Moments after trading their captain, Andy Greene, to the Islanders, the Devils have continued the deadline purge by trading Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lighting for their 2019 1st rounder (Nolan Foote) and Vancouver’s 1st rounder that Tampa has acquired in the J.T. Miller trade.
This post will serve as a summary of the 3 different components involved and a commentary on what the larger implications of the move will be.
What Are The Devils Losing?
Blake Coleman is #2 on the Devils in GAR behind only Kyle Palmieri with whom he shares the goal-scoring lead on the team. After making the opening night roster in 2017-18, Coleman has slowly ascended the ranks of the team, becoming a bona fide top 6 forward on this edition of the Devils with linemates Travis Zajac and Nikita Gusev (for whom Coleman deserves at least part of the credit for helping find his game).
Coleman has been an elite penalty killer during his entire tenure as a Devil and at various times, like the forward blight of 2018-19 and large stretches of this season, he’s been legitimately the best skater on the entire roster. He’s been one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL the past 3 years (13th in the entire NHL in even-strength defensive value, and 7th in shorthanded defensive value by GAR), and the fact that he’s leading the Devils in scoring just makes it all that much easier to say what many Devils fans who have watched him have been saying for 2+ seasons — Coleman is a 200-foot force.
Tampa has probably the most talented forward corps, and team, in the NHL and Coleman adds an element of defensive aggression without sacrificing offensive punch. Also, very importantly for Tampa, he does it for 2 seasons at a criminally underpaid $1.8M AAV. For a team ready to go for a cup now, this was, frankly, a no-brainer. But that doesn’t mean the Devils necessarily lost the trade.
What Are The Devils Gaining?
On Scott Wheeler’s prospect rankings for The Athletic($), Nolan Foote is the #2 prospect in their pool. Based on Mason Black’s NHLe (nhl scoring equivalency), he’s their highest scoring prospect.
He was the first round Tampa draft pick (27th overall) in 2019, and at 6’4’’ 201 lbs coming off a 36-goal season in the WHL he is best described as a big scoring winger. The fact the he’s been given the “C” for his team, the Kelowna Rockets, should also be considered encouraging. Defensive games are very difficult to project, and Coleman was special in that regard, but Foote does project as a similar type of offensive player to Blake. Future Considerations described him as “powerful on the puck” and “unstoppable bull on the wall or in a straight line to the net,” and Wheeler said he “has a chance to become a good second line scorer who provides a physical element and length to a line.” Sound familiar?
Along with a premier prospect, the Devils picked up a 1st rounder that, importantly, was from Vancouver not Tampa. I say this because Tampa is viewed by many as the Stanley Cup favorite at this point so their 1st rounder would be the least valuable 1st round asset in the NHL. It’s also important to note that the Vancouver 1st round pick would conditionally slide to 2021 if the Canucks miss the postseason this year, which doesn’t seem likely for the Pacific Division leaders, though. It becomes the Devils 3rd 1st round pick along with their own and the Arizona 1st acquired in the Hall trade.
I talked, last month, about arguments for/against trading players like Coleman and Palmieri. The summary was as follows:
The case for trading them is: 1) We aren’t competing next season, 2) We’ve wiped the leadership clean and don’t want to saddle them with pieces from the old guard, 3) 28 is old for a forward, and they’ll likely both seek a payday, so we may not want to give them their next contract. The case for not trading them is: 1) With Hischier/Hughes, we’re not THAT far from competence, and we risk squandering it by stripping all pieces, 2) they allow us to get better assessments of players like Gusev, Hughes, etc. by playing them in real systems with legit NHLers, 3) their particular skillsets don’t age as poorly as other comparably valuable players.
We had wondered what the plan from ownership would look like with Shero and Hynes gone. Many had theorized that Shero wanted to tear down and the ownership wanted to compete sooner. Then some were talking about “hockey trades” rumored for the Devils this deadline. Here’s what is now clear — those were wrong, and the Devils’ rebuild 2.0 is officially on. It also makes you wonder what other trades (Palmieri?) may be imminent. I’d say you may as well put a fork in, not only this season, but the 2021 season as well. You don’t remove an MVP and the best 200-ft player from an already-last-place team and expect to be competent in the near future. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that for a team that seemed to be spiraling in all respects earlier this season, the future is looking bright again. Blackwood has stabilized out goaltending position, Binghamton is among the hottest teams in the AHL, we’ve added substantial pieces (Bahl, Merkley, Foote) to our prospect pool AND have 3 firsts in what is generally viewed as an excellent 2020 draft. It’s a tough pill to swallow for fans who just a few months ago though the future was now, but as disappointing as it is, I have to say it does not feel directionless. The goal, as stated by Tom Fitzgerald, is to compile assets and build the team around the core of Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. And given the management mayhem we have endured, that clear vision does feel like a pleasant change.
On a personal note, Coleman was my favorite player on the team and I’d be lying if I said it were easy to watch him go for any price. This team that traded their last fan favorite (Henrique) for a defender that will probably be gone soon as well, and watching them trade Coleman just 3 years after bringing him up and winning over the hearts of fans makes it feel difficult to grow too attached to anyone not named Hischier, Hughes, or Blackwood.
This season, there were a lot of games that I felt most of the players were treading water out there. Then Blake Coleman would come on with his trademark relentless forecheck and physicality and single-handedly change the momentum of the game. I will miss watching him get better every year. I will miss watching him make life hell for the best forwards in the world. I will miss all the Pickles memes. And I will miss Blake Coleman.
What do you guys think of the trade? Did we get enough? Are you ready to be bad for another full season? How do you feel about Nolan Foote? What does this mean for the rest of the trade deadline? Vote in the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
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