You’ve got to hand it to New Jersey Devils president, GM and CEO Lou Lamoriello. No matter the distractions -- the team's financial woes, the possible departure of his top player to free agency and the possible retirement of the greatest goaltender of all time -- he continues to keep his focus one thing: a Stanley Cup.
Now, suggesting that defenseman Marek Zidlicky -- acquired Friday night from Minnesota for defenseman Kurtis Foster, forwards Nick Palmieri and Stephane Veilleux and a second-round pick in 2012 and a conditional pick for 2013 -- is the missing piece to the Devils’ Stanley Cup puzzle might be overstating things a bit. But Zidlicky represents a number of things to a Devils squad that has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations thus far this season.
First, the 35-year-old is a defenseman in a marketplace that has been pretty much denuded of players with his experience. Whatever his warts, it is certainly better for the Devils that Zidlicky is a Devil than, say, a New York Ranger or a Boston Bruin or ... well, you get the drift.
Zidlicky, who has one more year left on his contract that pays him $4 million annually, has a number of countrymen in Newark, including Patrick Elias and Petr Sykora, and he clearly got good reviews on what was going on with the surprising Devils under coach Pete DeBoer. Or he could have simply looked at the standings and seen that the Devils had gone 9-2-1 in their past 12 games and had remade themselves virtually overnight into a bona fide Eastern Conference power.
Regardless, Zidlicky agreed to waive his no-movement clause and join the Devils.
Although the Devils’ financial plight, brought on in part by bickering among the team’s owners, has required the league to advance monies that were to be paid out at a later date, Zidlicky is the second player Lamoriello has added in recent weeks, the first being Alexei Ponikarovsky, who came over from Carolina.
The additions suggest that even though Zach Parise might depart as a free agent in July and Martin Brodeur might indeed retire, Lamoriello believes his team has the goods to go on its first long playoff run since its last Cup run in 2003.
Zidlicky has five times topped the 40-point mark and had a career-best 53 points for Nashville in 2003-04. But he has just 14 assists and zero goals this season, and he had run afoul of rookie head coach Mike Yeo and his staff in Minnesota. When the Wild began their precipitous slide from the top of the NHL standings in early December to their current standing as a playoff long shot, Zidlicky found himself a healthy scratch for a number of games and voiced his displeasure. That's when the clock began counting down to this moment.
“Zid’s a good hockey player. Sometimes these things happen,” Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher told reporters in Dallas, where the Wild were playing Friday. “He’s going to a team and a fresh start, and he’ll probably play well there."
With rookie defenseman Adam Larsson still recovering from a bruised back, Zidlicky will provide immediate assistance to the Devils’ 18th-ranked power play. But, bigger picture, the 35-year-old represents a veteran body capable of chewing up minutes and, theoretically, not getting rattled when the stakes get higher in the postseason. Although Zidlicky has played in just 14 NHL playoff games in his career, he has represented the Czech Republic at two Olympics and five World Championships.
The Wild, meanwhile, got some familiar faces back in the deal. Foster previously played for Minnesota, and Veilleux, 30, was a Wild draft pick in 2001. Palmieri is the youngster of the group at 22 and is a big body at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds.
Although Fletcher will have to make some adjustments, all three players are expected to be with the Wild down the stretch. Palmieri has big upside, given his youth and size, but the immediate impact will come from Foster, 30, who will ostensibly take Zidlicky’s place along a Minnesota blue line that has been hit hard by injury.
Foster began the season in Anaheim and was dealt to New Jersey in December. Of his 14 points this season, 11 have come on the power play.
“Trading a defenseman like Zidlicky that logged a lot of minutes, we needed to bring in an NHL defenseman, so getting Kurtis was a key component to this deal,” Fletcher said. “He has a big right-handed shot we think will help our power play.”
Fletcher also added what could be two more assets in the form of a second-round pick in this June’s draft and a conditional third-round pick in 2013, if the Devils advance to the conference final in this year's playoffs. For a franchise that has struggled to draft and develop its own talent, Fletcher has been trying to balance the immediate needs of the Wild with long-term stocking of previously barren shelves.