Devils set sights on rebuilding in wake of departing talent
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The harsh reality of the Devils being resigned to finish out the season with little to play for hit home for defenseman Damon Severson in the wake of New Jersey trading key forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to the New York Islanders.
“It obviously (stinks) the position that we’re in in the standings and the way the season has gone,” Severson said Thursday, a day after the trade was completed. “I think guys understand where we’re at. We understand we’re in a rebuild a little bit here. And hopefully we can speed that up.”
Though the trade didn’t come as a surprise, with Palmieri and Zajac both completing the final years of their contracts, the deal formally began shifting the Devils’ focus toward the future beyond this season.
New Jersey acquired two draft picks, including the Islanders’ first-round selection this year, as well as minor-league forwards A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst.
The move came in advance of the NHL’s trading deadline on Monday, and with the Devils sitting seventh in the East Division standings and remaining 14 points out of contention with 18 games left following a 6-3 win at Buffalo later in the day.
New Jersey improved to 1-2-2 in its past five with two wins in its past eight (2-4-2).
Zajac, a valuable two-way center, was in his 15th season with New Jersey, while Palmieri is an 11-year veteran and was completing his sixth season with the Devils.
This, frustratingly, is an all-too familiar position for Severson to be in after having previously watched the Devils sell off talent for assets.
Two years ago, the Devils dealt Marcus Johansson to Boston. Last year, Severson bid farewell to Taylor Hall, Wayne Simmonds, Andy Greene and Blake Coleman.
In his seventh season in New Jersey, Severson becomes the team’s longest-active serving player during a stretch in which the Devils have made the playoffs just once, in 2018.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Severson said. “I try not to show the frustration too much, but sometimes it definitely takes its toll. But I definitely want to be part of the solution to get this organization back to where it should be.”
Palmieri and Zajac’s departures created a large vacuum of veteran leadership, leaving the Devils relying on their core of youngsters, which include recently named captain Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Jack Hughes and Ty Smith.
“It’s never easy, big trades like that,” said Hischier, who has resumed practicing but missed his 22nd game with an upper-body injury.
“You’ve got to look forward, stick even more together,” he added. “Not going to lie, those two players will be missed here. But I guess that’s part of the business. We’ll just try to go out there and do our best.”
Coach Lindy Ruff was unable to hide his disappointment in assessing the trade.
“Yesterday was a tough day. We lost two good players, more important, two guys that were great with our young guys,” Ruff said.
The trade places the emphasis on New Jersey’s younger players filling bigger roles.
“It’s one heck of an opportunity down the stretch here, and everyone’s going to get a chance to show what they can bring,” Ruff said. “And that opportunity, if you’re prepared for it, it’s your time to shine, and hopefully try to make a difference.”
He’s counting on his youngsters to bring energy and enthusiasm.
“With energy sometimes can come mistakes, but mistakes will happen,” Ruff said. “And I’d rather see them happen when you’re on your toes and you’re bringing it. Youthful energy is something I want to see all these guys bring.”
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