Thursday, July 28, 2011

Devils trade Rolston to Isles for Hunter

Since last offseason, Devils winger Brian Rolston has been rumored to be on the move and from mid-December on (when he got waived twice), nobody was more aware than Rolston himself that there was hard truth to the rumors. Particularly given his $5 million cap figure and declining production. However, nobody claimed him or dealt for him before last season's trade deadline and Rolston picked up his play in the second half of the season like a professional, turning in some of his best hockey in either of his stints as a Devil with twelve goals and seventeen assists in his last 44 games played - including a memorable shootout winner over the Isles in early March where he 'called his shot' on the bench.

Despite that improved production, Zach Parise's return this year - whether he signs long-term or not - would have relegated Rolston to the third line once again, a role he chafed in earlier in his Devil tenure. Between that and his still too-high salary for next season, perhaps it was inevitable something would finally happen now that Rolston was on the last year of his deal. And today, something did happen as Rolston finally got dealt to the Islanders for injury-prone winger Trent Hunter - giving the Devils $3 million of cap savings - and another option at RW, a position we are a bit thin at.

While Rolston does have a NTC and could have declined to be dealt to the Isles, he admitted post-trade that he had for all intents and purposes waived the NTC for any destination GM Lou Lamoriello wanted to send him. For his part, Rolston was pleased to be going to Long Island given the proximity to his home and the fact he has a near-guaranteed role in the top six. Not to mention you could feel the edge in his voice just by seeing his quote about it being nice to go somewhere that he was wanted.

I've had my differences with Rolston since he returned to the Devils and has largely underperformed his contract, but you have to at least give him credit for not going in the tank and being an asset to the Devils' second half run. Not everyone who knew they weren't wanted would have reacted with the same professionalism (cough Jamie Langenbrunner cough). So, despite his underachieving I do wish him well next season and beyond. And while the Isles' primary motivation may have been to acquire Rolston's salary to approach the cap floor, they do also get the better player in the deal.

As far as where the Devils go from here, well the 31-year old Hunter if healthy (he missed most of last season witha n MCL injury) provides another intriguing option to the third or fourth line, an upgrade over a lot of the guys fighting for spots here - particularly on the right side where we have only the young Nick Palmeri, inconsistent David Clarkson and hard-working but undertalented Danius Zubrus currently above Hunter on the depth chart.

Sure, you can argue the Devils' primary motivation for the deal was financial flexibility, since you can get rid of Hunter's salary (via the minors or LTIR) where you couldn't get rid of Rolston's because of his 35+ deal. That said, I didn't really think we needed another trade to fit in a possible long-term deal for Parise - not unless his cap figure was going to be north of $8 million and we wanted to give Bryce Salvador a chance to win a job in camp. Either way, getting rid of a non-essential piece and gaining much-needed financial flexibility (if not for Parise, then for another possible trade or signing down the road) should help us and gaining his salary and another vet presence should help the Isles.

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