It’s easy for New Jersey Devils
defenseman Bryce Salvador
to pinpoint the moment being moved at the trade deadline finally hit home.
“It hadn’t really settled in until you get to the hotel and they’re like, ‘All right, Mr. Salvador, you’re here for 67 days,’ ” Salvador told NHL.com. “You’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right.’ Then it starts to set in.
“Hey, it’s a move and a change, but the family is excited.”
Salvador wasn’t shocked that the St. Louis Blues, the only organization he had known in his 11 seasons of professional hockey, dealt him away Feb. 26. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the Blues already have defensemen Jay McKee, Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman under hefty contracts through at least 2010.
Salvador’s agent, Carlos Sosa, was in informal discussions with Blues executives, but nothing had to come to pass before deadline morning, so Plan B took effect. The Devils sent enforcer Cam Janssen, a St. Louis native, to the Blues in exchange for Salvador.
“I know for a fact it wasn’t that they didn’t want me,” Salvador said. “It was just that they had to manage assets and they already had three long-term contracts on the books with the defense. They could have easily just kept me (for the rest of the season), but I think they were thinking, let’s try to get a player for me. To come to an organization like this, with this group of guys and where they are, it’s a good feeling.”
Just like that, Salvador went from the 12th-place team in the Western Conference at the time of the trade to the one that was leading the Eastern Conference. That’s not a bad trade, even if it requires more than two months in a hotel and limited time with his wife, April, and 19-month old son, Pierson, until his future gets ironed out this summer.
“It’s really tough to leave,” Salvador said. “But it’s definitely easier to go through the transition when you know you have a chance to win, when you know you’re on a team that is making a run.”
On paper, the Devils’ need for Salvador looked marginal at best. They already had eight defensemen, meaning two were being scratched on a nightly basis.
But at closer inspection, Colin White, Sheldon Brookbank and Vitaly Vishnevski were the only stay-at-home, physical blueliners among the eight. And Brookbank and Vishnevski rarely are in the lineup for the same games.
So, in essence, there was a need for another capable shut-down defenseman, which is exactly why Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello targeted Salvador, who had led the Blues with a plus-12 rating through 56 games.
“I think it shows in his game; he’s a physical player who doesn’t get out of position,” Devils defenseman Mike Mottau
, who has trained with Salvador in the offseason, told NHL.com. “It’s important if you’re able to pick those guys up to pick them up. Adding another guy like that really helps as far as pairing him up with a puck mover and having some balance back there.”
Only, now with Salvador, the Devils’ defensive depth goes nine deep, which means three blueliners sit on a nightly basis. While some critics view that as excessive, the players see it as healthy competition, as long as no one is too scared to make a mistake.
“It’s all about accountability,” Salvador said. “I’m a big believer in that. In St. Louis, we had a surplus of ‘D’ and they were rotating guys in and out, and even took me out of the lineup in October. It established some accountability, but you have to have it so your players aren’t afraid to make mistakes, either. If it crosses that line, then it’s tough to get the most out of your players.”
“Everyone has to be on their toes and play their best because there are three hungry guys ready to be in the lineup each night,” Mottau added. “You have to be focused and play with an edge.”
Those are the exact qualities Devils coach Brent Sutter looks for from his players. Yet, he doesn’t quite understand the big deal about having nine defensemen.
“The biggest thing is, we need our guys competing … competition is good for everybody, but I really don’t know why everybody is making such a big deal that we have nine defensemen here,” Sutter said. “We just have one more guy, but we’re still only dressing six. If you want to look on the positive, it gives us better depth and maybe increases the competition level a bit.”
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.