Thursday, February 24, 2011

Weekend of decisions for the Devils

As the NHL trade deadline looms just days away, teams have already made deals in the weeks and days leading up to the deadline with the Panthers' Cory Stillman being the latest to change residences - again, as he gets traded back to Carolina - again. Other teams will continue to wait till the last minute and the Devils are one of those teams, with good reason.

Currently sitting on the edge of the playoff race nine points back of those eighth seeded Hurricanes, everyone in the Devils' locker room knows that a good weekend in Florida (with games against Tampa tomorrow night and the Panthers Sunday) will encourage GM Lou Lamoriello to stand pat, or even perhaps make some small addition. Alternately, a couple of losses and unfavorable results from the out-of-town scoreboard could lead to multiple Devil UFA's getting shipped out, including center Jason Arnott and perhaps even defenseman Andy Greene and goaltender Johan Hedberg. Arnott, in particular will have to decide whether to waive his no-trade clause or even request a deal himself to a contender higher up in the standings.

While it seems a lot of pressure to put on one weekend, each game for the Devils has had a Game 7-like urgency to it for a while now. Though we don't neccesarily need another 16-1-2 stretch in our last 22 games to make the postseason, it probably will take something very close to that kind of pace (if 91 points are neccesary, it'll take a 17-4-1 run to get to 91). A pace the team will surely not maintain if they become sellers at the deadline. So after a desultory performance Tuesday in Dallas led to an unhappy Jacques Lemaire, it appears as if the team's re-focused now according to the latest reports from practice.

Speaking of Hedberg, that leads to the other major decision facing the Devils in the next few games...what to do about HOF'er-to-be Martin Brodeur? He will be sitting out his fourth straight game in favor of Hedberg (who hasn't lost in regulation since early January) since coming off of IR last Friday. As has been the case for almost all of Brodeur's career, he's handled a potentially sticky situation with class - this despite the fact that Brodeur was also playing well again before he got hurt in Montreal a couple of weeks ago.

“He’s been playing unbelievable and it’s only fair for the team if there’s a guy that’s playing really well,” Brodeur said. “Unfortunately I got hurt. It happens. Lou (Lamoriello) brought him in for a reason and it’s paying dividends right now the way he’s been playing. I’ll get back in the net eventually and we’ll just continue with what Jacques (Lemaire) has been doing.”

As odd as it is to see Brodeur on the bench for meaningful games, Lemaire's making the right call here - you have to keep Hedberg in for as hot as he's been (eight straight wins since Brodeur got hurt, one goal allowed in his last three starts). Of course it'll be interesting to see what happens when Hedberg finally loses a game and what the goalie rotation becomes, or when Brodeur will get the call next if Hedberg does keep winning for a few games. One thing is for sure though, with Brodeur having rounded back into form in January and Hedberg being as hot as any goalie in the league in February, who's actually in goal is the least of our concerns.

What should be the biggest of our concerns right now is a Tampa team that is still in first place ahead of the Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals in the Southwest and roasted the Coyotes (winners of eight straight) 8-3 last night. Granted, our third-period comeback against Tampa in early January started this roll and we roasted them in Florida a few nights later but you can't ever overlook a team with the likes of Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier. And with the trade deadline just days away, the focus should be clear. The next goals are to get to the deadline with the team intact, and eventually get to .500 - currently we're only four under, an astounding total from the nineteen under we were before that aformentioned Tampa comeback. If those two things happen soon, the playoffs will become a very realistic goal.

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