First, New Jersey sent pending UFA defenceman Andy Greene to the division-rival Islanders for 21-year-old prospect David Quenneville and a 2021 second-round pick. Then, shortly after, the team moved 28-year-old forward Blake Coleman to the Lightning for 19-year-old prospect Nolan Foote (taken 27th overall in 2019) and Vancouver’s first-round pick which the Lightning acquired in last summer’s J.T. Miller trade.
And it doesn’t appear the Devils are done yet.
“I’ve been fielding a lot of calls,” Tom Fitzgerald, who has been serving as the team’s interim GM since Ray Shero was fired last month, told NHL.com. “Teams call and ask me what I’m thinking, and I’ve been very transparent with all the general managers out there. I’m not just giving players away, but I’m not telling anyone that this player or that player is off limits.”
At 22-26-10 and well out of the playoffs again, the Devils still have a number of players they could potentially part with before the Feb. 24 deadline. That list would seem to include pending UFAs Wayne Simmonds and Sami Vatanen, but other players with term — such as Kyle Palmieri, Damon Severson and Miles Wood — have also come up in the rumour mill. The one name Fitzgerald said would not move is Travis Zajac.
“There are a lot of teams kicking the tires to see where we’re at,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m guessing my phone will ring a little more now after what I did today. I’m looking to really move the organization forward, and there are players here that will do that and help us.”
The Devils are just two years removed from being in the playoffs, but have been unable to build on that momentum. This season has been especially turbulent with the firings of coach John Hynes and Shero. The message the team had for its fans coming into the season was that the focus was on trying to win now, and they spent all summer making moves to back that up. But their moves a week out from the deadline now seem to indicate a willingness to build out a more long-term vision.
The Devils certainly have attractive pieces to start it with. Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, both No. 1-overall picks, give the team a strong foundation of centres to move into the future with. Goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, 23, has shown well despite the situation in front of him. And now they may hold three first-round picks in this summer’s draft, regarded as a deep class of talented players.
It’s not yet clear if Fitzgerald will remain in the GM chair after this season or not, but if he does, he talked about what his vision would be to move the Devils forward from here.
“I want to get better long term; that’s the goal. It’s not just a short fix in the next couple of years. We’re thinking big picture and thinking down the road. With (Hischier and Hughes) down the middle, the future is bright. Building a team around that age demographic is important, but we’re going to need some men too, because it’s a man’s league.”