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Jamie Langenbrunner's 2010 was the Reason He had to Go & Other Thoughts About the Trade

The Captain celebrates a goal by his team - and not the one where he assisted Josh Bailey's first of the night  -  against the New York Islanders on Dec. 23, 2010. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Captain celebrates a goal by his team - and not the one where he assisted Josh Bailey's first of the night - against the New York Islanders on Dec. 23, 2010. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Today, the New Jersey Devils traded team captain and right wing Jamie Langenbrunner to the Dallas Stars for a conditional draft pick.    At a minimum, it will be Dallas' third round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft; however, if the Stars get past the first round of the playoffs or they re-sign him before the draft, it becomes a second round pick for this year.  The full list of conditions is spelled out here by Tom Gulitti. 

I want to thank Kevin for first posting the news here and Matt for his more in-depth post, which includes a link to the audio of the press conference Lou Lamoriello gave this morning.   I have a few additional thoughts about the deal that I think are best served here though.

Like John MacLean getting fired earlier this season, Jamie Langenbrunner was not traded because of one bad stretch of games or one really awful play like this one or even an extensive slump.  Langenbrunner was traded because of not meeting basic expectations over a longer period of time.  In this case, that would be the calender year of 2010. 

Let's start with the 2010 part of last season.  Langenbrunner was not only selected for United States men's ice hockey team for the 2010 Winter Olympics, but was appointed leader of the team.  He put up 1 goal and 3 assists in 6 games as the United States went all the way to the gold medal finals against Canada. While the U.S. didn't  get the gold, being the captain of one's country is high praise.  On top of that,  Langenbrunner ended the 2009-10 regular season with 9 goals and 20 assists in 2010, capping off another 60+ point season.  On paper, Langenbrunner was looking pretty good and played well on the ice.

However, the counting numbers don't gauge a player's morale and Langenbrunner was unhappy.  Unhappy that he was scratched for one game for maintenance purposes. Unhappy that he was forced get some rest by being given a night off.  And that unhappiness carried over into the playoffs, where Devils fans saw #15 take shifts off, not exert a full effort, or do much of anything positive for his team.  Against a rival in the playoffs.  I don't know about you, but I was appalled at what I saw.    Where was the guy who was difficult to play against at both ends of the rink?  Where was the Langenbrunner who had an in-series surgery and came back to play in 2009's postseason? Where was the Langenbrunner who led the American hockey team?  Yet, even in a must-win Game 5, the guy was the Invisible Man; playing with petulance instead of passion, carelessness instead of cause, and dejection instead of desire.

After the Devils were eliminated, a bombshell came out.  After Jacques Lemaire retired, Rich Chere reported in May that Langenbrunner (among others) had problems with Lemaire since the beginning of 2010.  Given that the Devils organization is very tight about it's internal workings, that even this came out all means this was more than just a simple disagreement.

It was all in the past, since Lemaire was gone for 2010-11.  He remained as captain.  For all intents purposes, Langenbrunner won.  No need to have a beef. Though, looking back on it now, I can't help but think this was a tipping point.  Three first-round exits in the playoffs as captain, and not only did he have problems with the head coach, those problems went public.  Given that management definitely were players in free agency, the expectation going in 2010-11 was another solid regular season and some postseason success. As for the player himself, Langenbrunner needed to remain a productive player and a leader to help the Devils meet these expectations and to boost his own value going into free agency in 2011.

2010 - Jamie Langenbrunner 31 4 10 14 -15 16 0 0 2 76 5.3

He didn't.  It's not even the lack of production, he's far from the only Devil who's been slumping in that department.  Check out these even strength numbers from Behind the Net.  While he's faced a slightly above-average quality of competition with a good quality of teammates, the Devils' shots against per 60 minutes goes up from 23.0 to 25.6 and the goals against per 60 minutes goes from a terrible 3.10 to an abysmal 4.32. Yes, Langenbrunner's corsi is quite good (thanks to being down early in a lot of games) and the Devils were more offensive when he was on the ice. (And on one occasion, he literally helped them do so.) Yet, the opposition was even more effective at the same time.  Needless to say, Langenbrunner's defense at 5-on-5 for the Devils this season was suspect as back.

Of course, it's more than just only 4 goals and the other team scoring at an obscene rate when he's on the ice. It's also his lack of motivation when the Devils start off a game poorly and are down in a hole and they continue to have more games like it.  It's also his lack of leadership when things go wrong, be it the umpteenth bad second period or a play that breaks down.  It's also the player meetings held that  ultimately didn't turn anything around in New Jersey.  When confronted by the media after a game, I noticed earlier this season that what Langenbrunner said rarely transferred to anything on the ice.  That was in November, and it didn't change.   The only other consistent part of Jamie Langenbrunner's 2010 year of this season was his defending of John MacLean to the press. 

Has anyone done a good job leading the Devils? No.  Do you need a "C" on your jersey to be a leader? No.  But the "C" on Langenbrunner's jersey wasn't for show; it's reasonable to expect him to try and inspire his teammates, to attempt to lead the team to better performances, and to have some sort of positive impact on the ice.  Langenbrunner failed to do that in the 2010 playoffs and in the 2010 part of this season.  At best, he wasn't being heard. At worst, he was a malcontent.  When Lemaire replaced MacLean in late December, I was sure the message to the players was to "deal with it" or expect to go elsewhere - especially to the guy who had a beef with Lemaire earlier in the year. 

Did Langenbrunner shape up for good?  Not really, and it became finally clear to Lou that while he's not the sole problem with this team, he isn't the solution.  And perhaps the "it" in the room the captain spoke of was Jamie Langenbrunner himself.

Feel free to reminisce about Langenbrunner's playoff heroics in 2003, or his productive seasons with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, or even his performance in the Olympics.  But what Langenbrunner did and didn't do in this past year as a Devil sealed his fate. 2010 was the reason he was dumped for a conditional pick. 2010 was why I say farewell to Jamie Langenbrunner.  You've done a lot in New Jersey, but you left with a mess that's at least partially your fault.

I have a few more thoughts about the trade after the jump.

A Mea Culpa, or A Sort-of End of the Unicorn Era

As far as I know, Jamie Langenbrunner became the first player to waive a no-trade clause to leave the New Jersey Devils.  I made a big deal last summer and throughout the year that since no Devil has ever waived it before, that a player with a no-trade clause isn't going to be dealt.  I ridiculed the notion that moving a player with a NTC from New Jersey by comparing it to asking for a unicorn.

The move made official today completely blows that notion up.   So consider this an admission: I have been proven wrong and I am sorry for mocking those earlier points. 

Still, I believe a ridiculous trade proposal should still be compared to asking for a unicorn. Of course, this doesn't mean anyone on New Jersey with a NTC is now easy to move.  Even in Langenbrunner's case, the player still had to be willing to waive the clause for the trade.   This leads me to this additional point.

Is Anyone Else a Little Surprised this Move was Even Made?

I'm still a little surprised at what went on with Langenbrunner over the last 24 hours.  We're talking about the captain of a 30th place NHL team, who has 4 goals and 10 assists in 31 games, and was revealed to have problems with the head coach of the team last season that won 48 games.  This isn't exactly an Ilya Kovalchuk-like situation from last season. Anyone who would want him could simply wait until July 1, 2011 and can have him without giving New Jersey an asset. 

Yet, not only was there interest but from multiple teams according to the end of this Tom Gulitti post.  And nearly all of them except for St. Louis and Dallas All of them are currently in position to make the playoffs. (Thanks for the correction, Jacob Shepherd.)

I guess other general managers in the league regard Langenbrunner well given his past seasons and his international work in 2010.  They regard this current season (or 2010 overall) as an anomaly.  Dallas, like the other teams possibly involved for Langenbrunner, are hoping that change of scenery will help the player perform better.  I think Brandon Worely's take on the Langenbrunner trade at Defending Big D is largely right.  A different role, where Langenbrunner doesn't have to be a leader or looked to put up points at a 60-point-season rate, could help him out which, in turn, helps Dallas.  After all, Dallas is one of the luckier teams this season per Gabe Desjardens and Langenbrunner can definitely use some given his current shooting percentage (a currently career-low of 5.3%).

We should so hope so, if only to turn that third round pick to a second round pick.   (Aside: Even if Langenbrunner doesn't re-sign in Dallas and the Stars don't get past the first round, having that third round pick is nice considering the NHL stripped it as part of their petulant punishment for the Ilya Kovalchuk signing this summer.)

Still, a captain not really leading a last-placed team and not really playing well on said last-placed team, commanded interest for a trade in early January.   That's rather odd, don't you think?

A "C" is Earned Not Given

With Langenbrunner now a Dallas Star, the Devils do not have an official captain.  Right now, there aren't any plans to name one right away and that's how it should be.  While Langenbrunner certainly hasn't been a leader on the ice (and possibly in the room, but we'll never know that for sure), I can't really say any Devil truly has been a leader this season.  Jacques Lemaire has a similar take on the captaincy issue, reported here by Tom Gulitti:

"What will the captain do more than the other guys? He’s the boss," he said. "I know everyone will say, ‘Oh, he’s crazy about this. He’s in center field. Every team has captains. It’s been there for 100 years.’ But when you think about it, good teams, it’s not only the captain because he’s got the C that the team becomes good. Maybe the guy that has the C does his share, but if he doesn’t have the C, he’s going to do his share too. You know why? Because he’s a team player and he’s a leader. He doesn’t need the C to be the leader."


"Leaders they lead. They want to win and they say, ‘This is what we’ve got to do.’ I don’t need a letter for this. Some guys are natural and they become captains. That’s perfect. Even the natural one, I look at (Sidney) Crosby. He doesn’t need a C because he’s a great one. That’s what I’m saying. (Mark) Messier didn’t need a C. (Scott) Stevens didn’t need C. It’s not the letter than makes the person."

While Lemaire thinks the team captain role is overrated, I do agree with this sentiment.  However, I want to know that whoever gets the letter next actually fills the role first.  I want someone on this team has to prove themselves as a leader before getting the "C."  So for now, I'm perfectly fine with no one as the team captain on the Devils.

That's why I'm not saying it's got to be Zach Parise.  He's got to earn it first.

One Last Point

Just like John MacLean getting fired would not immediately fix the Devils, Langenbrunner being traded will not immediately fix the Devils. 

That's all I have to really had to say about this transaction. Please feel free to add your thoughts about my take about the trade, the timing, the captaincy issue, and anything else about the trade in the comments.  Share with us what other moves you'd want to see, if you think the Devils will do more before the trade deadline. Thank you to Kevin and Matt for taking care of business during the day, and thank you for reading.