Blake Coleman walked into New Jersey's Prudential Center today expecting to play against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Instead, general manager Tom Fitzgerald was standing inside the door, telling him a trade was imminent and he wouldn't be playing.
He went home, sat down and waited for the call.
It was Tampa Bay.
The Lightning traded for the 28 year old forward Sunday evening, sending a 2020 first-round pick acquired from Vancouver in the J.T. Miller trade at the last draft (a first-round pick that moves to 2021 if the Canucks don't make the playoffs) and forward prospect Nolan Foote, the Bolts' first round selection in 2019, to the Devils. Coleman is a left shot who ranked first on New Jersey at the time of the trade with 21 goals, one shy of his career high of 22. He's notched 20-plus goal totals each of the last two seasons and has more goals than assists in all three of his full seasons in the NHL.
"It's a lot of emotions obviously. I've really enjoyed my time in Jersey," Coleman said on a conference call with media moments after the trade was announced. "I haven't been traded at this level before, so it came as a bit of a shock for me and my wife. I'm excited. I'm thrilled about where it ends up being and to play for a contender and obviously a team that's on such a roll. I'm excited to get to meet these guys and compete for a Cup."
Tampa Bay general manager Julien BriseBois said the price to acquire Coleman was steep but worth it when considering what he could add to the current group making a run at a Stanley Cup and what he can bring next season as well. Coleman is still under contract for one more season at an extremely attractive cap hit of $1.8 million AAV.
"There aren't too many players, that bring as much value as he does that come with a cap hit of $1.8 million. That's appealing. I like our team. I believe in this group. And now I think we're stronger because we've added Blake Coleman. And not only is he going to make us a better team, more competitive team, but he'll also make us a more competitive team next year as well…What I felt we couldn't afford to do is (not) give this group of players every chance to have as good of a spring as possible. So that's why I made the decision to pay the price and add the player to our group."
BriseBois said today's move should help alleviate some of his cap concerns coming into a critical offseason where standout restricted free agents like Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak will all be due significant raises.
"Now, I have a quality player I can keep, and he's going to give us good value and I'll be able to afford that good player," BriseBois said. "So if anything it helps us maintain our competitiveness next season and into next season when I'm probably going to have to make some hard decisions again next offseason to become cap compliant."
Coleman brings a lot of intangibles to the Lightning. BriseBois calls him an "Energizer bunny" who never stops working. He leads New Jersey for hits with 166 (Wayne Simmonds is second on the Devils with 123) and is ninth among NHL forwards in that category. He's first among Devils forwards for blocked shots (40). He leads New Jersey for takeaways (42).
And he's an "elite" penalty killer according to BriseBois. He ranks tied for sixth among NHL forwards for average shorthanded time on ice (2:47), right behind Anthony Cirelli (2:52) in third.
"He kind of fits so nicely in the style of play we want to play, the way our team plays because he plays with so much pace," BriseBois said. "If you're going to have success come playoff time, you need guys that are ultra-competitive, and Blake Coleman is an ultra-competitive player. He goes out there and he never takes a shift off, he's going all the time. He's out there doing everything he can to help his team win, and those are the types of guys that you need in order to win NHL games and in particular once the playoffs start."
The plan is for Coleman to join the team in Las Vegas and make his Lightning debut when they take on the Golden Knights Thursday. He and his wife are expecting their first child in a couple weeks, so the suddenness of switching teams came as a bit of a surprise. Coleman said he had put trade rumblings "on the backburner" but knew it was a possibility too.
"I'm familiar with their team as a whole and some of their star players that you hear a lot about," Coleman said. "I've played against Coach Cooper since I was in juniors so I kind of am familiar with the way he runs his ship. I think I've always been a team-first player and a team-first guy. Whatever spot they put me in, I'll be willing and excited to help the team in whatever way I can. I think they're bringing me in because I have a playoff-type game and a will to compete and a will to win. They already have a lot of the pieces you need to win a championship there but any little extra I can bring I'm happy to do it and I'm excited."