Lichtenstein: Depressing And Defenseless Devils Sell Off Greene And Coleman

New Jersey Made Two Trades Over The Weekend

Steve Lichtenstein
February 17, 2020 - 11:22 am

Devils goalie MacKenzie Blackwood needed to make an astounding 52 saves in regulation and overtime, and then another six in seven shootout attempts, to secure a 4-3 victory over visiting Columbus Sunday night.

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That might become a routine worknight for Devils’ netminders going forward. The club announced prior to the game that they dealt defenseman Andy Greene to the Islanders, and then held out left wing Blake Coleman so he could be traded to Tampa Bay later in the evening.

Greene, the Devils’ captain since 2015, and Coleman were among the best defensive players on a team regarded as one of the NHL’s shoddiest. Only the pathetic Red Wings have surrendered more goals against than New Jersey, whose 54 points place them 28th in a 31-team league.

If there’s any confusion about the direction Devils managing partner Josh Harris wanted to go when he axed general manager Ray Shero last month, these moves made it crystal clear.

This is “The Process,” Part II.

The Devils are cleaning house, loading up on picks and prospects just like that other Harris property, the NBA’s 76ers, did for half a decade. The Sixers actually made tanking an art form.

The Devils, though, seem to be in a never-ending cycle. They have made the playoffs just once in the last eight seasons (counting this one) and seem to be back at or near square one. The assets they’ve received and drafted from dumping players at past deadlines haven’t exactly altered the narrative.

Blake Coleman, right, and Andy Greene of the New Jersey Devils
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Unlike the December trade that sent former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall to Arizona, I think the Devils did get an appropriate value for Greene, 37, who is a pending unrestricted free agent and needed to waive his no-trade clause. The Islanders forked over a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft plus minor league defenseman David Quenneville.

Greene, who spent all 14 of his NHL seasons in New Jersey and now leaves center Travis Zajac as the last current Devil who participated during their run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, was a workhorse until the end. Only four players this season have averaged more than Greene’s 3:25 of shorthanded ice time per game, and his 136 blocked shots put him in a tie for second in the league. Still, given the Devils’ direction, Greene might be retired by the time they’re relevant again. Sentiment aside, it’s a good deal for both the Devils and Greene.         

For Coleman, the Devils received power forward Nolan Foote, who was Tampa Bay’s 2019 first-round pick, and a conditional first-rounder via Vancouver. The Canucks will convey the pick at the 2020 Draft or, if they miss out on this postseason, it will be deferred until 2021.

The difference with Coleman, 28, is that he won’t be Tampa Bay’s rental. To the contrary, his contract at an extremely affordable $1.8 million AAV won’t expire until after next season. Not only was Coleman on the Devils’ top penalty killing unit, he was tied for the team lead with 21 goals and was starting to see some power play ice time. When former coach John Hynes used to praise his club’s “identity players,” Coleman topped his list.

Again, the Devils extracted a more than fair return for Coleman, according to most experts, but the pick and the prospect are unknown quantities. I like Coleman’s track record more than I like this organization’s track record.

Interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald likely isn’t done selling. He has another week to get the best deals for New Jersey’s two other pending UFAs, right wing Wayne Simmonds and defenseman Sami Vatanen. Given what Greene returned, Vatanen could net the Devils another first-rounder—that is, if Vatanen can show he has recovered from the “bruise” he suffered from blocking a Dallas shot on February 1. He is still on injured reserve.

What will then be left in New Jersey? It certainly will not be a team capable of competing in the foreseeable future. If Harris thought the constant losing under Shero was getting untenable, how’s he going to feel a year from now?  My guess--depressed enough to sign off on the trades of Zajac and Kyle Palmieri before they too become free agents. (For what it’s worth, Fitzgerald said after Monday’s game that Zajac isn’t going anywhere prior to this deadline).     

For the second consecutive season, the Devils will be integrating a host of AHL-level talent into their NHL lineup down the stretch. It’s going to take major work just to get the Devils back to where they were at this season’s start. For starters, where do they think they can find two or three top-four defensemen?  Or, will the plan be to just rely on Blackwood standing on his head every night?   

It’s laughable to me that Fitzgerald told the gathering media after Monday’s game “We don’t need to start over. We’ve got two big pieces (former first-overall picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes) and you saw the other piece in goal tonight. We have holes. My job, if it’s my job, is to fix some holes.”     

The Titanic had holes. This is worse.

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