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Devils believe spot in playoffs remains possible

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils remain a confident group despite the trade of forward Jaromir Jagr on Thursday and the precarious situation they find themselves in during their pursuit of a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with six weeks remaining in the regular season.

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello traded Jagr to the Florida Panthers, one of three teams that are between New Jersey and the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot held by the Boston Bruins.

The Devils received a second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in 2016 for Jagr.

"You knew there was a possibility that it could happen," Devils defenseman Andy Greene said of the Jagr trade. "You just never know if it might happen now, Monday [at the NHL Trade Deadline] or if they would do it at all. I think the return they got is great. It's a move [Lamoriello] felt comfortable doing, and by no means does it mean he's giving up on us.

"It's a hockey move and he had to make a trade, make a decision."

The trade gives the Panthers a veteran forward coach Gerard Gallant will insert right into their top six. Only time will tell in regards to what the Devils do with the draft picks.

So where do the Devils go from here?

What we do know is that New Jersey is close to missing the playoffs for a third straight season after taking the Los Angeles Kings to Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.

It's a situation that doesn't sit well with Lamoriello.

Part of the issue for the Devils has been moving forward after the departure of Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild as a free agent in July 2012 and the sudden retirement from the NHL by Ilya Kovalchuk in July 2013. Since then Lamoriello has made a few minor trades and free-agent signings, but the Devils have struggled.

"Any time you lose two guys of that caliber … they were two of the best in the world at the time," Devils forward Adam Henrique said. "You don't replace guys like that. They were great in the locker room and leaders on and off the ice. You don't just lose those guys and call in two other guys to replace them. I got to play with them for a majority of my rookie year and it was awesome. It meant a lot to me as a young guy to learn from them and it was important for me my first year.

"So it was a big loss and we're trying to get back there. We know we can if we keep working at it one day at a time."

Greene believes Lamoriello has been doing the best job he can since the departures of Parise and Kovalchuk.

"When you lose two guys, top 10-to-15 in this League, and lose them in back-to-back years, you can't go and fix it right away," Greene said. "It's a process and there will be ups and downs. At the same time [Lamoriello] is working just as hard as ever to make sure we have the best team, a championship team. He's looking to do what's best for this organization and what will work to get us back to the Stanley Cup."

Lamoriello's biggest acquisitions to date probably are trading for goaltender Cory Schneider at the 2013 draft and signing free agent Mike Cammalleri to a five-year contract worth a reported $25 million in July 2014.

Cammalleri leads the Devils with 23 goals, eight power-play goals and eight game-winning goals, and is tied for the lead with 31 points. Schneider, who ranks fourth in the NHL with a .926 save percentage and seventh with a 2.22 goals-against average, has solidified his spot as a No. 1 goaltender.

Even with the recent playoff drought it should be noted Lamoriello has guided the Devils to 21 playoff appearances in the past 26 seasons and has won the Stanley Cup three times.

Devils forward Patrik Elias knows Lamoriello is the type who doesn't look back and has no regrets. He knows it's been tough the past three seasons.

"It's disappointing to all of us," Elias said. "Especially those of us who thought the playoffs were automatic here; having a chance to win and compete for the Cup. Signing guys, trading guys, not signing guys is all part of the business. It can affect the organization and a couple of those did, and maybe not just those.

"I'm sure Lou would be the first to tell you he doesn't look back. The present is here and he's trying to get better, trying to win every day. That's what he's trying to do."

A few of the Devils players reflected on what it meant to have Jagr as part of the group the past two seasons.

"He was pretty valuable to this team over the last couple of years with his leadership and work ethic and that part of his game rubbed off on a lot of guys," forward Travis Zajac said. "I personally learned a lot from him. He's a true professional and he's had an amazing career. I wish him the best of luck."

"It was a huge honor to be his teammate for almost two years; he's one of the best to ever play the game," Henrique said. "To have him here and learn from him and see how he sees the game, it was different than your average player. He's not your average player."

Patrik Elias
Center - NJD
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 25
SOG: 83 | +/-: -14
Elias, at 38 now the oldest active player on the active roster (injured defenseman Bryce Salvador is two months older), knew Jagr was unhappy with his diminished ice time in recent weeks.

"A guy that plays over 20 minutes to start the season and then is going between 12-13 minutes a game won't be happy," Elias said. "You still want to play. It doesn't matter the age, doesn't matter what he can do. Coaches made a decision to spread out the minutes over four lines and his minutes dropped dramatically; but everyone else's went down too. I think they balanced it out for whole team."

Still, Elias feels the Devils are in a good place with regard to making one final push to get in the playoffs. With 21 games remaining they trail the Bruins, the team they host Friday, by eight points for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot.

"I think we still have a group that feels they can still make a push," Elias said. "Jaromir was able to control the puck; he was probably one of the best at doing that. But we believe we have guys to keep this going and get us back on the right track. There's been no indication to me that we are down."


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