A Tale of Two Games

For the New Jersey Devils, the twenty-four hours from Friday, March 20 to Saturday, March 21 reflected the team’s strengths and deficiencies and may well have put an end to their slim 2015 playoff hopes.

It started Friday night in Buffalo at the First Niagara Center when the Devils took on the Sabres. The Devils knew where they were in the standings and that games and points were at a premium. The Sabres, currently last overall in the NHL, would have to be beaten in order for New Jersey to gain ground on the Boston Bruins for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Beating a weaker team such as Buffalo has not been easy for the Devils this season, thinking back to the game against Edmonton in February at Prudential Center. Indeed, the Devils had not won a game in Buffalo since about 2013. They were looking to sweep the season series with the Sabres (the other two previous games having been played at Newark).

What the Devils got was a great game from Steve Bernier (two goals); Jordin Tootoo, who scored a highlight reel goal, played well; and Keith Kinkaid, who started in place of Cory Schneider, also continued the recent trend of great Devils goaltending. Adam Henrique and Scott Gomez also had two assists on the night.

After a scoreless first frame, Steve Bernier put the Devils on the board at 9:08 of the second when Henrique’s outlet pass sprung Scott Gomez who fed Bernier on the ensuing two-on-one the other way. It was Bernier’s 99th career goal, one away from a milestone. That milestone goal would come about four or five minutes later at 13:53 when the puck was freed up along the boards, moved by Bernier to Henrique on the far boards, who quickly fed it to Bernier in the slot. Bernier deposited the puck behind Buffalo goaltender Anders Lindback to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. Gomez had the secondary assist on Bernier’s 100th career goal.

In the third period, Tootoo would score on a magnificent individual effort for the Devils. With the faceoff deep in the Devils zone, the draw was won by Buffalo and moved back to Mike Weber at the left point. Weber’s shot was blocked by Tootoo who then took possession, turned on the jets and started his rush up the ice. With only Weber to beat, Tootoo slid the puck under Weber’s stick and moved to his forehand, beating Lindback on his glove side. The goal was unassisted and the Devils now had a 3-0 lead.

Buffalo’s Matt Moulson would score his 11th of the season at 11:41 of the third on the power play to break Kinkaid’s shutout bid. Tyler Ennis had the primary assist, while former Devil Brian Gionta had the secondary assist. Brian’s younger brother Stephen Gionta also played a good game for the Devils. With all of that, the Devils came out on top with a much-needed victory in Western New York.

The next night, the Devils would return home to play another New York-based team, the playoff-bound Islanders. The Devils were coming in having won three straight while the Isles were losers of four straight coming into the Saturday night showdown at The Rock.

And as well as they played in Buffalo, the Devils, despite the outcome, retained that top level of play in this game. There was only one problem: the Islanders were getting back their brick wall in the crease on this night. Jaroslav Halak made his return and was superb. He made 26 saves in the Islanders’ shutout win over the Devils.

The Isles got the scoring started off when Ryan Strome scored from Nikolay Kulemin at 7:37. The game remained 1-0 through the second and for more than half of the third. At 10:15 of the third, Stephen Gionta took an interference call while trying to break up a Matt Martin scoring chance and the Islanders went on the power play. The Devils actually killed the man advantage off, but at 12:19, just as Gionta was stepping back on the ice out of the penalty box, Travis Hamonic scored from Strome and Brock Nelson to give the Isles a 2-0 lead. Kyle Okposo would add an empty netter (with assists from John Tavares – which ended a point drought for him – and Hamonic) to give the Islanders a 3-0 win.

The Devils had many chances all throughout the night and kept the pressure on in the Islanders zone most of the night. Perhaps the play that summed up the night for New Jersey was when Travis Zajac hit the post with a wide open net when the game was still 1-0. The Devils just could not solve Halak. Meanwhile, Cory Schneider, back in the net after the night off in Buffalo, played well enough to be named the night’s third star by attending media. He made 27 saves and, again, kept the Devils in a game they had no business being in. Cory is a top tier goaltender in the NHL and will give the Devils a great foundation for years to come. The game was fast paced and the Devils kept up with the sometimes fire wagon hockey style of the Islanders. Only two penalties were called all night, the aforementioned Gionta penalty and a Travis Hamonic hooking call that put the Devils up a man early in the second.

While losing to a team that is better than them at this point is not the end of the world, it may spell the end of the Devils playoff chances. With Ottawa now gaining ground in the playoff race, the Devils and Flyers are being left in the dust, while Florida (with 80 points) is fading fast. The Senators are only a point behind Boston (as of March 22nd) and are making a push. The Devils are not officially eliminated yet, but the loss to the Isles did more harm to their chances.

The time is now to look to the future for the Devils and start preparing for the Draft and for next season. While the Devils put up a valiant effort, and never gave up, this season is pretty much a write-off and the team needs to start preparing to make a run in 2015-16.

Tootoo Having Comeback Year For Devils

It was announced on March 20th that Jordin Tootoo would be the Devils’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for the year-end awards. The Masterton Trophy is awarded to the “player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” It is named for the late Minnesota North Stars player who died after sustaining an injury during a NHL game. Masterton exhibited the qualities that the award is given for, and the trophy was first awarded following the 1967-68 season. The players are nominated by their team’s chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and the winner is chosen by a poll of the chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association across all NHL cities. A grant from the PHWA is also awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, which is given in the name of the trophy winner.

The trophy was first won by a member of the Devils’ organization in 1981-82 when goaltender Glenn “Chico” Resch won it in the team’s final season in Denver. It was awarded to Resch for perseverance, “as he gave his young team more confidence while he served as goaltender” according to the “Legends of Hockey” portion of the Hockey Hall of Fame website. Ken Daneyko was the next member of the Devils to win the award (and the first to win when the team was based in New Jersey) in 1999-2000 when he returned to the team following his battle with alcoholism.

Tootoo’s story is similar to Daneyko in that he has had issues with alcoholism and has come back to revive his NHL career.

Born February 2, 1983 in Churchill, Manitoba, he grew up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut and is the first player of Inuk descent to play in the National Hockey League. Tootoo played for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League before being drafted 98th overall in the 2001 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators. He would go on to play eight seasons for Nashville before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2012 and signing with the Detroit Red Wings. His two years in the Motor City were largely unproductive and his contract was bought out following the 2013-2014 season. He was invited to the Devils training camp at the beginning of this season on a tryout basis and was signed to a one year deal just prior to the season beginning.

Since signing with the Devils, Tootoo has really come back, found his game and has produced for the team. With 57 games played, Tootoo has 9 goals, 5 assists and 14 points, with one of those goals coming on the power play and one game winner. He is also a plus-4 with 70 PIMs. But it is the intangibles that Tootoo brings to the team that have really shown what he means to the Devils. He knows when to pick his spots and some of his fights have helped ignite a Devils comeback, or get the team back from a lackluster performance. He skates very well and his speed was no more apparent than on March 20 versus Buffalo when he scored a beauty of a goal. He blocked a shot in his own end, only to carry the puck down the ice, slip it under the defenseman’s stick to himself and score on goaltender Anders Lindback’s short side, a true one-man effort that iced the game and gave the Devils the win.

For Tootoo, overcoming adversity is nothing new. In 2002, his older brother, Terence, who was a great hockey player in his own right and was playing for the Roanoke Express of the ECHL at the time, committed suicide after a drunk driving incident in Canada. Terence, who was about three years older and served as a role model for Jordin, was part of the reason Jordin wrote his recently released autobiography All The Way: My Life on Ice with writer Stephen Brunt. Terence’s suicide left Jordin with more questions and in part spurred him to get his story down on paper.

Jordin’s battles with substance abuse have also been well chronicled. In 2010, he voluntarily entered the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program run jointly by the NHL and the NHLPA to treat alcoholism. He completed the program in time to participate in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with Nashville and has been clean since.

Tootoo has been an inspiration to those watching, but he is more than that to his teammates. He is a leader in the locker room and knows exactly when to mix it up on the ice, be it physical or vocal: chirping with the other team or keeping the Devils loose on the bench. His Gordie Howe Hat Trick against the Arizona Coyotes a little while back is testament to his toughness, his willingness to get into the dirty areas on the ice and to his skill. The fact the Devils have given him power play time shows that they know that he can play the game well.

Jordin Tootoo has been an inspiration almost since the time first stepped on an NHL rink. Either as the first Inuk player to play in the league or overcoming his personal demons, he has shown the ability to be more than just a great hockey player, but also a very real human being who has persevered through some very tough times and has made good on his potential. We will find out in Las Vegas this summer when the NHL presents their annual awards show if he is voted the winner of the 2014-15 Bill Masterton Trophy.

‘Wearing of the Green’ Lucky For Devils Versus Pens

The Devils first brought back their retro-inspired 1980’s red, green and white jerseys for St. Patrick’s Day during the 2009-10 season and have not had much success in them since. They defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins that year, but have since lost the last four games they brought the jerseys out of mothballs. There was a defeat at the hands of Washington in 2011, a loss to Pittsburgh in 2012 and then two losses wearing them in 2014 (including a blowout by their arch rivals, the Rangers, outdoors at Yankee Stadium in the NHL Stadium Series and the St. Patrick’s Day game against Boston). They did not wear them in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

This year, they would continue the tradition and face the Penguins for the third time in their old unis and would break through with a win for just the second time in six tries. New Jersey got a goal from Jacob Josefson in the second period that would prove to be the difference in a 2-0 shutout win at Prudential Center. Adam Henrique would add an empty netter to seal the deal for New Jersey.

The Devils have always looked sharp in their red and green third jerseys. The red, green and white colors being a rarely-used combination in the NHL (only the Minnesota Wild currently use the colors on a full-time basis) really makes for an eye-catching on-ice look from the red helmets to the green pant shells. And the Devils have been smart enough not to overdo it. With the exception of the Yankee Stadium game, the Devils have only worn them once a year – and wearing them at the Stadium Series game was a “lesser of two evils” situation for the team, since the other option would have been wearing a specially designed look (like the Rangers and Islanders did for the games) that could very easily have fallen flat. The league wanted them to wear something other than their normal home red-and-blacks and the Devils decided to go with their vintage look. While some fans scoffed back in the ‘80s when the Devils were actually wearing the uniforms on a full-time basis, calling them the “Christmas tree” colors, there is no doubt that the throwbacks are a hit with today’s fans.

As for the game itself, the story, as it has been a lot down the stretch for the Devils, was Cory Schneider. Although a lot of credit needs to go to defensemen like Andy Greene and, especially, Adam Larsson (who kept Sidney Crosby in check the whole game, frustrating the superstar for most of the game – Crosby finished with a -1 rating, four shots on net and 19:03 total time on ice), Schneider was brilliant at times in making 35 saves in his fifth shutout of the season. He was named the game’s first star by the media, something that he did on Saturday against Arizona, as well, and has done more than any other Devil this season. Schneider has kept the Devils in games that they had no business being in and could, due to his .929 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average, be a candidate for the Vezina Trophy come the end of the year, despite the fact that the Devils will most likely miss the postseason. You have to be thinking of him in the same category as league leaders like Montreal’s Carey Price and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk at this point.

Michael Ryder was also back in the lineup due to Patrik Elias being a scratch (back spasms) and had the primary assist on Josefson’s goal. Ryder has been a healthy scratch along with Martin Havlat for most of the last month and a half or so, but he did suit up against the Coyotes on Saturday and played well, so with Elias missing another game due to injury, he got the nod.

The Devils also did not let Pittsburgh’s vaunted power play; with all of its firepower (although to be fair to the Pens, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, two important offensive weapons for the team were not dressed due to injury) get a chance in action. The Devils took one penalty (Mark Fraser for tripping Daniel Winnik at 1:26 of the second) which was nullified by Winnik going to the box for embellishment on the same play. Neither team scored on the ensuing four-on-four. The Devils did not take another penalty and, thus, kept one part of Pittsburgh’s success nailed to the bench. The Pens killed off both of the New Jersey power plays.

The Devils played a good game overall, helped by Pittsburgh missing key players in their lineup. However, they did neutralize Sidney Crosby (largely due in part to Larsson, who got under Crosby’s skin early and often) and if you can do that, then you will most likely have a successful night. The Devils earned this victory and, no matter how ugly, will take it.

Things don’t get easier for the Devils, as next up is three games in four days: New Jersey travels to Buffalo on Friday and then returns home to play the Islanders on Saturday, followed by the Los Angeles Kings coming east for a matchup next Monday. Since the team is not technically mathematically eliminated from a playoff berth, fans can take them one game at a time and hope for the best.

Devils Earn Three Points on Western Road Trip

The Devils spent the past week on a trip through the remaining Western Conference cities that they had not visited this season: Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona.

The trip kicked off at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota as the Devils rolled into town to face old friend Zach Parise and the Wild. The Devils were coming off of their 5-2 win over the Flyers at home where they celebrated the 1995 Stanley Cup Championship team. As thorough as that game was for the Devils, the Wild game was a complete blowout in the other direction.

Minnesota kicked off the scoring with a late first period goal by Sean Bergenheim. He scored at 18:57 and the Devils went into the first intermission down 1-0. The second period saw the Wild double their lead only 13 seconds in off a goal from Chris Stewart. The Devils would finally get on the board when Dainius Zubrus broke his scoring drought of 50 games to break the shutout and seemingly bring the Devils back in. He scored off assists from Steve Bernier and Patrik Elias at 10:03 of the second. The Devils were back in it until about three minutes later, when Minnesota got their three goal lead back off the stick of Thomas Vanek.

Going into the third, it was 4-1 Wild and it would not get any prettier. Jason Pominville notched Minnesota’s fifth goal at 1:18 of the new period and, exactly seven minutes later, at 8:18, Vanek got his second of the game on the power play (Mark Fraser had gone to the box for hooking). At 8:40, Scott Gomez scored from Bernier and Damon Severson to make the score 6-2 when the final buzzer sounded.

The Wild game was a total disaster for New Jersey. Minnesota ended up going 1-for-4 on the power play without having to kill one off one of their own. When a team plays that disciplined they are going to be hard to beat. Minnesota is also fighting for a playoff spot, battling Winnipeg for the final wildcard spot in the West. The Jets lost that night, meaning that the Wild did gain some ground in their race.

Shaking that loss off, the Devils traveled to Denver and the Pepsi Center to take on the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have been having a disappointing second year under head coach Patrick Roy considering their success in the regular season last year. The Devils knew they could not allow an outburst like they did a few nights before in St. Paul.

All of the scoring in regulation happened in the second period. The Devils found themselves down early in the period as Jarome Iginla scored his 22nd of the year at 2:27 to give Colorado a 1-0 lead. The Devils responded via an Andy Greene slapshot at 14:12 off assists from Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson. The game was tied and would remain that way.

In the overtime period, the Devils got in some trouble late when Eric Gleinas was caught for tripping at 4:33 meaning the Devils would have to kill a 27 second 4-on-3 power play. But they were equal to the task and the game went to a shootout. In the dreaded “skills competition,” Ryan O’Reilly and Iginla connected for the Avalanche, while only Jacob Josefson was able to score for New Jersey. The Devils had earned their first point of the road trip, but had still left three on the table.

Next stop for New Jersey was Glendale, Arizona and the Gilla River Arena to take on the Arizona Coyotes for the second time in less than a month. In their last meeting on February 23 at The Rock, Cory Schneider and the Devils had come away with the 3-0 shutout victory. The Devils would look to have a similar performance in the desert.

There was no scoring in the first period; however, Jordin Tootoo did fight B.J. Crombeen about two minutes in in a spirited bout that would be Tootoo’s first step towards a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” (a goal, an assist and a fight). Tootoo also drew an extra two minute roughing minor, putting the Devils on the penalty kill early. They were successful and the teams went into the first intermission with no score.

The breakthrough finally came late in the second, as Henrique scored his 15th of the year from Travis Zajac and Severson. The Devils took the 1-0 lead into the second intermission. In the third period, the floodgates would open on the struggling Coyotes. Stephen Gionta scored just 50 seconds into the period from Tootoo and Severson. Nineteen year Coyote Shane Doan would get Arizona on the board at 6:06 to cut the Devils lead in half. Then, at 6:25, Tootoo would complete his Gordie Howe Hat Trick when he fired one past Mike Smith off assists from Mike Cammalleri and Zajac. Cammalleri would finish things off when he scored at 9:25 off assists from Greene and Larsson. The goal, which gave the Devils a 4-1 lead, was Cammalleri’s 25th of the year and was significant because it marks the fourth franchise that Cammalleri has scored at least 25 goals in a season for. These include his stops in Los Angeles, Calgary and Montreal.

The Devils had earned a victory in their last game on their final Western road trip of the season. They would come away with three of a possible six points and get Cory Schneider’s record back to NHL .500. They also kept pace with all of the teams they are chasing for the last wild card spot including Boston, Florida, Ottawa and Philadelphia, who all won on Saturday.

For the Devils, it will take a lot for the team to make the playoffs. They have about thirteen games remaining in the regular season and need to make up a lot of ground points-wise. But one thing you can say is that while battling a team like Arizona (who is already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs) who never gave up and played like they had something to prove, the Devils stayed in it and beat a weaker team, a team that they should beat if they are going to remain in this thing.

There is still some hope (however little it may be) for the Devils. They just need to respond more like they did in Arizona and less like they did in Minnesota.

Devils Pay Tribute to 1995 Stanley Cup Champs on Twentieth Anniversary

The Devils organization took the opportunity to pay tribute to one of the greatest teams in franchise history and the current iteration of the team was able to capitalize on the electric atmosphere in a weekend that will never be forgotten amongst Devils fans.

Things kicked off with an alumni red versus white scrimmage on Saturday, March 7th. The game was held in the AmeriHealth Pavilion, the Devils’ practice rink at the Prudential Center, with a sold out crowd of mostly season ticket holders in attendance. There was a pregame question and answer session that featured Devils President and General Manager (and right now co-head coach) Lou Lamoriello and staff from 1995.

The game featured players from the 1995 team and included luminaries such as current Devils co-head coach (and ’95 team captain) Scott Stevens, “Mr. Devil” himself, Ken Daneyko, 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Claude Lemieux, the recently retired Martin Brodeur, who spent time playing forward for two periods, scoring a goal and assisting on a Daneyko goal, and Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer. The teams were coached by ’95 head coach Jacques Lemaire and ’95 assistant coach Larry Robinson. Fan favorites the Crash Line of Randy McKay, Bobby Holik and Mike Peluso also reunited for the game.

The game was a success for all involved and was a real hit with the fans. Fans who were there in 1995 loved seeing their heroes again, while younger or newer fans had a great time learning about the team that made the Devils a force in the NHL and really put Jersey’s Team on the map.

The festivities continued the next day, Sunday, March 8th. There was a special edition of the pregame 3D video montage that focused solely on 1995 instead of the usual entire history of the team.  The pregame ceremony included the unveiling of a special banner that would hang above the ice for the duration of the proceedings. Management from 1995 was introduced, including the family of late owner Dr. John McMullen, followed by the players from that legendary team. Everyone was present save for Neal Broten, Scott Niedermayer (who played in the red versus white scrimmage, but had to be back in California due to his coaching duties with the Anaheim Ducks), Kevin Dean and Stephane Richer who all had prior commitments. Captain Scott Stevens then spoke to the crowd about what the team meant to everyone, from the fans to the coaches to the players themselves. Following that, the ’95 team gathered for a team picture and then a victory lap around the Prudential Center rink to the strains of Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Glory Days.” Throughout the night, there were special video packages highlighting the playoff series on the Devils road to the ’95 Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup itself also made an appearance on the platform in Section 3. The Conn Smythe Trophy was also in the building. Arlette then performed the “Star Spangled Banner” as the current Devils got set for their game against the current Philadelphia Flyers.

During the first intermission, members of the office staff who worked for the team in 1995 were all introduced, adding a real level of class and showing that the Devils of 1995 were a team from top to bottom and everyone was recognized in the effort no matter where they were in the pecking order.

Then it was time for the game that counted to begin. The Devils (in their white uniforms – the ones they won the Cup in back in ’95) were coming off of a rough loss to Columbus on the previous Friday, while Flyers were coming off of a tough overtime loss in Boston on Saturday and the Devils took advantage of it. Adam Henrique scored just 4:49 into the first with assists from Scott Gomez and Steve Bernier to put the Devils ahead early. Philly would tie things up about three minutes later when Ryan White tipped in a shot from Luke Schenn from the point at 7:45. The teams would head into the first intermission tied at one.

From there, however, it was pretty much all Devils.

Early in the second, Adam Larsson took a hooking penalty but about a minute into Philly’s man advantage, a turnover in the Devils zone led to a 3-on-2 odd man rush for the Devils. Stephen Gionta fired the puck just inside the Flyers blueline and Jacob Josefson pounced on the rebound for a shorthanded goal to give the Devils a 2-1 lead. Andy Greene had the secondary assist.

Late in the second, Philadelphia’s White took a tripping penalty and the Devils would convert on the ensuing power play. Eric Gelinas scored at 18:09 off assists by Gomez and Bernier (who each had their second assists of the evening).

The third period started with Adam Henrique scoring his second goal of the game on 2-on-0 give and go with Steve Bernier (who tallied his third assist of the night). It was now 4-1 New Jersey. The Flyers pulled to within two when Michael Raffl scored shorthanded after Sean Couturier had taken a hooking penalty. He got assists from White and Steve Mason. The Devils got back a three goal lead and put the icing on the night when Stephen Gionta scored on a breakaway from Patrik Elias and Greene. The final horn sounded and the Devils had a 5-2 win (as Steve Cangialosi mentioned on the MSG+ broadcast, the same score the Devils defeated Detroit by to clinch the Cup back on June 24, 1995 at the Meadowlands). Keith Kinkaid made 25 saves on the night and was brilliant at times.

All in all, in the game that counted, five Devils had a multi-point night including Henrique with two goals, Gomez with two assists, Steve Bernier with three assists, Stephen Gionta with a goal and an assist and Andy Greene with two assists.

Overall, the weekend was a success for the Devils. The AmeriHealth Pavilion was sold out for the alumni game. The Prudential Center was sold out for the real game. The number of fans in red far exceeded those in orange and there was a celebratory mood all weekend. For longtime fans, getting to relive history and see the heroes of our youth in person again was great. Though we may all be a little bit older, watching some of the great hockey played by the New Jersey Devils in the spring of 1995 brought a smile to the face of even the most cynical of fan. Although they were introduced as individuals in the pregame ceremony, any member of the 1995 Devils will tell you that everything about that team was just that: a team. To paraphrase NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman when presenting the Cup to Scott Stevens following the sweep of the Red Wings, the Devils organization epitomized teamwork and hard work. It is good to see that nothing has changed.

Devils Make Two Deals at Deadline

The Devils made two very important deals this past week. One happened a few days before the official end of the National Hockey League trading period and another the day of the trade deadline. Both should help ensure the Devils future and help the team in the long run.

On Thursday, February 26th, Jaromir Jagr was traded to the Florida Panthers for a second round pick in 2015 and a third rounder in 2016. This deal was a great move for all parties. The Devils were able to get a great haul for a 43 year-old who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Panthers get a player that they hope can help put them over the top and get them into the playoffs for just the third time since 2000 (they are currently chasing the Bruins for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference). For Jagr, the issue was ice time. Since Pete DeBoer was fired as Devils coach the day after Christmas, Jagr’s ice time had dropped to about 17 minutes a game on average according to the Devils official website. Jagr feels that he can still contribute and wants the ice time to prove it and he can get it by leading a young team like Florida.

Jagr had made some controversial remarks to the media recently regarding his ice time situation and making veiled comments towards General Manager and coach Lou Lamoriello about wanting a trade. He said that he was taken aback a little bit by the trade but understood because of what Lou was able to get back in return for him that the Devils almost had to pull the trigger on the deal. Overall, the Jagr deal helped everyone involved in the short term and time will tell how it helps the Panthers over the long term (making the playoffs). As for the Devils, getting good picks like they did for a player who was most likely going to walk or retire following the season is a great move.

The only real red flag from this deal was that the Devils traded Jagr to a team that they would need to leap frog in order to get into the playoffs. Are the Devils blowing up their season? Lamoriello says no and that this was a deal that was just too good to pass up. Getting what they could for Jagr, especially a package this good was a priority if they were going to move the veteran.

The second move, made on Monday, March 2nd, the day of the deadline, was a little bit more complicated. Marek Zidlicky, the Devils mobile offensive defenseman and power play specialist was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings for a conditional third round pick in 2016. The conditions were as follows: the Devils get Detroit’s third round pick in 2016 should the Wings fail to make the Eastern Conference Final or the Stanley Cup Final. Should Detroit make the 2015 Eastern Conference Final, the Devils get their third round pick in 2016 and fifth round pick in 2015. Should Detroit advance to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, New Jersey gets the Red Wings’ second round pick in 2016.

While this deal was a little less favorable to the Devils as the Jagr deal, what complicated matters was Zidlicky’s no trade clause. Zidlicky basically had veto power over where the Devils were to send him. He most likely wanted to go to a Stanley Cup contender and Detroit fit the bill. Unfortunately, his no trade clause severely handcuffed the Devils in where they could move him. Further making things difficult for the Devils was that Detroit does not have a second round pick in 2015 and that the market for right-handed shooting defensemen went somewhat downhill following the Oilers trading Jeff Petry to Montreal. Zidlicky was likely a second choice for Detroit due to his age (38).

But overall for the Devils, getting something in return for Zidlicky, who is also an unrestricted free agent following the season is great. What Detroit gets is a player that makes their power play even better. They already have the top power play in the league, having a veteran presence like Zidlicky there to help their youngsters can only make them more potent. Zidlicky is prone to defensive mistakes from time to time, but his risks often outweigh his errors and he will be a great addition for the Wings over the remaining season and the playoffs. There has been some speculation that the Devils will end up re-signing Zidlicky this July anyway, so he is the epitome of a rental player for the Red Wings. Should Detroit find success in the playoffs, the Devils could end up getting more out of this deal than meets the eye.

One thing for Devils fans to really take from these two deals is that the Devils are serious about getting younger and are trying to get what they can for their UFAs instead of just letting them walk and getting nothing in return. They still have a bit of housekeeping to do in order to get back to where they can be a playoff team again. But having fresh, young skaters out there can only help. They are also stock piling draft picks, which will obviously help in the long run.

The Jagr trade was a windfall for the Devils. Lou really got the most out of this deal that he could. While the Zidlicky deal, on the surface, seems like it could be deemed a failure, it is anything but. Given the circumstances, the Devils got what they could out of this deal and could stand to come out even better should the Red Wings find success this spring. The Jagr deal may have also clouded many fans’ views on the Zidlicky trade. But, again, they got what they could given the circumstances and, should the Wings advance, the Devils will find themselves in a very good position.

Devils Winning at Home, Cammalleri Coming on Strong

About two weeks ago, it looked as if a loss against the first-place overall in the NHL Nashville Predators had doomed the Devils chances of claiming a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now, four games into a season-high six game homestand, the Devils have won all four and are now only eight points out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Looking at their four wins over the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes and a shutout win versus the Arizona Coyotes, shows that the Devils have been winning the tight ones (2-1 shootout win against Buffalo), the wild ones (4-2 against Vancouver that featured a crazy ending) and the ones they pretty much had a handle on from the get go (3-1 against the ‘Canes and the aforementioned 3-0 game against Arizona).

To round out the month of February, the Devils will see the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins at home and then follow the Friday night game against Boston with a 5PM day game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. This will be a great test for New Jersey as Calgary is in a good position to make the playoffs in the Western Conference and Boston is the team that the Devils need to catch to gain the final spot in the Eastern Conference. Follow that up with the game against Columbus, a day game after a night game, and you have a real test for the Devils here as the month comes to a close.

One of the guys who has been helping the Devils in this four game winning streak (the first such Devils streak in about two years) is Mike Cammalleri. After being kept off of the scoresheet against Buffalo, the Devils left wing had a power play goal and an empty netter against Vancouver, an assist on Andy Greene’s first goal of the year against Carolina and an even strength goal and an empty netter against Arizona. With two two goal games and five total points in these four games, Cammalleri, who leads the team with 22 goals this year, has been everything the Devils had hoped for when they signed him away from Calgary last summer.

Cammalleri will hope to continue his scoring ways against his former team on Wednesday, as the Devils hit a rough patch in their schedule. The team will play every other day (save the Boston/Columbus back-to-back) for roughly the next two weeks. Days off will be hard to come by from the end of February through March. Thankfully for the Devils, the rest of that schedule is home-heavy due to them playing almost exclusively on the road to begin the year. The Devils have been playing extremely well at home lately, going 8-1-1 in their last ten games at the Rock. The only really tough part for the Devils will be the week of March 9th when they make one final western swing, hitting Minnesota, Colorado and the Coyotes and then follow that up with a home game that next Tuesday against the always-tough Penguins.

Hopefully come the game against Pittsburgh, the Devils will still be in the playoff race and will have made some headroom there as well. The Devils have made things hard for themselves, let’s face it. They are pretty much in “must win” mode every game. But it is not entirely impossible as it stands now. The game against Boston will be a true test for New Jersey, but they cannot overlook a Flames team that has been surprising all season. If they can avoid the perils of that “trap game,” the game versus the Bruins should mean a little bit more on Friday.

The Devils are not entirely in the clear, of course. They do have to get some help from the teams they are directly competing with for that final wild card spot (the Flyers and Panthers) but they do have the game against Philly coming up next week and can gain ground on the teams. All they need is to keep playing the way they have at home, make sure they do not leave points on the table on the road and continue to get scoring from guys like Cammalleri – the guys who should be putting pucks in the net – and maybe from some other unlikely places (like Andy Greene) and everything will fall into place for the team.

Neal Broten: The Final Piece of the 1995 Puzzle

Neal Broten will be known as many things in his hockey career. He was a member of the 1979 University of Minnesota team that won the NCAA national championship (he would score the goal that clinched the title for the Golden Gophers). He was a member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” US men’s hockey team that won the gold medal in Lake Placid, New York. He was also a member of the 1995 New Jersey Devils – the final piece of a puzzle that would result in the Devils winning the Stanley Cup.

Although he is arguably best known as a Minnesota North Star, Broten had a career in hockey that most players could only dream of. Born in Roseau, Minnesota on November 29, 1959, he played his high school hockey for the Roseau Rams, leading the team to the Minnesota state tournament for three straight years from 1977 to 1979. In 1978, he set a Roseau High School record that still stands when he scored four assists in one period.

Playing at the University of Minnesota under head coach Herb Brooks (who also coached the Devils for a single season in 1992-93 and was the coach of Team USA at the 1980 Olympics), Broten had a freshman year that saw him score 71 points (21 goals, 50 assists) and be named WCHA Rookie of the Year. He also won the NCAA Championship that season as the Golden Gophers beat the University of North Dakota 4-3 in the final. In his junior season, 1980-81, Broten won the inaugural Hobey Baker Award – given to the best US college player each season. This win makes him the only player in hockey history to have won an NCAA Championship, the Hobey Baker Award, an Olympic gold medal and the Stanley Cup. Broten and Ed Belfour are the only players to have won an NCAA Championship, an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup.

Ask the average American hockey fan what Neal Broten is best known for and they would probably tell you “the Miracle on Ice.” Although he also represented Team USA at the 1981 and 1984 Canada Cups and the 1990 World Championships, it is that one tournament in Lake Placid that best defined his international career. Although he only scored three points (two goals and one assist) in seven games, Broten was a key part of Team USA’s emotional win over the Soviet Union in the semifinals and over Finland in the gold medal game.

He was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in the 2nd round (42nd overall) in 1979 – the North Stars gained the pick through a draft day trade that saw Dave Semenko head to the Oilers (Semenko would fill the role of Wayne Gretzky’s “bodyguard” in Edmonton pre-Marty McSorley – which is ironic since one of Gretzky’s only NHL fights came against Neal Broten in 1982-83). He would suit up for Minnesota in 1980-81 and would stay with the team through relocation to Dallas until 1995. Along the way, he would become the first American born and trained NHL player to score more than 100 points in a single season (netting 105 in 1985-86).

Meanwhile, the Devils were coming off a rough loss in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final to the Rangers and were looking for a way to get over the hump in the lockout shortened 1995 season. The team was struggling early on (starting the season hovering just around .500) when, on February 27, 1995, general manager Lou Lamoriello sent Corey Millen to the Dallas Stars for their captain at the time, Neal Broten (whose brother, Aaron, had been a mainstay from the late days of the Colorado Rockies through the Devils first decade or so in New Jersey). Broten would go on to play 30 games for the Devils that regular season; scoring 8 goals and 20 assists for 28 points. Though he was a scoring threat, he was also responsible defensively, as evidenced by his plus-9 rating.

But it was the playoffs where the acquisition of Broten really showed its true greatness. He played 20 games for the Devils that postseason, scoring 19 points (7 goals and 12 helpers) and, again, was a plus-13 (which tied him for the team lead with defenseman Bruce Driver – also a plus-13). He scored one of the biggest goals of his NHL career in game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against Detroit when he beat goalie Mike Vernon on a pass from Scott Niedermayer for what would go on to be the Stanley Cup clinching goal for the Devils. The goal, which was Broten’s second of that game, would mark the first time that an American had scored a Cup clincher for an NHL team. It would go on to be repeated by the likes of Brett Hull, Patrick Kane, Alec Martinez and Mike Rupp (who also performed the feat for the Devils in 2003).

The Devils and Broten would eventually part ways when he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on November 22, 1996 for future considerations. The following year he would be claimed on waivers by Dallas from the Kings to get him back to where it all started. He retired following the 1996-97 season after finishing with an NHL total of 1,099 games played, 289 goals, 634 assists, 923 points and career plus/minus of plus-18, and 569 penalty minutes. He was also voted to two All-Star games (1983 and 1986). His number 7 is retired by the Dallas Stars and he is also a member of the US Hockey Hall of Fame. In 2009, fans of the Minnesota Wild voted him the greatest hockey player from the state of Minnesota.

As stated in a recent profile on a Devils MSG+ broadcast, Neal Broten was a key for New Jersey in 1995. To paraphrase Ken Daneyko on that piece: “Without Neal Broten, we probably don’t make the playoffs or win the Stanley Cup.” Neal Broten was the missing piece of the puzzle that put the Devils over the top as Stanley Cup champions and someone who will forever be known as a great in the annals of Devils history.

How Will the Devils Approach the Trading Deadline?

The NHL trade deadline is fast approaching (it comes on March 2 at 3 PM). The Devils have some cards to play. The only question is how will they play those cards? Will they trade off some of the older parts of the roster to make room for a younger group of players who are itching for ice time? Or will they use those parts to pick up a piece to help them make a run at the playoffs?

Some of the main names that have come up in trade discussions have been right wing Jaromir Jagr and defenseman Marek Zidlicky. On a recent Devils MSG+ broadcast, Stan Fischler brought up the possibility of Jagr being traded by the Devils and Zidlicky came up in a Northjersey.com article and was reported on by NHL.com. John MacLean mentioned on the MSG+ telecast that Jagr might be reluctant to move since he has been getting a lot of ice time with the Devils and that, at this point in his career, is really all he wants. The thing is, Jagr has gone through a mini-revitalization of his career with New Jersey and if a team feels he can put them over the top to become a contender, if he is the missing piece for a team looking to win a Stanley Cup, then Jagr will get traded.

Zidlicky is in a similar boat. If he can help a team go over the top and win a championship, then he will be packaged. Zidlicky does have a no-trade clause, but like he said in the Northjersey.com report, “it’s not just about yourself” and he does understand that the Devils will make the deal if they can improve the team.

The question now becomes: what do the Devils want to do at this deadline? How do they want to make the team better? Are they building towards a future, or are they going to make a run for the playoffs this year? The main factor in that, I would assume, would be where they are in the standings at the trade deadline. If they are still in contention for a playoff spot (and not that far out) come deadline time, then they will look to make their run by acquiring a piece that can get them in and get them a lengthy playoff run this season. If they are further out than they are at this point by then, they will look to unload salary and start to get the younger guys some playing time.

The Devils have one of, if not THE oldest rosters in the NHL and they do want to get younger. They can pick up some draft picks with what they have too. In addition to Jagr and Zidlicky, the Devils could look to move a guys like Michael Ryder, who has had difficulty fitting into the Devils system and might benefit from a change of scenery.

New Jersey does have a good core for the future: they are solid in goal, with a very good NHL-caliber goalie (Cory Schneider), a young goaltender with some NHL experience who makes a reliable backup (Keith Kinkaid) and a fine third, should injury arise, waiting in Albany who is young and just needs some time in the NHL to get over the threshold (Scott Wedgewood). From there, the defensive core is good with Andy Greene anchoring things back there and mentoring the youngsters. Trading Zidlicky would lose some of that offensive threat on the blueline and take away their power play quarterback, but once healthy, Damon Severson could fit that role nicely, as he showed signs of it early in the season. The forwards are a little bit long in the tooth, but the amount of proven talent that they have gives the Devils some bargaining power to make a deal.

Some of the moves already made ahead of the deadline, like Evander Kane going to Buffalo for Tyler Myers, who is now a Winnipeg Jet and the major one, the Toronto Maple Leafs starting their rebuilding process by sending Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Predators (thankfully after Nashville had already defeated the Devils 3-1 on Saturday night), have set some precedent already. It seems like the teams like Nashville who are in contention are making a serious killing on the weak teams. But in reality, this happens every year. The real question is how will other contenders and bubble teams respond? Also, where do the Devils fit in in all of this? Are they real playoff contenders or has the season come crashing down they are they just looking to unload and begin rebuilding ala Toronto?

Time will tell in regards to all of these questions. General Manager Lou Lamoriello will make the deals necessary for the team to get better, be it this year or in the coming years. The Devils are at a crossroads. They have not made the playoffs since the 2012 Stanley Cup run and are fading fast this year. How they handle the deals they make this year could decide whether the team continues southward or rises back to glory in the years to come.

Two Rough Losses Could Doom Devils Playoff Hopes

It was a tale of two weeks for the New Jersey Devils. They had continued their hot streak from the California swing from before the All-Star break, coming out of the hiatus with a shootout win over Toronto to kick-off a five game homestand. Though they followed the win over the Maple Leafs with an overtime loss to the Penguins, they followed that up with wins over the Panthers, Senators and the Leafs again.

Then they hit a buzzsaw in the form of the Montreal Canadiens. Understandably, it was a tough game and the Devils fell, 6-2 to one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Then, on Monday, February 9, the lowly Edmonton Oilers came into Prudential Center, in last place in the Western Conference and only ahead of Buffalo in the overall NHL standings, and they promptly defeated the Devils, 2-1.

These back-to-back losses will surely put a dent into the Devils playoff hopes, as they need to get two points off of teams like Edmonton if they are going to succeed in making a run of it. Plus, their next two games, on the road on Friday the 13th in Chicago to take on the Blackhawks and a Valentine’s date with the Predators in Nashville, are not exactly against pushovers.

It seems like two different Devils teams who showed up to play against the Maple Leafs, Penguins, Panthers and Senators than team who went into Montreal. Though the Devils did lead 1-0 early on in the game against the Habs, it was bad penalties that cost the team, as Montreal ended up converting on the power play to both tie the game and take the lead that they would never relinquish. Montreal actually scored their first three goals on the power play (Dainius Zubrus had taken a four minute double minor for high sticking P.K. Subban, which drew blood, to set up the tying and go ahead goals and Travis Zajac’s cross checking penalty yielded a third goal from Tomas Plekanec). The same thing generally repeated against Edmonton, as Nail Yakupov would score the game winner on the power play (an Adam Larsson delay of game penalty).

Now, the Canadiens are a very talented team, Subban had three assists in the game; Plekanec had two goals; Dale Weise had two goals; Max Pacioretty had two assists and David Desharnais had three assists in the Montreal offensive avalanche. The Devils simply could not keep up once Montreal got going. But Edmonton? Though they are a very young and offensively talented group, they have never really clicked and should have been no threat to the Devils (if the Devils are really a playoff team).

It is still early and a lot can happen between now and April 11 (the final day of the regular season), but the fact may be that this team is just not that good as they are built right now. Hopefully, I am wrong, but some moves will need to be made come the summer.

The way it looks (and I am certainly on the outside looking in here), but the first to go might just be Michael Ryder. He has been a healthy scratch for the last week or so after what has been an awful season for him. He is a good player who still has some mileage left, if the Devils were to unload him to a contender, maybe they could get a draft pick for him and that would allow the team to begin building through the draft. What could also happen is that the Devils buyout Ryder’s contract come the offseason and he goes elsewhere without any compensation for the Devils. Although it would free up some cap space, it would be nice to get something for a player that has not really been a great fit for the Devils throughout his time here.

The conventional wisdom is that Devils fans would never tolerate a rebuilding phase. But should it return the team to its former glory (meaning making the playoffs and making deep runs in the playoffs), I think the fans would be all for it.

It is hard for the Devils to attract big name free agents and that is not how the championship teams of the past were built anyway. The Islanders are a great recent example of a team building a contender through shrewd drafting and moving the pieces around the chess board. New York was a decimated franchise a few short seasons ago and is now in a battle at the top of the Metropolitan Division.

New Jersey’s championship teams were built with a core of homegrown talent taken through the draft (guys like Marty Brodeur, John MacLean, Ken Daneyko, Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez), timely trades (players like Alexander Mogilny, Joe Nieuwendyk and Neal Broten), trades looking at the long term (think Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer from the 1995 team) and key free agents (Scott Stevens).

Even their last team to head to the Cup Finals in 2012 was built in a similar way: a core of draft picks (Zach Parise), and guys like Ilya Kovalchuk (who they originally got in a trade from the Atlanta Thrashers and then re-signed when he became an unrestricted free agent). Throw in some undrafed gems on those championship teams through the years like David Clarkson, Jay Pandolfo and Andy Greene and you get the Devils’ recipe for success.

This team could be great again, it just takes a little bit of patience from fans and getting back to the basics of what made the team a top contender for the Stanley Cup for so many years. The team has a good core to build upon now: goaltending is taken care of with guys like Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid between the pipes, Andy Greene (the next possible Devils captain according to Daneyko – once Bryce Salvador leaves the team) has the defense anchored along with young guys like Larsson and Jon Merrill and Adam Henrique is a good young forward and a bright spot in an otherwise aging group.

Overall, the Devils do need to get younger and I think they will. The draft and finding young guys outside the draft will play a big role in the Devils future. Albany also has some guys waiting in the wings who can help the team where it needs it the most: scoring.

Although time seems to have run out on the Devils 2014-15 season, it does not mean that this is a franchise that has a bleak future. On the contrary, this is a team that can have a great future, it just needs to embrace it.