First it was the coach, now it’s the captain. And the New Jersey Devils’ season gets curiouser and curiouser.
Easily the worst team in the NHL this season and approaching all-time franchise futility - and that’s something for a club Wayne Gretzky once called a Mickey Mouse organization - New Jersey dealing Jamie Langenbrunner to Dallas Friday was a win-win and win, a thumbs-up for both teams and the player.
Despite the musings of conspiracy theorists, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and Langenbrunner stated Friday it was a mutual parting of the ways for a player who wasn’t going to be re-signed.
“It has nothing to do with Jamie as a person or a player,” Lamoriello said Friday via conference call. “Our relationship has been upfront and forward. I don't have any issues with Jamie."
Added Langenbrunner on his website: “I am leaving a first-class organization that has been like a family for the last 10 years. This organization's success over the past 10 years would be envied by most in the NHL community. But on the other hand, I am fortunate to be returning to another first-class organization with Dallas.”
A source close to the team told me that what Lamoriello and Langenbrunner have said was on the up and up. The GM needed salary cap space and was worried about losing Langenbrunner for nothing, either in the summer or via injury (Langenbrunner has been battling a fragile neck all season).
Lamoriello had actually asked the captain to waive his no-trade clause during training camp, but Langenbrunner balked. He agreed to do so in late-December contingent on being moved to a suitable team.
And the Stars are more than suitable. Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk and Langenbrunner are close friends and teammates who won a Stanley Cup together in Dallas in 1999 and were traded together by the Stars to New Jersey, where they won another Cup in 2003.
In Langenbrunner, 35, the surprising Stars get a player who, though he’s lost a step, remains an effective penalty killer and leader; don’t forget, he captained Team USA to within a breath of gold at the Vancouver Olympics.
Teammates had expressed a fondness for Langenbrunner and some openly stated they wished he would not be traded.
Well, it did happen, adding another chapter to a freefall in New Jersey that really is amazing. Atlantic Division champs with 103 points last season, the Devils (10-28-2 at the time of the trade) are set to miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons and are the odds-on favorites pick first overall at this June’s draft.
(As an aside, can you imagine the state of affairs in Jersey if the NHL had stripped the Devils of their 2011 first-rounder after last summer’s Ilya Kovalchuk shemozzle? Instead the Devils get to choose which one of their next four first-rounders they will relinquish.)
It’s interesting to note this isn’t the first time the Devils have gone from first to worst (or almost worst). They won the Cup in 1995 and missed the playoffs the next season before winning the Atlantic in 1996-97.
In the end this is a win for all involved parties.
Lamoriello wasted the 10th overall pick in ’96 on defenseman Lance Ward, who never signed and was picked again two years later by Florida. But you can bet that won’t happen this time around. Lamoriello will have his choice of the creme-de-la-creme of draft prospects in June.
Dallas, meanwhile, gets a proven winner who will add depth to the third line and help out on the penalty-kill and power-play units. That for what will be a second round draft pick if the team wins a playoff round or re-signs Langenbrunner and a third-rounder if neither happens.
(Stars fans should also be buoyed by the fact Dallas was able to take on salary despite the fact the franchise is up for sale and being run under a tight budget by bank lenders.)
In the end, Langenbrunner escapes a situation spiralling out of control; one that will likely get much worse before it gets better. A much-deserved reprieve for a true class act.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.