Saturday, February 25, 2012

Devils deal for Zidlicky, honor Doc before loss to Canucks



Last night was certainly busy at the Prudential Center. Before the game, the Devils honored long-time announcer Doc Emrick with a ceremony paying tribute to his twenty-one seasons in the organization. During it, word filtered out about a trade for Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who instantly becomes the Devils' best puck-moving defenseman since Brian Rafalski. And oh yes, there was the game itself - a marquee matchup between the Devils and the Canucks (who had just ended the Red Wings' record-breaking win streak on home ice last night). Unfortunately the game didn't have as happy an ending as the Devils lost 2-1 despite dominating long stretches of the last fifty minutes.

First, the ceremony itself. Before the ceremony, the Devils gave Doc a few gifts, including a jersey with Doc on the back and a new Lincoln car which prompted genuine excitment from his wife, who dropped her flowers and her jaw. Doc was his usual genuine self after the fans' chants of 'Thank you, Doc!', acknowledging the hard-working guys like the Newark Penn Station popcorn maker and other everyday fans like the one who came up with the moniker of ZZPops for the Zach Parise-Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner line. His love for dogs certainly came out, reminding everyone that a lot of puppies need a good home, as well as his love for family (including the fact his nephew has one of his three Stanley Cup rings, and his brother has another).

And of course, his love for the Devils and the people he worked for and with were expressed, thanking the Devils for one of his favorite moments as a fan - the comeback against the Flyers in 2000, saluting past and current members like Larry Robinson, Patrik Elias, Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur for their contributions, among others. Conversely, I don't know if I have a favorite Doc moment myself. Between his voice, excitement and knowledge he was just a pleasure all the time - and still is whenever I get up to listening to him nationally. Just by default, you can't go wrong as a Devils fan citing 'The championship to New Jersey...the Devils win the Stanley Cup!' as your favorite Doc call after the Devils' first title in 1995.

Unfortunately after a great ceremony, the start of the game wasn't so fantastic, as the Devils fell behind early and generally looked dead-legged for the first ten minutes of the game. Coach Pete DeBoer acknowledged as much afterwards, saying we were standing around watching play for the first ten minutes. During a commercial break, I checked online as I usually do and found the Devils were close to a trade for Zidlicky, a puck-moving defenseman for the Wild who had been rumored to both be on the block and anxious to come here (since he's good friends with fellow Czechs Elias and Petr Sykora). Following that trade online on my phone became what held my interest for much of the first two periods.

Initial reports that we gave up very little for Zidlicky proved incorrect, the trade and terms finally became consummated sometime during the second period - when the Devils were now behind 2-0 - as the Devils gave up not only Kurtis Foster (rumored to be on the block since the Zidlicky rumors started), but also forwards Nick Palmeri and Stephane Vellieux, as well as a second-round pick this year, and a conditional third-rounder next year which we give up if the Devils reach the Conference Finals and Zidlicky plays 75% of the games.

While I was initially dissapointed we had to give up so much, really it was only about the pick(s) for me since I've never been a fan of Palmeri, Vellieux is more or less AHL fodder and Foster's basically only capable of playing on the power play (and even then, the mere threat of his 100 MPH shot seemed to contribute more to the PP than his actual play did). Granted, given the current market for defensemen, a second and a conditional pick for really the only puck-moving defenseman on the market seems to be fair. I wasn't sure Zidlicky would go for market value mainly because the player himself seemed dead set on waiving his NTC 'only' to come to New Jersey, plus he was having a bad year in Minnesota - frustrated by the system of new coach Mike Yeo.

Even GM Lou Lamoriello said his wanting to be here played a part. Addressing whether the Devils overpaid or not for Zidlicky, Lou gave another one of his Lou-speak answers...'We don't ever worry about what we give up, only what we're getting'. Calling Zidlicky a potential top two defenseman, he went into detail about the recon work he'd done, citing former coach Jacques Lemaire (who had Zidlicky in Minnesota), as well as current Devils assistant Dave Barr who was also on the Wild staff when Zidlicky was there as people he went to for first-hand knowledge on the player.

Given the fact the Devils have not only been searching for a legitimate puck-moving defenseman who can help the power play (Foster wasn't a puck mover, just a puck boomer) for years - but also a right-handed defenseman at that, Zidlicky fills both those needs with one trade. Not to mention he provides far more offense five-on-five than Foster ever did. Plus, while some people are concerned that Zidlicky's signed through next year at $4 million, it could wind up being a huge asset if Zidlicky's play turns around. He had been a 40-plus point defenseman for years before injuries last year and an off season this year got in the way, but I could definitely see him being rejuvanated here - filling an important role, being in a place he wants to be, and around people he knows and likes.

In the end, you certainly can't accuse Lou of not being 'all in' this year. He's absolutely all in, with this deal coming after trading for Alexei Ponikarovsky last month. Plus who knows, maybe Lou's not even done yet if he feels there's still a need for more forward depth. While all this was taking place, the Devils found their game legs and got back into the game through the leg of David Clarkson, after an Elias pass found Clarkson's leg instead of his stick, but the goal was allowed to stand after it was ruled there was no kicking motion.

Clarkson's 24th goal of the year at 11:30 pulled the Devils to within one, setting up a frantic final thirty minutes where the Devils had chance after chance but somehow couldn't get the puck past highly regarded backup Cory Schnieder. One home-run pass narrowly missed a wide-open Ilya Kovalchuk. Elias had a glorious chance in front but shot it right into Schnieder. Parise had a good chance in front but was stopped by the Vancouver netminder, who had me wishing they had played him the night before and starter Roberto Luongo last night!

All in all, still not a bad night. The Devils may have lost a game, but they played well against a good team and got a potential difference-maker for the rest of this season and next year without giving up any key pieces off the active roster. And it's always nice to see Doc again. As last night's emcee Matt Loughlin reminded us all not-so-subtly at the tail end of the ceremony, hopefully Doc will be able to do our games again the farther we go in the playoffs. That would be something to hear!

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