The young guns are ready to tear the Honda centre apart. Fleet-of-foot defensemen. Dynamic 30-goal scorers. After two consecutive victories, these stars of the game are ready to rip this game a new one.
Unfortunately for the Ducks, they’re not Ducklings anymore. The New Jersey Devils, over the past few years, have accumulated a handful of now ex-Ducks. Although the trending perception is that they’re in the midst of a rebuild, the Devils are using those discarded Ducks to force their way into the playoff hunt. But how did they all arrive there?
The Reverend, Ben Lovejoy, was the first of the bunch to move to Ducks East and signed there in 2016 as an unrestricted free agent. Signing with his former General Manager (from his Pittsburgh days), he had this to say at the time: “The Devils were a situation where I was comfortable,” Lovejoy said. “I told teams all along that I didn’t need to hit a home run. I wanted to come to a place where I felt wanted, where I was comfortable. I wanted to live and play on a team that was good, and I think the Devils were a perfect spot for me.” Ducks fans will remember him as being a great guy, and a solid foot soldier, that was miscast as a top pairing defenseman. Something that he himself was aware of, as he did (with tongue firmly in cheek) thank Cam Fowler for carrying him during his time with the Ducks, as he was leaving town as the outgoing part of a trade for Simon Despres.
Kyle Palmieri, known in some quarters as “Murray’s Lament,” is a current top 6 Right Wing with the New Jersey Devils. With a rationale that might have been the worst in the history of any sport ever, the man affectionately known as Palms was moved to the Devils because his team’s management at the time predicted that he would score too much in the following year - a year he was signed to a very team friendly 1.6 million dollar deal. Unironically, then - and current - GM Bob Murray could not have been more right. The league watched Palmieri pile up 30 goals in the very next season. Following his 30 goal season, he capitalized on his restricted free agency status, electing to sign with the team that had control of his rights. A “choice” that all RFA’s in the NHL, similarly make. The season directly after, he potted 26 more wonderful goals. This current season, an injury cruelled trainwreck, Palmieri currently sits on 19 goals and 35 points in 52 games played. But fear not Ducks fans! Surely trading such a burgeoning young star would net assets to soothe even the sharpest pain and wickedest of wounds! Let us explore this mystery...
June 26, 2015. A day of infamy.
Palmieri was traded from the Anaheim Ducks to the New Jersey Devils. The return: A 2015 2nd round pick (on-traded with Emerson Etem as part of the Carl Hagelin trade - who was later traded for Perron - who left as an unrestricted free agent for no return), and a 2016 3rd round pick (on traded to Buffalo for Jamie McGinn - who left as an unrestricted free agent for no return). For completeness, the Ducks also received a 2nd round and 6th round pick in the 2015 entry draft as part of the Etem-Hagelin trade. Those picks were used to draft Julius Nattinen and Garrett Metcalf. As they say, the Devils in the details.
Stefan Noesen initially arrived in Anaheim as part of the now fabled Bobby Ryan trade. Unfortunately for him, injuries hampered his time with the Ducks, and he only played a small handful of games (14 to be precise). The Devils plucked young man with the now bionic leg off of the waiver wire in the early part of 2017. For those keeping track at home, that means that Jakob Silfverberg and Nick Ritchie are the sole relevant remaining pieces following the trade of three sub-24 year old 30 goal scorers (Palmieri, Ryan, and William Karlsson*). Since being claimed Noesen has played just under 100 games for the Devils, and scored slightly in excess of 30 points. Not too bad for a waiver wire pick up.
*For a complete picture - although not relevant to this game - Karlsson was moved with Rene Borque and a 2015 2nd round pick, for James Wizniewski and a 2015 3rd round pick. The Wiz was later moved for Anton Khudobin, who left in free agency for no return. The pick, originally Detroit’s, was used by the Ducks to selected Brent Gates.
Sami Vatanen had long been rumored to be on the trade block, but many thought that when Shea Theodore was moved in the expansion draft in a bid to sway the Las Vegas Golden Knights selection process, that Sami might have been safe. Surely, no one would consider trading away a top 4 defenseman in the same time frame as moving that players replacement, as well as an additional defensive depth player? Well, fool on us. Bob Murray pulled the trigger, sending Vatanen and a conditional 3rd round pick to the Devils for current third line centre Adam Henrique, prospect Joseph Blandisi, and 3rd round pick in the 2018 entry level draft. Rumors have it that this was a trade that was in the works from near enough to the previous draft. This paragraph is not an attempt to evaluate the trade, now 6 months in the past. However, it can be said that Henrique’s goals were valuable in chasing a playoff berth and that Vatanen has been playing top pairing minutes for the Devils. Both players have been contributing similar points totals, with Henrique a mere 2 points ahead (28 in 47 games vs 26 in 46 games) of Vatanen, despite the 16.2% difference in shooting percentages. We all have our opinions of the trade and the value of both players, so I’d just like to use this moment to remind you that you’re welcome to come at me in the comments, and more importantly, that you’re all wrong. Sami is the greatest.
Somewhat surprisingly for a team thought to be in rebuild mode, the Devils made a small splash at this year's trade deadline by acquiring Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon. Both players were paid for in the currency of all rebuilding teams, that currency being draft picks. After dealing with early career troubles, Maroon has lived somewhat of a charmed life. He has tasted playoff success with the Ducks, playing with superstar pivot Ryan Getzlaf. Then more fleeting playoff success with superstar centre Connor McDavid (potentially fleeting because they traded the second best LW in the game for a depth defenceman?). Now it appears he’ll see it once again, playing off-wing to superstar Taylor Hall (the prior mentioned 2nd best LW in the game). With 6 points in his 7 games since crossing over to New Jersey, it appears that he’s found a comfort level quickly with his new (and old) teammates. Should he score versus the Ducks tonight, it will hurt for double given that Anaheim is still on the hook for $500,000 of his $2,100,000 salary.
And that's the tale of how Ducks became Devils. You can hear it now can’t you?
Speaking of the Ducks, they’ve gritted their way to the very definition of winning ugly. In what was No Country for Old Men, is now on the Old Guys Rule bandwagon, after the venerable, the august, the eminent goat-footed fire breather Jason Chimera dragged the Ducks over the line versus the Vancouver Canucks. His linemate and living fossil Chris Kelly also got in on that action, picking up a point in the victory. Most recently, the Ducks slugged it out (literally) with the Detroit Red Wings. Doing themselves no favours in trying to convince the hockey world that the Ducks are a clean team, Nick Ritchie, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry, all punched some faces and scored some goals. It perhaps wasn't the most highly skilled of games - although there were moments - however, there was some entertainment value to be had amongst the hugs that were thrown down on the night. Not the least being a thunderous hit on Cam Fowler in the first period. But that's all in the past.
Currently, the Ducks are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Although they sit on 84 points for the season, their lack of regulation wins has them bumped out of the Pacific top three by the Kings and, potentially, the Sharks. The Sharks seem somewhat unreachable at this stage despite being only a little further in front on standings points. Nonetheless, its a 3 game lead that should be tough to beat given they have a similar schedule to the ducks with regards to remaining games - although theirs may be a little tougher, with only 1 non-playoff team, to the ducks 3 non-playoff teams, remaining on the schedule. Which could only leave 3rd in division, or the wildcard spots, available to steal. The wild card entries similarly to the Kings, sit on 84 points. The same issue remains, that both teams currently have the tiebreaker, and the Avalanche have a game in hand. With Nathan MacKinnon in all-world form, who knows how high they can climb before the season is out. All that remains is for the Ducks take care of business. The three-win, three-loss, trend that has occurred of as of late is not going to cut it going forward. The Ducks, if they desire to not be golfing come April, desperately need to pry the door to playoffs back ajar, with a resounding victory tonight.
Fresh off of a warm-up, practice run, against the LA Kings (3-0 Devils win), the Devils should be single and ready to flamingo. Keith Kinkaid had the net last night so it appears that Ducks fans will get a chance to see the new best goaltender in the world, John Gibson, face off against the previous best goaltender in the world, Cory Schneider. Given they cant keep the puck out, and the Ducks can’t score, it should be an interesting battle of attrition to see which team folds first. With the fresh legs, one would expect that the Ducks to run away with this one, but we’ve all seen them play down to their opposition in the past. The Devils faster, younger, legs, could catch the aging hips the Ducks are saddled with, on the hop. The Devils did the Ducks a solid last night by giving the Kings a spanking, let us hope that the Ducks can capitalize on their good fortune and emerge victorious this evening.
All Eyes on Me
The obvious answer is Kyle Palmieri. Or Patrick Maroon. Or perhaps more likely, my truest of loves, Sami Vatanen. A player I'm in no way bitter about trading away for a generic 3C and some prospect I had to google the name of. However, tonight it will be hard to stop watching Taylor Hall carve through the remains of the Ducks defensive unit. Fresh off a point streak for the ages; 38 points in a 26 games long streak (one of only two of such length in the past 20 years). Hall is the dagger in the hearts of Edmonton Oilers fans everywhere and should be one of the favourites for the league MVP trophy. He’s a stud muffin of the highest order, easily the second-best Left Wing in the game behind Alex Ovechkin, and worth the price of admission on every occasion.