The news that the Devils and Brendan Shanahan had parted ways came as a surprise to the rest of the players when they arrived for practice early Thursday.
"Any time you walk in the locker room in the morning and someone's not here, it's a surprise," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "As much as you see things happen the longer you play, any time anyone's gone it's hard."
The announcement was made Thursday that Shanahan would not play with the Devils in 2009-10. The emergence of the Devils' prospects at this year's training camp left a smaller role for the 21-year veteran, who re-signed this past summer.
Shanahan met with President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Jacques Lemaire, and the two sides came to a mutual and amicable decision that Shanahan would move on.
Langenbrunner said that while Shanahan hadn't spoken to him about leaving New Jersey, the two had discussed other issues in the past few days.
"I'm not in the loop as far as his conversations with Lou and what was actually going on behind the scenes or not," Langenbrunner said. "I'm sure as hard a situation as it is, it was handled delicately and I think everyone knows the respect Lou has for Brendan and Brendan has for Lou."Dainius Zubrus
didn't see it coming, either.
"I haven't seen things like that happen," Zubrus said. "But saying that, in his position at this point in his career, he makes the decisions that he needs to make for himself and for his family. I understand, but I'm surprised – I didn't expect that, because I've never seen that."
Zubrus centered Shanahan and Niclas Bergfors in Tuesday's preseason finale against the Islanders. The trio showed chemistry by combining for a goal and two assists, but Zubrus said it wasn't his place to be disappointed about Shanahan's departure.
"After that many years in the League, I'm sure he has the right to sit back a bit and see what's going to happen next for him and what he wants to do," Zubrus said. "More than anything, I'm just surprised, that's all. I've never seen that. Whatever his decision is, I'm sure it'll be good for him and his family."
In the third period of Saturday's 4-2 win, Bergfors set up Shanahan's first goal of the preseason to collect his fourth assist and team-leading fifth point. Given Thursday's news, that final goal now seems like a passing of the torch. The 22-year-old Swede made a big impression on Jacques Lemaire, who said the organization's youth had simply performed too well in training camp to be returned to AHL's Lowell. Forward Matt Halischuk, 21, also made this year's squad out of camp.
"Halischuk and Bergy played together when they played in games, and they were as good as our top line, with how they played at that time," Lemaire said. "Not that they're better than our top line, but they were playing as good. Especially Bergy, the way he's been playing, I've been watching him maybe a little closer than the other ones.
"If it's an 18-year-old kid, then you say, 'Well maybe it's a flash.' But he's not 18. He's more mature and it's been a couple years where they've said next year he's going to make it, next year he should make it. It's time he gets it. Everything he does is good."
Langenbrunner was on board with the idea of a youth movement.
"It could be not what (Shanahan's) not doing, but what someone else is doing," he said. "The opportunity has to come, potentially, for some of these young guys like Bergy and Hally to get an opportunity to play, and it doesn't do them a lot of good sitting in the stands. They need to get into situations that they can be successful in. Obviously, they felt the time has come."
The Devils went 4-0-1 in the preseason and host Philadelphia in Saturday's regular season opener. The timing of the Shanahan news might not have been ideal, but all 30 teams go through the process of finalizing their lineup in the few days before opening night.
"Plenty of teams are doing the same thing," Langenbrunner said. "You want to give the guys every opportunity in training camp – you've got to see what you've got. Training camp is only 18 days, there isn't time to do something earlier. Are you doing justice to Shanny or are you doing justice to the guys trying to earn a spot if you do it 10 days in? I think you have to give it as much time as possible.
"It makes it a little tougher that it does happen so close to the season, but that's part of the National Hockey League. Guys are in the lineup one night and out on the next, and you have to adapt as a team."
With training camp over, the Devils say their focus must be upon the 82 games ahead.
"I think now it's time to kick it up a notch, and kick it into the next gear," Zubrus said. "Camp is over, and the whole thought process changes. Maybe that's where he kind of sat back and thought a little bit more about it. To be quite honest, the teams we played didn't have their best lineups and most of the time, we had a decent lineup. But he was skating well, he was moving well. Whatever his decision is, I wish him the best."