By Larry Wigge
It may go down as the trade that gets the New Jersey Devils a Stanley Cup ...
Defenseman Marek Zidlicky came to the Devils on February 24 for defenseman Kurtis Foster, forwards Nick Palmieri and Stephane Veilleux, a second-round pick this year and a conditional third-round draft choice next year.
Under normal circumstance New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello would have balked at the trade proposal because Zidlicky was in a heated dispute of style of play with the veteran defenseman. But Lamoriello checked into the matter and he liked Zidlicky’s hockey sense, in addition to the fact he is signed for next season at $4 million.
"Zidlicky's not afraid to make a big play, to take a chance or a calculated risk," Lamoriello explained. "Sometimes it may not turn out, but he's not afraid to try it again. No question he's become an integral part of our defense."
Risk and reward is the way you put it ... or not afraid to take an offensive chance at the expense of making a mistake.
The risk includes two goals and six assists in 22 games in the regular season and one goal and eight assists in 20 playoff games for the Devils.
Not a bad gamble for New Jersey to make down the stretch.
The only thing left is to have Zidlicky's contribute offensively like he did when his shot was tipped in by Ryan Carter to send Game 2 into overtime.
Zidlicky has been on Lamoriello's radar before. On July 1, 2008, when Marek was traded to the Wild from the Nashville Predators. This time Lou got him.
The only risk the Most, Czechoslovakia, native, was making was that he had asked for a trade over his unhappiness with Wild assistant coach Mike Yeo. Zidlicky could be called unhappy or disgruntled, but the 35-year-old defenseman was seeking a way out of Minnesota. He even sought to waive his no-trade clause of his contract. It should be pointed out that Kris Letang and Sergie Gonchar thrived in Yeo's system in Pittsburgh.
In the 22 regular-season games Zidlicky played for the Devils and 18 playoff games, New Jersey is 25-13-2 since the trade going into the Cup finals.
"It's tough to really identify how important it is adding a No. 1, No. 2 defenseman to your lineup at a critical time of the year," coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's been invaluable. I think it was a great trade that Lou made identifying him -- and paying the price to go get him. It looked like a heavy price to pay, but he's been worth it every bit and more."
From the Wild standpoint, they had scratched Zidlicky three straight games and six of the Wild’s past 13 games. They were 12-3 in the past 15 games without Zidlicky. In the past 16 games with him, it was 2-10-4.
Wow! So a deal clearly had to be made for each team.
In the NHL, defensemen continue to be the hottest commodity in the trade market. Zidlicky is the fifth name defenseman to be moved recently, joining Nicklas Grossman (Dallas to Philadelphia), Hal Gill (Montreal to Nashville), Pavel Kubina (Tampa Bay to Philadelphia) and Kyle Quincey (Colorado to Tampa Bay to Detroit).
Only Zidlicky is still standing.
"He's a good, creative hockey player," Martin Brodeur said. "He’s like a forward playing defense a little bit in the way he's skilled and can make passes and jumping in the play. He trusts a lot of his skills out there and it shows in the confidence we have in him."
Better yet, Zidlicky is making the rest of the young defense play more like him.
Adam Larsson and Mark Fayne watch Marek Zidlicky and use him as a teaching point. In their young careers, at 19 and 24 years old, Larsson and Fayne are still learning when to pinch or to get involved in the offensive zone.
"He's one of those guys that, in practice, the plays he can make and the chances he creates by himself, it's amazing," Fayne said. "He definitely shows me, Larsson, the young guys what we could do if we tried to be more offensive."
Zidlicky called his old friend Patrik Elias to get his advice and poll his opinion about how he would fit on the Devils
"With Pete and the coaching staff that we have, I thought he was going to fit perfectly in the style that we play," Elias said. "Playing with the right players, the right situation, the right style of hockey can go a long way."
DeBoer said, "We wouldn't be here without him."
The coach went on expand of Zidlicky's importance to the Devils.
"The thing about Zidlicky is he's multi-dimensional," DeBoer continued. "He's not just offensive or a power-play guy. This guy can do a little bit of everything. He plays in your top two. He can play 25 minutes a game. He can play against top players in the league and defend and compete in the zone end and he can also run your power play. There are only a handful of those guys in the league."
"Foster did a really good job for us, but I think Zid was more of an upgrade," captain Zach Parise said. "He's not as much of a shooter as Foster, but he's a really good passer. No disrespect to Foster at all, because he did really well for us, but I think Zid, again, has that skating ability and he adds a little more 5-on-5 than Foster did."
Coach DeBoer said: "That's a big shopping list to throw at Lou going into the trade deadline: get me one of these guys that can do basically everything. He fit the bill across the board. Lou paid a heavy price to go and get him. For me, he's been worth every cent."
For his part, Zidlicky couldn't be happier to be a Devil.
"I like to play offensively. I like what we're doing with the puck," he said. "We don't just throw the puck somewhere -- we try to play with the puck, each guy and make plays to open up other guys. That's good."
Marek Zidlicky clearly does it all -- or most things the Devils needed from their defense. And New Jersey has given Zidlicky a chance at the Finals.
"I've never been a finalist," Zidlicky said. "Every kid dreams about it."