Another deadline day has come and gone, this one much more satisfying for Devils fans than the seller deadlines of the last few years where we often didn’t even have much to sell. After Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald already left Timo Meier under our deadline tree on Sunday, I wasn’t exactly expecting much of an encore after that. Especially given the team’s been cooking on all cylinders lately even before officially adding Meier to the lineup (16-3-2 in its last twenty-one), scoring seven goals in each of its last two games – including a wild 7-5 win at Colorado on Wednesday.
It seemed obvious any moves at all would be cheap depth adds, and today’s trade for Curtis Lazar from Vancouver is certainly that. A well-traveled fourth-liner who’s now on his sixth NHL team, Lazar offers little in terms of scoring but will add physicality, versatility (of being able to play C and RW), and another guy who can win faceoffs in our back six. And from all accounts Lazar is a good locker room guy, who’s also signed for two years after this at $1 million per. He certainly has the seal of approval from his former coach:
While Meier and Lazar have very little in common other than the fact both will be delighted to get off of losing teams and play on a contender, one thing they do have in common is neither guy should be a rental. Fitz – as a former player who was on the other end of the process more than once – knows the perils of trading for rentals at the deadline and expressed public reluctance towards doing that as a GM. So far he’s been consistent with that belief, given his big and small trades at the deadline were both for guys who can be on the roster beyond this season’s playoff run.
As far as the big picture goes, I’ve been continually impressed by how Lou-like Fitz has been as a GM, and I mean the calculating ’90’s and ’00 Lou, not the latter-day just throw everything at the wall version. He’s shown he understands that the team is an orchestra and needs different types of players to succeed, even if he doesn’t use the same vernacular. Whereas, our former GM Ray Shero often just tried to accumulate talent haphazardly with no real plan for balancing out the roster. At least we can credit Shero for hiring Fitz with two different organizations and making him his right hand, a transition that proved to be more than seamless when Shero and the Devils parted ways in early 2020.
Meier was the type of big swing that Lou has taken any number of times – Doug Gilmour, Alexander Mogilny, Ilya Kovalchuk – even as he had the reputation of not wanting a star system. And as players, Meier and Lazar both added elements the Devils could use – in Meier’s case, a big-time scoring wing. As good a player as Jesper Bratt is, Meier’s more of a shooter and could thrive with either the passing skills of Jack Hughes or the all-around game of fellow Swede Nico Hischer. In Lazar’s case, he just provides another solid veteran option for the fourth line or a cheap depth piece that can sit and watch until needed. Certainly it’s better having a Lazar or even a guy like Nathan Bastian sit than a supposed prospect like Alex Holtz.
If I’ve had one criticism of Fitz all year (and really throughout his tenure), it’s the odd treatment of Holtz. After an opening night against the Flyers where he could well have been the team’s best player, scoring the only goal and narrowly missing a second, he quickly found himself on the outside looking in. Somewhat understandably while the team ripped off thirteen in a row earlier in the season, but later on it just became pointless to have him sitting upstairs instead of gaining more valuable game experience in Utica. Supposedly Holtz himself asked to get sent down a few weeks ago and the request was granted. Fitz publicly addressed this problematic situation to a degree earlier today:
Good on Fitz for owning up to it publicly, but it really shouldn’t have taken until late February before you realized that playing a 21-year old nineteen games at barely ten minutes a night (mostly on the fourth line) over the span of several months wasn’t doing all that much to further his development. Perhaps this is one situation where Fitz’s career as a player hurt him, what was best for his development as a back six forward wasn’t what was best for a guy who you eventually want to be in your top six. From a cynical point of view, Holtz’s lack of game action possibly hurt his trade value as well. Maybe the Devils send him to San Jose instead of a Fabian Zetterlund or a Shakir Mukhamadullin if his value was higher?
Other than the Holtz situation though (which is at least being rectified by him getting more gametime in Utica), things couldn’t be better in the land of the Devils right now. Apart from the big splash with Timo, there really wasn’t a lot to address at the deadline which is also a credit to the GM – as well as scouting and development. Defensively, the Devils are running seven deep now that Kevin Bahl’s improvement’s earned him a lineup spot over veteran Brendan Smith for the moment, and Fitz indicated that Luke Hughes would be playing games with the Devils this year once his college season ends, giving them eight options to play games on D. Another old Lou tenet is you need eight guys who can play games in the NHL on D, Fitz seems to subscribe to that as well.
Even as the Devils have been doing well during the hubbub of deadline week, it’s nice as a fan to put it behind us and know this is the team we’re going to battle with for the rest of the way. With Meier being cleared for contact today after his undisclosed injury caused him to miss time at the end of his Sharks tenure and the beginning of his Devils stint, it seems like he’ll be back in the lineup no later than the Devils’ next home game on Tuesday. That should be another electric atmosphere at the Rock, ironically against the same Leafs team which controversially ended our thirteen-game winning streak a few months back, benefitting from three disallowed goals.
First things first however, finishing another road trip with games in Vegas (tonight) and Arizona on Sunday. If the team has one concern on the ice, it’s that Vitek Vanecek’s been pedestrian in his last few starts – but fortunately rookie Akira Schmid has picked up the slack, coming on for the hockey version of a save in Colorado after an off night from Vanecek turned a 5-1 laugher into a 6-5 nailbiter early in the third. I’ve been silently concerned all year over what would happen once Vanecek got up to his career high in games played, which he’s already about reached with another twenty plus games to go in the regular season plus an ideally longer playoff run. Fortunately Schmid’s development has given us some protection in goal, even as Mackenzie Blackwood is again recovering from injury.
Scoring seven a game can also give your goalies protection, and if the Devils didn’t already have one of the best offenses in the league with Hughes, Bratt, Nico and defenseman Dougie Hamilton leading the way, they pretty much cemented it with the impending arrival of Timo. Now comes the fun part…seeing how all the talent comes together before the playoffs.
I thought that was a solid pickup. Lazar is exactly what Fitzgerald described. Plays hard and checks. Can kill penalties. A good depth guy to have.
I didn’t watch much of the coverage. What was the point? I agree on Quick. That really sucked. It was like what Sather did to Leetch. And on his birthday. I think Quick is a Hall Of Famer. I know they have tight criteria for goalies. But 370 wins. 2.46 .911 57 SHO and 2 Cups Conn Smythe.
Kane put the Blackhawks in an impossible situation. It kinda sucked they couldn’t get a prospect.