By Max Herman
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As the season has progressed for the New Jersey Devils, they’ve seen their play and subsequently their results slip from bad to worse to holy crap someone please make this season end already.
With the Devils’ run of 13 straight seasons in the playoffs almost certainly coming to a close by the end of the year, one thing has become clear. GM Lou Lamoriello cannot continue to just play out the string with the team as it is constituted.
Friday morning came the first real shakeup to this roster, as the Devils have sent their captain Jamie Langenbrunner back to the Dallas Stars, the team that drafted him. The Devils will receive a conditional 3rd-round pick in return. The deal also allows the Devils to free up just shy of $3M in salary cap cushion.
The conditional pick works as follows. Langenbrunner’s contract expires at the end of this season. Should the Stars re-sign him before July 1st or if they advance past the first round of the playoffs, then that Devils’ draft pick becomes a 2nd-rounder. If Dallas re-signs Jamie after July 1st, then the Devils will receive the Stars’ 2nd-round pick in exchange for New Jersey’s 3rd-round pick in 2012.
Langenbrunner has struggled to find his scoring touch this season, and he has certainly not been the only one. Jamie has tallied just 4 goals and 10 assists with the Devils this year, and many fans have grown frustrated with the lack of production out of their captain.
While he considers New Jersey to be his home and admittedly has mixed emotions about the trade, Langs did agree to waive a no-trade clause to get the deal done. I’m sure he has lots of strong emotional ties towards both his teammates and his home life, but let’s face it. Jamie now has a shot to go from a cellar-dweller to a team that is currently leading their division. At age 35 there is no doubt in my mind that this was the right move for him. By all accounts he was a great teammate and a great captain for the Devils, and he will be missed inside the locker room.
As for who will get Langenbrunner’s “C” now that Jamie is gone, that is an interesting situation. As recently as Thursday night I held firm in my belief that it should be on the shoulder of Patrik Elias. But during the first intermission of Thursday’s game I had an opportunity to chat with the radio voice of the Devils, Matt Loughlin, and he brought up a very good point.
Matt thought it was more likely that the Devils hold out the captaincy for Zach Parise upon his return next year, and that they might rotate it around for the remainder of this season. He thinks it would send a bad message to Elias if they give him the “C” for now, only to strip it from him for a second time in his career (remember 2007?). I happen to agree with this wholeheartedly. Lamoriello said in a conference call on Friday that the matter had not yet been discussed, and it is a decision that they will wait to make.
Other News and Notes:
– Martin Brodeur has informed the coaching staff that Johan Hedberg is the better goaltending option right now. Very few people could have predicted that the Devils would be as bad as they are this season. But even fewer could have predicted that the winningest goalie in NHL history would be playing this poorly. Marty’s 3.15 goals against average and .812 save percentage represent career worsts by a country mile.
If there was ever any doubt that all of this was starting to affect Brodeur mentally, this news should erase all of that. Brodeur has been chased to the bench in 3 of his last 6 starts, but at least he had the decency to make it known that the Devils’ organization need not worry about his ego getting in the way of doing what is best for the team.
But that just goes to show you how fast and unpredictable New Jersey’s fall from grace has been this season. I’m willing to bet not many of you had the thought when the Devils signed Hedberg, “You know, I’ll bet by mid-January this guy is our starter.”
To his credit, Moose has played very well and certainly looks the part of the starting goaltender. Now he’s just going to have to get over his new irrational fear of leaving the net. Because in the last two games, he has twice gone behind the net to play a dump-in only to see the puck take a crazy carom off of the Prudential Center boards and wind up in the back of the net. In fact, that’s how the winning goal was scored Tuesday night against Minnesota.
– As if you need me to tell you, all of this losing is taking a severe mental and emotional toll on the players on this team. So during the coach’s press conference after Thursday night’s loss, I asked Jacques Lemaire if he thinks resiliency is something that can be coached. “Why not?” he responded, “That’s what I’m trying to get from the players every night, every shift, every period.”
Here’s the problem, Jacques. I wholeheartedly disagree. A coach can do a lot to instill confidence in a team and maintaining the right attitude in practice is not something that should be understated. But when the sledding gets as rough as it’s gotten for this team, the drive to want to make things better has to come from within each individual player. There is very little Jacques Lemaire can do to give this team the sense of purpose they need to become a respectable NHL team.
If you ask me, the players inside that clubhouse need to start playing with a selfish mindset, for lack of a better word. They just need to focus on doing their individual job each and every shift. If Lemaire has some magic words that can get an entire roster’s worth of guys to do exactly that from here on out, then now would be a good time to cast that spell. Because it’s becoming very difficult to see these guys having to answer the same questions night in and night out.
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