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There was no ‘Luck of the Irish’ for the Devils on St. Patrick’s Day in Colorado

Two goals from Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie in the second period sealed the Devils fate in the Mile High City with Nathan MacKinnon adding an empty net goal as Colorado and New Jersey split their season series 1-1 and halts the Devils win streak at two. The stop in Colorado was the Devils final visit to a Western Conference team this season.

Here are 10 takeaways from the game:

1. Defenseman Will Butcher returned to the city where he played three years of college hockey at the University of Denver. Another connection for Butcher to Colorado is his draft. Butcher was drafted by the Avalanche in 2013, before electing to sign with the Devils as a free agent two summers ago. Butcher visited his alma mater on Saturday night before the Devils took on the Avalanche at Pepsi Center.

Butcher was held off the scoresheet and was held shot-less against Colorado in 17:04 of play.

2. Entering the lineup for New Jersey was Nick Lappin who sat out the teams last two games due to injury. Lappin skated on the third line with Drew Stafford and Blake Pietila. Lappin played 10:49 against Colorado.

3. The first period ended with a 0-0 draw, with Cory Schneider a big part of that goose-egg for the Avalanche. The Devils netminder’s first 20 minutes of the game ended with 13 saves, including a big shorthanded save on Avs Matt Calvert that Schneider saved with the top of his shoulder on a sharp wrist shot from Colorado forward with a knack for scoring shorthanded. The Devils were outshot in the first period 13 to 5.

4. Kevin Rooney had one of the more dangerous shots for the Devils in their matinee matchup. It came on Rooney’s only shot against Colorado netminder Philipp Grubauer. Rooney was fed a tape-to-tape pass from Kenny Agostino with Colorado’s Tyson Barrie attempting to break up the play. Rooney perfectly angled his stick for the deflection, but the shot was stopped by the tip of Grubauer’s blocker to deflect the puck wide.

5. There was no luck-of-the-Irish for the Devils power play against the Avalanche. Despite four opportunities, including three consecutive chances in the second period, New Jersey failed to record a power play goal, stymied by the Avalanche. Severson led the Devils in man-advantage ice-time with 5:01 of ice time.

6. On two separate occasions in the first period, the Devils penalty killers had to go to work without one of their biggest contributors. With Blake Coleman in the box twice, the Devils killed off both power plays awarded to the Avalanche in the first.

The Devils penalty kill was three-for-three overall against Colorado. Andy Greene, as per the custom, led the Devils in shorthanded ice time with 4:51 on the ice.

7. Schneider’s afternoon was a busy one, making 31 saves on 33 shots over the course of the games 60 minutes. He kept the Devils in the matchup with some huge saves and was unlucky on the Avalanche’s second goal by Tyson Barrie when Barrie’s point shot deflected off two Devils, Damon Severson, and Travis Zajac, and into the net behind him.

8. Damon Severson ate up the most minutes against the Avalanche with 24:18 of ice-time. And he leads the Devils in shots on goal with five against Colorado. With those five shots on Sunday afternoon, he tied a season-best set on January 19th against the Anaheim Ducks.

9. The stop at Pepsi Center ticks off the final venue this season the team had yet to visit. It also put the Devils in a unique situation. With 31 teams in the NHL, the Devils have played games in 32 NHL rinks this season, as well as 33 different venues. New Jersey played the Islanders earlier in the year at both Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum, while the team held their season opener against the Oilers at Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden as part of the NHL Global Series.

10. The Devils final long road trip of the season comes to a close after four consecutive games in the Western Conference with a 2-4-0 record. The Devils have just two road trips left this season, with stop a stop in Detroit, as well as a two-game trip to Carolina and Florida for the final games of the year.

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NEWARK, N.J. — The New Jersey Devils activated goaltender Cory Schneider from the injured list on Monday ahead of the team’s seven-game road trip, which starts Tuesday night at Tampa Bay.

The 32-year-old Schneider is recovering after offseason hip surgery. He has not played in any of the Devils’ eight games this season. Keith Kinkaid has started and played in all eight games so far.

Schneider, an 11-year NHL veteran, is in his sixth season with New Jersey after spending the first five years of his career as a backup with the Vancouver Canucks. Schneider was traded to New Jersey on the day of the 2013 draft for the No. 9 overall selection. In 2014-15, Schneider was a workhorse, playing in 69 of the Devils’ 82 games, posting a 2.26 goals-against average and winning 26 starts.

Schneider skated with the Devils during Monday’s practice after spending the last week doing rehab work with the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Binghamton, New York.

“It’s been a long road back,” said Schneider, who played in only 40 games last season because of injury. “I did things the right way and didn’t rush it. That got me through it. I just needed to get some live action first before coming back here. It’s fun to be back with the guys.”

Schneider will accompany the team to Tampa but will serve as Kinkaid’s backup for Tuesday’s game. Devils coach John Hynes didn’t put a timetable on Schneider’s return to the net.

“He’s going to play at some point,” Hynes said. “We’ll take it day by day. We have a lot of games coming up, so he’ll get in. I just don’t know when. But he will not start (Tuesday).”

Hynes was encouraged by what he saw from Schneider in Monday’s practice.

“Cory looked good,” Hynes said. “It was the first time he had his own net.”

Schneider knows he’s not in any rush to return.

“Keith has done a great job in goal,” Schneider said. “When he needs a break, I have to be ready. It’s a big trip. It has been tough just watching the guys. But it’s fun to be able to compete again. I know I won’t be 100 percent for a while, but if I stay on top of things with my rehab, I can play. I’m more excited than anything.”

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After the 3pm NHL trade deadline passed reports came out that the New Jersey Devils have acquired Patrick Maroon from the Edmonton Oilers for a 2019 3rd round pick and a prospect, thought to be J.D. Dudek.
Patrick Maroon will bring much needed offensive help to the Devils, especially with Marcus Johansson still sidelined with a concussion. This season Maroon currently has 30 points with 57 games played. Last season he scored a career high 27 goals and a total of 42 points as the Oilers made the playoffs for the first time since going to the Stanley Cup final in 2006. He also had 8 points in Edmonton’s 13 playoff games. In his career Maroon has 26 points in 42 playoff games.

As well as the ability to generate points and scoring chances Maroon will bring some size and grit, over 300 hits last season and this year, whether he plays in the top-6 or on the 3rd line. He won’t be the tallest Devil but will be the second biggest body, Brian Boyle being the biggest Devil. As a team the Devils are averaging 46 hits this season. Patrick Maroon is currently at 119 for the season.

Another very nice move by GM Ray Shero. Bringing in another offensive talent with an eye for points in the postseason. Perhaps Ray should keep Peter Chiarelli on his speed dial when teams can start dealing again this summer.

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NEWARK — Cory Schneider, Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier will lead the New Jersey Devils into the first game of a three-game home stand when they host the St. Louis Blues at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Prudential Center. The Blues enter with the Western Conference’s best record at 11-3-1, while the Devils will aim to build off their 9-3-1 start and break a seven-game losing streak to the Blues.

Join NJ.com’s live chat during the game in the comments section. You can also follow along with live score and stat updates above.

Devils’ lines vs. Blues
Devils’ lines vs. Blues
How the Devils will line up against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

Here is everything you need to know about the game:

What: New Jersey Devils (9-3-1) vs. St. Louis Blues (11-3-1)

When: 7:00 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017

Where: Prudenital Center, Newark, New Jersey

TV: MSG+ 2

Live stream: MSG GO

Radio: The One Jersey Network

More to know: The Devils will turn to goalie Cory Schneider after Keith Kinkaid played in Sunday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames.

Defenseman Steven Santini will be back in the lineup after missing Sunday’s game with an upper body injury. Defenseman Damon Severson will be a healthy scratch with defenseman Dalton Prout, while forwards Kyle Palmieri (lower body) and Marcus Johansson (concussion) will be out again.

The Devils have lost seven straight games against the Blues dating back to the 2013-14 season. They have lost six of their last seven against St. Louis at the Prudential Center, including three straight.

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The New Jersey Devils have to feel good about their recent offseason. Even though they’ve lost top-line center Travis Zajac for four to six months due to a pectoral injury, the moves they’ve made over the last few months have been some of their best in recent history.

General manager Ray Shero had a lot of work to do this offseason to help the Devils offset a last-place finish in the Eastern Conference. The team still had Cory Schneider in between the pipes last season, but the All-Star netminder had a career-low year in his second-most games played. While they also added Taylor Hall in the previous offseason, the Devils still were 28th in the league in goals for on the season and finished third-last in the league with 70 points overall.

As New Jersey’s general manager, Shero had reasonably sized holes to fill for the upcoming season. Unlike the Avalanche, who have yet to really attempt to solve their problems, the Devils have come out of the recent offseason having some of their most productive few months.

Given the strength of the Metropolitan Division, and the Eastern Conference in general, the Devils may still falter this season with how much quality of competition there is around them. It’s hard to say exactly where they’ll be after another 82-game slate is finished, but it’s clear they’ve been set back on course. Here’s a deeper look into some of the moves Shero and the Devils have made this offseason that have set them apart from many of their competitors.

Will Butcher signing
The most recent acquisition for the Devils may not have been as highly sought after as last year’s college free agent, but Butcher is quite the defensive prospect. The 22-year-old defenseman won the Hobey Baker as the NCAA’s best player of the year after putting up 37 points in 43 games in his final season with the University of Denver. Butcher then chose the Devils among a slew of suitors that included the Penguins, Blackhawks, Maple Leafs, and Wild after becoming a free agent on Aug. 15.

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That’s quite the pickup for Shero and crew. Butcher had an outstanding senior season in Denver and after spurning the Avalanche, he had 30 other NHL teams to pick from. The Devils were chosen likely because they can give Butcher what he wants: significant ice time in a role where he can grow and make mistakes outside of a microscope environment.

In return, the Devils are getting a quality defensive prospect to put alongside 23-year-old Damon Severson and 22-year-old Mirco Mueller. Butcher can fill in immediately on the Devils’ roster, likely pushing Ben Lovejoy into the seventh defenseman spot and improving New Jersey’s back end. The Devils are also just one offseason removed from the Adam Larsson trade and they are already stronger on the blue line than they were with the 24-year-old right-handed defenseman.

Drafting Nico Hischier
The Devils had an 8.517 percent chance to draft No. 1 overall this year. Thanks to their down season, New Jersey lucked into an unexpected lottery position and drafted Hischier in the top spot as the result.

Of course, nabbing the top lottery pick in a draft is essentially all luck, as the Edmonton Oilers can attest to, but grabbing Hischier at No. 1 overall is quite the boon for the Devils. With Zajac out for a good portion of the season, Hischier will likely slide into New Jersey’s top-six with ease. In the QMJHL last season, Hischier had 86 points in 57 games as his stock rose just enough to knock Nolan Patrick from the top spot in the draft.

Hischier is a highly skilled prospect, and he has said his style of play most resembles creative genius and top notch two-way forward Pavel Datsyuk. Lucking into a Datsyuk-style player will make any team giddy, and the Devils got one just in time to give their offense a much-needed boost. Hischier will have an impact on the Devils right out of the gate, and he could very well lift New Jersey back into contention in just one season.

Depth free agent signings
Outside of adding Butcher and drafting Hischier, the Devils have put together a nice crop of depth free agent signings and trades. Since June, the Devils organization has added:

Marcus Johansson, left winger
Mirco Mueller, defenseman
Drew Stafford, right winger
Brian Boyle, center
Only Boyle and Johansson command a real chunk of salary cap — between the two of them, the Devils have sunk $7.33 million in cap space for the next two years — and even then New Jersey has the second-most cap room available behind the Arizona Coyotes. Stafford is on a very friendly $800,000 deal for the next season and Mueller is sitting at a two-year, $1.7 million contract. All in all, the Devils didn’t reach to overpay for big-name stars. Instead, they opted to sign veterans and young players on reasonable, short term deals.

Johansson is the big prize of their offseason grabs, as the 26-year-old forward put up 58 points in 82 games for the Capitals next season. He’ll likely slide into the Devils’ top six, along with 31-year-old Stafford. While Stafford had a down season with Winnipeg last year, he flourished more after being traded to the Bruins at the end of the year.

Boyle is also a solid depth signing, as he put up 25 points in 75 games played between the Lightning and Maple Leafs last year.

While these moves weren’t nearly as flashy as their trade for Hall last offseason, the Devils added support pieces to a very stable core of players. After 40-plus point players in Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, Hall, and Zajac, the Devils had a 10-point drop off from their next productive teammates. While the loss of Zajac stings, adding Hischier, Stafford, and Johansson tips the scales back in their favor.

It’s going to be tough for New Jersey to rise above the Pittsburghs and Washingtons of the East, but the shrewd moves of Shero has put the Devils in their best position yet to break into the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

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August is right around the corner and usually this is a “dead” period of the NHL offseason. The vast majority of free agents have already been signed by now. Arbitration cases have mostly been heard and dealt with. Training camp remains weeks away. There is not a lot happening. However, there is one important date in the month: August 15. As of this day, any college player who is unsigned when their class graduates becomes an unrestricted free agent.

This is all defined in the NHL Contract Bargaining Agreement in Section 8.6(c). (This link goes to a PDF.) This date is only mentioned in the entire CBA in this section. It is not so much a loophole as it is a limit on how long a team can keep their rights to a drafted player should that player go to college. Section 8.6 defines similar limits for players drafted out of major junior leagues and leagues outside of North America. So just as teams have to sign junior and European-league-based players by the time they’re 20, teams have to sign a college player before August 15 of their graduation year. Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey wrote up a good breakdown of the rules back in 2013 if you want to learn more.

This option – which is what it is – has become a bigger deal in recent years. Jimmy Vesey, who won the Hobey Baker Award in 2016 as the country’s top college player, went through this route. He spurned Nashville to ultimately sign with Our Hated Rivals. It appears that Alex Kerfoot, who the Devils drafted in the fifth round in 2012, may test the market now that he has completed his career with Harvard. He has not signed with the Devils and there are no indications as of this writing that he will. But there is a bigger name than Kerfoot expected to be a free agent in mid-August: the 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner, defenseman Will Butcher. And while it is not good to lose any prospective player in general, the Devils should pursue Butcher.

Let’s learn more about this free agent prospect like he was a draft prospect.

Who is Will Butcher?
Butcher is a 22-year old, left-shooting defenseman. According to Elite Prospects, he officially stands at 5’10” and 190 pounds. He came out of the United States National Team Development Program, where he was part of the 2012 gold medal team at the World Junior U-18 Tournament and the 2013 silver medal team at the same U-18 tournament. He also represented the United States at World Junior Championships in 2014 and 2015 while also going to the University of Denver. The accolades have piled up in the last few years for Butcher. He was a part of the Denver squad that won the conference championship in 2014; he was named one of the top three players on his team at the 2015 WJCs; he was named to the first all-star team in his conference and the second all-star team for Western based hockey teams by the NCAA in 2016; and this past season was just loaded. Butcher was the captain of the Denver team that won the whole Frozen Four; he was named to the first all-star team in his conference and in the NCAA tournament; he was awarded as the Best Offensive Defenseman by the NCHC conference; and, most of all, he won the Hobey Baker Award.

While his numbers do not exactly jump off the page, the defender has been a producer at every level of hockey he has played at so far. His achievements speak to that he’s more than just a compiler of points; he has been as effective as one could ask for as a defender at the college and youth levels. Butcher increased his point totals in each year at Denver (16, 18, 32, and 37) and he was a leader since his sophomore year, culminating as team captain for Denver’s successful 2016-17 campaign. If a team drafted a college-bound player and they went on to have a career like that, then that team should be pretty happy.

Unfortunately, the Colorado Avalanche – who drafted Butcher in the fifth round in 2013 – is not as he will not sign with the Avs.

Why is Butcher a Free Agent?
The CBA allows Butcher to be a free agent, but there’s more to the story than just a college player hoping that his successful college career could land him on a different team. Mike Chambers wrote the following on April 11, 2017 at the Denver Post:

Near the end of Butcher’s junior season a year ago, the Avalanche told Butcher’s “family adviser” the team was not interested in signing the 5-foot-10, 190-pound defenseman at any point. But that attitude toward Butcher was believed to have emanated from then-coach Patrick Roy, who was also the Avs’ vice president. Roy resigned in August, and the Avs had scouts or team executives at numerous DU home games this season. Assistant Avs general manager Chris MacFarland was at the Frozen Four in Chicago last weekend.
Roy poisoned this particular well. He told a rising prospect that the team wouldn’t sign him. That’s pretty harsh and it was probably the first time Butcher and his people started thinking about other options. I certainly do not blame Butcher for doing so. While Roy left the Colorado Avalanche months afterward, the damage was done. The current management tried but ultimately could not fix the situation. Adrian Dater wrote the following at BSN Denver on July 26, 2017:

“We informed the Avalanche of that decision,” Butcher’s agent, Brian Bartlett, told BSN Denver. “We appreciate what Colorado has done, and we’re not ruling out the Avalanche as a potential destination. But we just feel there will be other opportunities that should be explored too, and therefore we’re going (to the 15th).”

The Avalanche still have exclusive negotiating rights to Butcher until Aug. 15, but that is a Potemkin Village at this point. On that date, Butcher can take offers from any NHL team, and there are expected to be several suitors. The Avalanche can still make him offers, just like any other team, but at this point it’s fair to ask: If Butcher didn’t take any of the Avs’ offers before, what makes anyone think he’ll take one later?
Dater’s question is a very good one. I doubt Butcher has a change of heart, especially knowing that there are other teams that are interested. The quote from his agent, Brian Bartlett, reads to me as a professional way of stating, “Yeah, no, Colorado. Goodbye.”

If there is a lesson here, then it is that what is communicated to prospective players is crucial at all levels. Telling a player who has been performing very well that he will not be signed is just asking for that player to go elsewhere. Even if who informed that player is gone, it makes it significantly harder for the next member of management – Joe Sakic, in this case – to re-build the relationship. In any case, Colorado’s failure can now be someone else’s gain. Hopefully, it’ll be New Jersey’s.

What Others Have Said About Butcher
Immediately, the appeal for Butcher is clear: he’s a left-shooting defenseman with offensive skills. The Devils absolutely could use a left-shooting defenseman with anything resembling offensive skills. There is more to it than that.

Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports does an excellent job every year in scouting top NHL Draft prospects. He has recently done a similar report for Butcher, now that he is an impending free agent. You really should read the whole thing. The section about his offensive game really stuck out to me:

Butcher has very good vision and the ability to thread the needle on passes both to start the transition game and in setting up plays in the offensive zone. He also has a good shot, and understands how to get it through to the net and keep it low to create opportunities for tip-ins and rebounds for his teammates. He has good agility and walks the line well to open up passing and shooting lanes in the offensive zone. Butcher also shows poise with the puck and can stick handle away from a forechecker, or to create space in the offensive zone.
This is exactly what the Devils should look for in a defenseman from an offensive perspective. The Devils need defenders who are able to competently read and make passes. It appears that is a strength for Butcher. The Devils need defenders to keep their shots low. It appears Butcher can do so. Being able to handle the puck is also a plus as well as not freak out when the pressure comes. It appears Butcher can do so. These are all traits that should make the Devils be interested in the defender.

Kerr wrote that while size will be an issue of sorts, but Butcher has been effective in his own end with respect to where he needs to be and getting pucks out of the zone. The transition game has been a real challenge for New Jersey last season; a defender who can at least move pucks more quickly would be a big help. Additionally, Kerr found plenty to like about Butcher’s skating – which is another plus in favor.

For a different perspective, Hayden Soboleski has had a running series of notes about Butcher over the years at Dobber Prospects. Soboleski has pointed out that Butcher has been running Denver’s power play for multiple years. While it is not a guarantee he could do so at the NHL level, that is another role of need for New Jersey. I would think someone who has done it at a lower level is more likely to be able to do so at the NHL than someone who has not performed in that spot in the past.

All together, Butcher appears to be the type of defenseman the Devils could really use to improve their blueline. How he will handle professional hockey is a real question. But the point is that he is someone who can step in right away and contribute, even in a smaller role to start. The Devils should absolutely be interested in signing him.

The Challenge in Pursuing Will Butcher
At this point, it’s clear that I want the Devils to go after Butcher because he will address several holes among the current defense. However, it will not be easy for two reasons.

First, Butcher can only sign an entry level contract. Since he is 22, the NHL CBA requires that his ELC is two-years long. Since it is also an entry level contract, it cannot be for more than $925,000 in salary. He can be offered bonuses; those are capped as well. Teams are limited with respect to what deals they can offer; the Devils cannot just out-bid everyone else.

This means that teams will have to convince Butcher and his people of other things they can offer that other teams cannot. This would be things like ice time, opportunity to play right away, the style of play, and the quality of the organization. The Devils could (and should) sell Butcher on the chance that he can play in New Jersey right from Day 1. That he will get every chance to be on a power play unit. That he can be a part of the “fast, attacking, and supportive” style Ray Shero wants to cultivate. The problem will arise if/when a team can offer all of that and be a playoff-ready or near-playoff-ready team. The Devils can sell opportunity and minutes, but they cannot claim success from recent years. If it comes down to that, then it will be a hard sell for Butcher.

The second issue is that the Devils’ blueline has become more and more crowded. No, not crowded with talent, but crowded with bodies. As of right now at CapFriendly, the Devils have Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, John Moore, Steve Santini, Mirco Mueller, Dalton Prout, Michael Kapla, and Yaroslav Dablenko signed. (And others too.) Damon Severson will join this group when he re-signs with New Jersey. (He is a qualified restricted free agent, he must re-sign.) Out of that group, Greene, Severson, Lovejoy, and Moore are mortal locks to play. Butcher would have to battle with Mueller, Santini, Kapla, Prout, and Dablenko for minutes on a third pairing. The Devils could go ten-deep on defensemen in a season. But if the selling point for Butcher is that he can step in and play right away, then he or his people can look at the Devils’ depth chart and justifiably be skeptical. Further, Shero acquired Mueller, Kapla, Prout, and Dablenko. I doubt he will push them to the peripheral immediately for Butcher unless Butcher proves to be that good or something else happens. A Butcher signing could drive a trade just to clear up the blueline; but it is a challenge for management to consider as well.

These challenges are manageable, though. Shero can make worry about making room after signing Butcher. And it isn’t guaranteed that a better-quality team can make the play for Butcher like New Jersey can with respect to minutes and role. While this is all for an ELC, the Devils do have the cap space to offer a larger ELC than some other teams – which helps their cause too. Most of all, it comes all down to Butcher. If he is fine with New Jersey and likes what they’re doing, then that’s that. If not, then not. Such as it is with unrestricted free agents.

Your Take
I want the Devils to pursue Will Butcher. Do you? What do you think the Devils will have to sell Butcher on to make it happen? Do you think the Devils can do it? If so, what would you expect from the defenseman? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Butcher in the comments. Thank you for reading.