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The New Jersey Devils made a ton of noise on Sunday, pulling off a pair of sizeable trades a week in advance of the trade deadline.
Interim GM Tom Fitzgerald shipped captain Andy Greene to the New York Islanders in exchange for a 2nd round pick in 2021.
He then sent some shockwaves through the hockey world, dealing fan favorite Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a high-end futures package including a 1st round pick and top Lightning prospect Nolan Foote.
Between the trades, returns, and what the deals actually mean, there is a *ton* to get here so I’m going to dive right in and address as much as possible.
On the Andy Greene trade
• I think a 2nd round pick for Greene is really strong value. I’m not surprised Fitzgerald was able to get it – veteran, no-nonsense defenders always attract interest – but he still deserves credit. Greene is a 37-year-old, one-way defender. He’s not what he was even a couple of years ago. His even-strength defense, in my opinion, has headed south. He is still serviceable there but, in my opinion, the only area he’s clearly above average is on the PK. He doesn’t bring much else – at least on the ice – at this point of his career. Greene’s average Game Score, which is more or less an all encompassing stat to help paint a picture of overall impact, is .06 this season. That ranks 4th among blueliners on the Devils, and 7th on the Islanders. The only guy he is ahead of is Johnny Boychuk (.05 GS per game). A 2nd round pick is a coup.
• A lot of people are upset about waiting a year for the 2nd. I have no problem with it. I think the Devils were likely to get a softer return if they wanted the asset to help immediately. I also think the pick could be more valuable then. The Islanders are tied for 7th in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche. We *know* this year’s 2nd is not going to be remotely high. That may not be the case next year. A good portion of their core (Andes Lee, Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, etc.) will be on the wrong side of 30 next season. Maybe a couple of them start to slow down. Maybe they don’t adequately replace pending UFA Thomas Greiss, who has been one of the NHL’s better goaltenders over the last couple years. Maybe a key player like Mathew Barzal suffers an injury (not that you would pull for that) and the team has an off-year as a result. Again, we know this year’s pick won’t be high. There is a lot that can happen to make the story different a year from now. The Devils also (potentially) have three 1sts round picks this summer so they have the high-end pieces to a) draft impact prospects and/or; b) convert one into a quality NHL player right now.
• I think the Islanders are the perfect landing spot for Greene. He gets to play on a strong team that will especially value what he brings to the table. He will be reunited with the GM that gave him his NHL start. He doesn’t have to move across the country and completely uproot his family. It’s perfect. I know Greene had a NTC, and control over the situation, but he has to be pretty happy about Fitzgerald finding him the perfect destination as opposed to asking him to do something he might not be comfortable with. Greene was given the respect he deserves in this process, and that surely sits well with him. If things don’t work out with the Islanders, or he wants to return to New Jersey and is willing to take a team-friendly deal, the two sides could still reconvene. It’s important to keep the relationship strong and the options open.
On the Blake Coleman trade
I should preface this by noting I do analytics work for the Kelowna Rockets, Nolan Foote’s junior team. I watch him all the time and obviously want him to do well. With all that said, I was also a fan of his game *before* joining the Rockets this season and don’t think my want for Foote to be a quality NHLer impacts my evaluation of whether he can be a quality NHLer.
• I love Coleman; I like to think I was one of the leaders of his fan club over the last couple of years. He is legitimately everything that you want in a player. He has skill, speed, smarts, edge and a relentless work ethic. If the Devils were *remotely* good right now, he’d be a guy you do everything to keep around. Unfortunately, the timeline of Coleman’s peak doesn’t exactly align with the timeline of the core’s peak and it made sense to move him (provided the return was high, which it was). I know people are sick of the team rolling the ball of contention a little further out of reach but it’s pretty easy for neutral parties to see this was a great trade for the team. Coleman will be on the wrong side of 30 one (1) month into his next contract. One month. He is a late bloomer, sure, but he plays a robust style that might not age well. He is going to get quite a bit of money and term. It just doesn’t make sense for the Devils to pay it. In Foote and a 1st round pick, the Devils landed two assets that could convert into long-time players to grow with Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and the young core of this team.
• I know Coleman does a lot beyond the boxscore and I fully realize the complete player he is. There’s a reason the contending Tampa Bay Lightning gave up an arm and a leg to get him. But let’s be realistic here. Coleman put up 25 points in 2017-18 and 36 in 2018-19. This year it feels like he’s been the best player of all-time and he’s on pace for 44 points. Again, not knocking the player remotely. He’s awesome. It’s a stretch to suggest Foote could be the kind of defensive player/PKer Coleman is (he’s almost unmatched in those regards) but I can confidently say, if Foote reaches it, his potential *ceiling* during peak years is higher than 44 points and the Devils landed a 1st round pick on top of him. If they were to make this trade even a year ago, I think every single person in the fanbase would be celebrating in the streets. Yes, Coleman is clearly much better than his salary suggests. But there’s a reason he signed for $1.8 million not too long ago. The Devils sold high here. As much as it sucks to do, if his goal scoring dried up a bit next season (and he was only available for one playoff run as opposed to two) the return wouldn’t be in the same ballpark as now.
• I think this trade says a couple of things. One, the Devils are embracing a retool and (smartly) trying to build around their core of Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Mackenzie Blackwood. They have Ty Smith, Jesper Boqvist and now Foote on the way. They also have three 1sts this year if Vancouver makes the playoffs (and Arizona doesn’t end up with a top-3 pick). There is a ton of ammunition to add impact prospects, or flip for younger established players to support and grow with the core. I understand frustration from fans about wanting the team to start adding and taking steps forward, as opposed to back, but Fitzgerald can’t control what happened five years ago. All he can do is make the best decisions for the future of the team and I think he did that.
• My other takeaway from this is Fitzgerald has a really good shot of sticking around long-term. At least he should. The Devils didn’t have to trade Coleman. He is under contract for another year. That ownership let Fitzgerald move him, and do something to help shape the long-term outlook of the team, suggests they believe in his plan. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be letting him make moves that don’t need to be made. It was odd to let Ray Shero trade a former MVP if he wasn’t going to be around long-term, however, Hall was a pending UFA. You could see it had to be done regardless of who is in charge. That was not the case with Coleman. The return wouldn’t have been as good but, if the Devils were going to hire a new GM with a different view of things, that GM could have traded Coleman in a few months.
• If the Devils have three 1sts this year, I think there is a very real chance they move one to get somebody who can help now (and long-term). Fitzgerald hinted at as much in his meeting with the media after the game. He’s not going to make a trade just to do it, but he also knows the kids do need support and the team needs to start becoming competitive. All these picks give him a ton of assets to utilize in order to get long-term players. We know ownership is getting a little antsy and doesn’t want to suck forever. If there is a deal to be made, I could see a 1st and/or 2nd (the Devils have one within the next two drafts now) being parted with.
• ‘So why didn’t they just keep Coleman?’ For one, he’ll be 30 in Y1 of an extension. They also landed a potential top-6 forward and a 1st for a player with 1.5 seasons of control. Foote and whoever the Devils draft will be under team control for a long, long time. Even if the Devils wish to cash the 1st in they’ll theoretically be getting a player in his early-to-mid 20s, let’s say. That makes more sense than paying a premium for a player exiting his prime.
• OK, now it’s time for the fun. By now everyone knows Foote is regarded as a quality prospect. But what does he bring to the table? I’ve watched and tracked 60,000 of his games (that might be a stretch but I’m wired off my delicious red bull so let that pass) and think I have a pretty good handle on it. I can’t really share the data we track with the Rockets but I’ll give you plenty of background on him, don’t worry.
Foote is a 6’4, 200+ pound power forward. Not a modern-day power forward; an old school one. He hits like a truck and everything he does is powerful. He has the size, puck protection skills, and motor to bulldoze his way to the net. That’s hardly how he scores all his goals, though. Foote possesses an absolute cannon of a shot. It is already NHL caliber and, in my estimation, one of the best in junior hockey. He has a nice release and his one-timer is lethal. He does a ton of damage teeing up just above the circle on the power play, much like Kyle Palmieri does in New Jersey.
While Foote is more of a shooter/scorer than a playmaker, I think he is underrated in that regard. He has the sense and passing ability to find a teammate and make you pay if you’re too zeroed in on him, as shown here.
I know a lot of people talk about Foote’s skating. I think it is fine. He’s not going to blow the doors off of defenders but he’s hardly laboring out there. There is some power/burst in his stride, and I don’t think his skating will be much of an issue. Palmieri is not a burner and has no problem scoring goals. John Tavares is not a burner and has no problem scoring goals. Alex DeBrincat is not a burner and he scored 41 as a 21-year-old. Anyway, you get it.
I have also seen people cite Foote’s production and say he lacks true offensive upside. I don’t have a ton of concern there. He averaged a smidgen under a point per game in his draft year while potting 36 goals, which was 13 clear of his closest teammate.
This season he has 33 points in 26 games (missed time with an injury + played at the World Juniors) and is easily the best chance generator on the team. It isn’t even close.
I don’t think he’s going to be putting up 80 a year or anything but I think he could be a 30-goal, 50-60 point guy. I mean, he would get no shortage of opportunities to put that lethal shot to use riding shotgun with Hischier or Hughes – and that’s no doubt the long-term plan.
Up front the Devils have long lacked a) goal scorers and; b) physical players who can actually play for a long, long time. I think Foote has the potential to address both of those concerns and that’s what makes him such an attractive piece to add to the core.
• With regards to Foote’s ETA, I don’t think he’s too, too, far off. He may not be a regular next season but he’ll be playing pro hockey and I think he’s a good bet to, at the very least, suit up in a handful of NHL games at some point. This isn’t a player you have to wait three years for.
numbers via HockeyStatCards.com and HockeyDB.com
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