Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Devils trade deadline recap

So just as suspected, we shot our big bolt a few weeks back with the Ilya Kovalchuk trade. It would have been hard to match that and impossible to top it. And certainly I'm not one of these fans that think just because we only did one minor deal today that the world's going to come to an end, although the additions Pittsburgh and especially the Caps made are a bit scary. All the Caps gave up for defensemen Joe Corvo and Milan Jurcina as well as forwards Eric Belanger and Scott Walker were two second-round picks, a sixth-rounder, seventh-rounder and a couple of warm bodies while the Penguins added Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jordan Leopold for one second-rounder and a prospect.

With the early prices defensemen were going for - a second-rounder for middling d-men like Leopold and Andy Sutton I didn't expect much. Earlier on in fact, I said that Lou Lamoriello shouldn't waste his time trading for a d-man unless he at least knows the system. In that respect Martin Skoula fits the bill, thanks to an odd (if clearly orchestrated) deal between Lou and protege Brian Burke, when Burke acquired Skoula just yesterday as part of the Ponikarovsky trade and then flipped the one-time Wild defenseman to the Devils for a fifth-round pick. Usually our deadline defensemen deals wind up being flops but at least in this case there won't be a learning curve. Even if everything on the internet I've read about Skoula today has been...let's just say ick!

Still, we weren't going to do much better on defense and clearly the staff doesn't have enough confidence in Mark Fraser to play him more minutes (thereby reducing the minutes of the top four from insane to merely good) so we'll see if it helps. Can't be any worse than Nicklas Havelid last year, or the other five hundred mediocre defensemen we've acquired at the deadline.

Forward-wise, all I really wanted was another center that could win faceoffs and add a little something offensively. It was ironically another Wild player - Belanger - that I would have liked to have seen most. A third line of Brian Rolston, David Clarkson and Belanger would have become a pretty viable force with Rob Niedermayer dropping back to the fourth line. Alas it was not to be, as the Caps of all teams swooped in to acquire him for a second-rounder. Maybe Jacques Lemaire wasn't as high on Belanger as he was Skoula? That would be a bit scary.

More likely, Lou just didn't want to give up our second-rounder (and a high one at that since it's Atlanta's) and punt our entire draft next season since we already gave up a first-rounder in the Kovalchuk deal and a fifth-rounder for Skoula. From that standpoint I understand it but...geez. I know some people think faceoffs are overrated but just look at some tapes of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. Adam Oates (and the absence of Joe Nieuwendyk for the Devils) won at least one game for the Ducks just on the strength of winning faceoffs alone and was their most valuable player in that series.

Oh well, at least we can finally put the Scott Niedermayer speculation to bed once and for all. And I wasn't a big fan of bringing him back anyway given his declining level of play since his first 'retirement'. So we'll see how far we go with this hand. While I concede it's hard to envision us beating the Pens or Caps in a seven-game series, let alone both, even those teams have question marks. For the Pens, wing depth has always been suspect though Ponikarovsky helps there, not to mention how much juice will some of those players have after back-to-back deep playoff runs in an Olympics year no less? Of course, the Caps' main question aside from grit is their goaltending but it's not like any goaltender got dealt today that they could have had. So they did the next best thing and upgraded their D (and added a couple of defensively responsible forwards, to boot).

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