading Coleman from the purely theoretical perspective.  He’s a middle six player who’s only got one guaranteed year under control beyond this season before he plays his way into a nice free agent deal.  Still, a guy like Coleman is someone you’d like to keep even if you’re in a rebuild.  He’s 28 which isn’t exactly old, and has become a real heart and soul guy over the last three seasons, being a modern-day John Madden with terrific penalty killing and shutdown ability.  Coleman also improved his offense every year though…from 13 goals and 25 points in his first full season two years ago to 22 goals and 36 points last year, and was set to improve yet again with 21 goals and 31 points in 57 games so far this year including great skill moves like this memorable goal on Opening Night, which proved to be the apex of the Devils’ season.

Arguably Coleman was the team’s MVP this year or at least just behind Mackenzie Blackwood.  It was going to take a big package for me to be okay with trading him.  I didn’t think the Coleman question would be resolved tonight though, in fact I was also annoyed the Coleman rumors kind of put a wet blanket over the Greene departure.  It seems like a guy who’s been a Devil for a decade and a half deserved better than basically an hour or so of attention before the even more attention-grabbing deal hit the wire.  Ironically, Coleman also went to college at Miami of Ohio, so they have that in common besides being traded on the same day – though unlike Greene he was drafted in the third round. Coleman still (like Greene) basically came from being an unheralded prospect to make himself into a solid NHL player.

With all this swirling around I drove to the arena, and did at least luck out by finding a free parking spot on the street that was easy to get into, near where I usually go into my $7-10 lot.  I guess there’s at least one advantage to attending a game on a Sunday night with a holiday the next day (not that I’ll benefit, having to go to work then) since generally it’s a little harder to find parking spots near the arena.  I also got there early enough to get the PK Subban special bobblehead, and to see a couple of friends in the pregame.

Really I paid scant attention to the actual game during the first period and there wasn’t exactly much to watch, to be honest.  It looked like it was going to be another typical Devils-Blue Jackets game where they kicked the hell out of us physically and wasted us on the scoreboard 5-1 or 6-2, especially after trading the captain and scratching one of your better players.  It’s not exactly ideal when 10% of your lineup only knows it’s playing 60-90 minutes before the game.  I saw an acquaintance I’d only met the previous day and when she made a comment about loving Coleman I just…didn’t have the heart to tell her he was about to be traded.

Little did I even know about to be traded meant literally in the middle of the second period.  First, the Devils actually got me back into the game emotionally briefly when a couple of the young guns – Joey Anderson and Nick Merkley – scored in the first four minutes of the period.  These are the kinds of guys who are going to have to pan out if what’s now become officially rebuild 2.0 is going to have more hope of succeeding than former GM Ray Shero’s initial de facto five-year plan.  Or maybe rebuild 2.5 considering Lou tried to rebuild the defense and goaltending but the forwards were a wasteland at the end of his tenure.

Anderson was a third-round pick in 2016 and was highly talked about last year before a gruesome leg injury slowed his progress as a rookie, however he put up 15 goals and 34 points in 44 AHL games before getting called up again, and he’s responded with two goals and four points in 7 games so far.  Merkley on the other hand was thought to be a throw-in of the Taylor Hall trade despite being a one-time first-round pick (2015), and injuries slowed his progress during his first two years as a pro.  However, as a Devil he’s shown fast improvement with seven goals and eighteen points in twenty-one games for Binghamton before getting called up a few days ago, and registering points in each of his first two games as a pro.  Merkley got a nice, deserved ovation for his first NHL goal tonight and eventually second star of the night.

Just when I was back into the game and somewhat pumped up over the young guns striking, then word came that the Coleman trade was official…not to Colorado but to Tampa Bay.  It didn’t take long before the return got leaked out, and I have to admit as much of a skeptic as I was over trading Coleman (and as annoyed as I still am that we’re now looking at yet another long rebuild), the actual return surprised me in a positive way.

I vaguely remembered Foote being a good prospect, and sure enough he’s a big left winger who Tampa took in the first round this year, and reports are high on him.  Former Devils social media host and current prospect blogger Julie Robenhymer (among others) offered this glowing review of Foote:

To get essentially TWO first-round picks for Coleman was more than I thought was possible, to be honest.  Especially for one full year of control plus another playoff run.  Certainly Tampa is in go for it mode though, and a guy like Coleman really can make a big difference for their team, which has been accused of lacking grit and toughness.  Coleman will bring both in spades, and pickle juice too.

Image result for blake coleman pickles

Trying to assess the trade and process it, I went back to not paying as much attention to the game and reading the online stuff on the Coleman deal.  Kyle Palmieri did score to give the Devils the lead later in the period but it was almost bittersweet in a way, now that I’m wondering how long I’ll get to enjoy HIM here since K-Palm’s also a free agent like Coleman after next year.  Of course I got his jersey autographed at a recent team event and am wondering if I’ll get to wear that before he gets traded, since my next home game in attendance won’t be till after next Monday’s deadline.  Like with Coleman, I’ll understand a K-Palm deal in theory as part of ‘the process’ (yuck) but that one would hurt even more than Coleman since K-Palm’s a Jersey boy and was one of our biggest rays of hope the last five years after Shero’s first big move was to trade for him at the 2015 NHL Draft, and he grew up as a player and person here.

As if there was any doubt as to ownership’s intentions after the Coleman trade, the below tweet from beat writer Abbey Mastracco that I saw during the third period seemed to confirm that the answer was that, in fact ownership was lying after the Shero firing when they claimed they intended to win now or as soon as possible.  Cynically, I figured this might happen one the season ticket ‘two year loyalty lock’ season ticket plan got advertised, not to mention things had been quiet on the homefront since Shero got replaced.

If the rest of the night was a bit abnormal, our third period was completely normal for the 2019-20 Devils as we again fell back on our heels, again blew a third period lead.  It was only Blackwood who kept us from being bombarded, as despite giving up three goals he made a staggering fifty saves in regulation.  Even though we got outshot 53-23 in regulation, the Calder-eligible netminder somehow took us to overtime.  Although we managed to get the better chances in the three-on-three, we somehow failed to convert then went to the dreaded shootout.  Despite the questionable choices of Damon Severson and Pavel Zacha among the first five shooters in what turned out to be an excruciating seven-round duel, it was Blackwood along with Nikita Gusev and Jesper Bratt who saved us in the skills competition, and the Devils stole a win from a Blue Jackets team fighting for a playoff spot.

Though I was happy over the win, I wasn’t exactly doing the ‘Let’s Go Devils!’ chant out the door like many of the fans were.  At this point in the season, it’s more either contentment over wins and resignation over losses.  I was just glad after a three-hour game it was still only 9 PM with clear roads up to Broad Street and out of Newark.  Then on my drive home, my buddy Rudy was giving me the blow-by-blow of Fitz’s postgame press conference (initial YT above) and when I saw that Fitz said he was hoping to compete in the near future, I just rolled my eyes…this was basically an hour after reading that Abbey Tweet above where Fitz said we weren’t going to be a contender in the next couple years!  I mean is this guy running for public office or something?

Don’t get me wrong, I approve of the return in both deals and would like to see Fitz get the full-time job but my goodness gracious, we’ve been put through the ringer enough for one day already!  If you’re going to attempt to be transparent, at least be honest about it.  As much as I like what I’ve heard about Nolan Foote, is that really enough to move the needle from ‘we’re not going to be competitive for a couple years’ to ‘we’re hoping to compete soon’?  At least I’m glad Fitz managed to get enough of a return for Coleman to not have me hate the trade.  Nor do I hate the idea of rooting for Coleman to be the missing piece for Tampa.

Whew…now comes the attempt to decompress.  Unless the Devils made another trade in the last hour I’ve been writing this <goes to check Twitter>.

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