The New Jersey Devils wasted no time getting the trade market flowing on Sunday afternoon. It started with them sending defenseman Andy Greene to the New York Islanders for a 2021 second-round pick and prospect David Quenneville. They followed that up a few hours later by trading Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a 2020 first-round pick and top prospect Nolan Foote.
It wasn’t a secret the Devils would be sellers this deadline. But how would things unfold with an interim general manager? We got our answer yesterday, as Tom Fitzgerald passed with flying colors. And ownership should have some confidence with him handling any trade negotiations for the next week.
Devils Part Ways With Greene, Coleman
There haven’t been a lot of constants with the Devils over the last few years, but Greene was one of them. He’s been with the organization for 14 seasons and was still playing top-pair minutes, which speaks volumes about the type of defenseman he is. He was also one of the last holdovers from the team’s run to the 2012 Stanley Cup, so there’s no denying his significance to the organization.
If there was ever a perfect fit for Greene, it’s the Islanders. Their GM, Lou Lamoriello, is more than familiar with him from his days with the Devils, so it’s no surprise he made a move acquire to him. He may not be the defenseman he once was at even strength, but he’s still one of the best penalty killers in the league. The Islanders have a middle-of-the-pack penalty kill, so Greene should give it a boost.
As for the Devils’ return, they couldn’t have done much better than they did. Quenneville is a depth player at this point, but the real value is in the 2021 second-round pick, which they did not have before trading Greene. Whether the Devils end up using that pick is a long way down the road, but having it in hand as trade bait for future moves can’t hurt.
Where the Devils made out like bandits is in trading away Coleman. It may have come as a shock to most, as he was one of their best players this season. He had 21 goals in 57 games, putting him on pace to finish with 30, and he was one of their top penalty killers. He also had a strong positive impact on offense and defense, so his presence won’t be easy to replace.
But when a team comes offering a first-round pick and their top prospect, that’s hard to pass up. Foote has great size, at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, and has a rocket of a shot. He may need to improve his skating a bit, but he has the makings of a top-six forward who could be in the NHL sooner than later. As for the pick, it originally belonged to the Vancouver Canucks, and it has conditions on it. If the Canucks make the playoffs, it remains a 2020 pick, which could give the Devils three first-round selections after they traded Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes. If that’s the case, they could weaponize one of those to acquire NHL talent to help them for next season.
Fitzgerald Makes Eye-Opening First Impression
There was a bit of an unnerving feeling about having an interim GM handle the trade deadline. The Devils don’t have a lot of margin for error, so they’re not in a position to screw this up. But Fitzgerald got their deadline plans off to the right start. And it’s clear he has a vision moving forward, too.
“My plan, if I’m to continue at this position, is to grow around [Jack Hughes] and [Nico Hischier] in that age frame and have a group of kids around that same type of age group, grow together,” Fitzgerald told Mike Morreale of NHL.com.
Just a few hours later, Fitzgerald went and traded for a 19-year-old prospect in Foote. They lacked a high-end forward in their system before acquiring him, so he’ll be a welcomed addition to their pipeline. If all goes well, he’s someone they can develop to compliment Hughes and Hischier down the road.
But for as well as Fitzgerald did in a span of just a few hours, there’s more work to be done. Sami Vatanen is on an expiring contract, and there aren’t indications an extension is anywhere close. The Devils could get a pretty valuable return for the 28-year-old defenseman, and that’s likely the next move on Fitzgerald’s plate.
Related: Devils Trade Coleman to Lightning
It also seems more than probable that Wayne Simmonds, who’s also on an expiring contract, gets moved in the next week. The return for him won’t be anything outrageous, but it’d be smart for Fitzgerald to trade him. Simmonds turns 32 this summer and doesn’t figure to be part of the team’s long-term plans. If he fetches a mid-round pick and a B-level prospect, the Devils would gladly take that.
Time will tell how things pan out, but there should be a sense of optimism around Fitzgerald, given how he handled his first two major transactions as a GM. If he scores similar high-value returns over the next week, it may not be long before he gets the job permanently. And that’ll give the Devils some much-needed direction and stability heading into a crucial offseason.