Slowly but surely, though, players started to return. However, the Devils still were in search of a goaltender who could deliver some stability, someone who could provide some missing leadership.
So on Nov. 23, Trenton coach Rick Kowalsky pulled the trigger on a deal that brought former Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Gerald Coleman to New Jersey's capital city in exchange for future considerations.
Just over two months later, the Devils find themselves nine points out of first place in a very tight North Division.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we had to find some bodies," Kowalsky told NHL.com. "We picked up Charlie Effinger, and he came in and played well. Once we lost (Jeff) Frazee for good, we decided to make a move for a goaltender. We got Coleman, and then it all kind of slowly started to come together. I think he was the final piece. We were playing well when we got him. We've developed some chemistry it's started to snowball for us."
Even though he's only just 23, the 6-foot-4 goaltender has experienced a lot in his professional career. A seventh-round pick of the Lightning in 2003, Coleman's rookie season (2005-06) featured 43 appearances with the American Hockey League's Springfield Falcons and two games with Tampa Bay. He was just 20 years old.
That experience has left Coleman's new teammates asking the goalie about his time in the NHL -- the place where he and everyone else in the locker room wants to be.
"Even this week, guys were asking me what it was like to play in the NHL," Coleman said. "Some of the rookies are older than I am, but this is my fourth year being pro. I know what it's about and I just try to help them out. They ask me questions here and there."
Clearly, Coleman's presence has made a huge difference for Trenton on and off the ice. In 18 games for the Devils, the Romeoville, Ill. native is 14-2-1 with a league-leading 1.63 goals-against average and three shutouts.
"If you're playing well, the team kind of follows you that way," Coleman said. "If they follow you, you have to step up. I think with the way I've been playing and us winning games, they kind of rely on me to be a leader in the dressing room. I think I've done that more than ever in my career."
Kowalsky has been very impressed with new his goaltender and the professionalism he's brought to the locker room. He's happy to see Coleman isn't afraid to express himself, if necessary.
"Gerald will speak up once in a while," Kowalsky said. "Not a lot of goalies are vocal, but when he talks the guys listen. They respect him for the way he carries himself. He's got a little bit of experience behind him. We know that if we do have a breakdown, he's going to be there for us. We've played well in front of him.
"He's focused and he's very composed in there. He's good in the room. He's been around. He's been at the NHL level. He's pretty much seen everything. He's been a good addition to our locker room. His work ethic in practice and his focus and preparation is very professional. It fits in to what we're trying to do here."
So much so that the Devils' organization may see Coleman in its future. While nothing is written in stone, one has to believe that if he can continue to play at a high level, a two-way deal with AHL Lowell wouldn't be out of the question this summer.
"Once we lost (Jeff) Frazee for good, we decided to make a move for a goaltender. We got Coleman, and then it all kind of slowly started to come together."
-- Trenton coach Rick Kowalsky
For now, though, Coleman is happy to have some stability. Trenton is the third team he's played with this season. He also made three appearances with AHL Worcester.
"I'm kind of happy with the situation I'm in," Coleman said. "The organization treats their players well. I'd like to get called up, but I'd rather play every game than go up to the AHL and play one or two games here and there. I figure that if I keep playing well, someone will give me that chance."
Around the ECHL -- Victoria Salmon Kings right wing Dan Gendur was suspended two games and fined an undisclosed amount following a slashing penalty he received Tuesday night against the Stockton Thunder. ... Forward Justin Bowers was promoted from the Dayton Bombers to AHL Lake Erie. He had 12 goals and 24 assists in 34 ECHL games. ... The AHL's Iowa Stars recalled rookie right wing Jason Bailey from the Bakersfield Condors and forward Kirk MacDonald from the Reading Royals. ... Center Judd Blackwater was promoted from Stockton to AHL Rockford. ... The Idaho Steelheads signed forward Dan Welch. ... Las Vegas Wranglers goalie Kevin Lalande is getting a crack with AHL Quad City. ... The South Carolina Stingrays acquired goaltender Jonathan Boutin from Victoria in exchange for future considerations. Boutin was 10-4-2 with a 2.37 GAA, two shutouts and a .921 save percentage in 16 games for the Salmon Kings. ... A pair of wins helped Phoenix goalie Craig Kowalski earn Goalie of the Week honors. ... Ryan Kinasewich of the Utah Grizzlies was named the Player of the Week after totaling 4 goals and 3 assists in three games.
Contact Brian Compton at email@example.com.