NEWARK, NJ - MAY 06: Ilya Kovalchuk #17 and Marek Zidlicky #2 of the New Jersey Devils celebrtae Zidlicky's first period goal at 18:09 against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Prudential Center on May 6, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NHL deadline deals are always a toss-up.
Sometimes those deals make the team better, and general managers are lauded for their intelligence. Other times, those deals implode, and teams are left with a Pavel Kubina-like albatross.
Zidlicky came with plenty of baggage. When news came out about the Devils interest, Zidlicky was mired in Minnesota Wild coach's Mike Yeo's doghouse. He was a constant healthy scratch, and couldn't find a way back into the lineup. The argument went public, and it helped facilitate a trade.
The Devils came up a possible trade partner, and while it surprised some fans, the organization had keyed in on Zidlicky.
"We've always liked him here when he was in Nashville," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "We watched him quite a bit and always had interest and you sort of follow people you've had interest in. Then, we had a built-in elevator. (Special assignment coach) Jacques Lemaire coached him in Minnesota and (assistant) Dave Barr coached him (last season) in Minnesota. What better references do you have than two people who have been hand-to-hand (working with him). We knew of his competitiveness. We knew what he could do as far as creating offensive situations."
New Jersey gave up a significant amount to get the defenseman - forwards Nick Palmieri and Stephane Veilleux, defenseman Kurtis Foster, a 2012 second round pick (previously from the Washington Capitals) and a 2013 third round pick - but it's a move no one in the organization regrets.
"Not even a question to me as far as was it worth it," Lamoriello told Gulitti. "He's done what we thought he could do."
Zidlicky brought a new element to the Devils blueline. Unlike Foster, who the team acquired in December, Zidlicky brought offensive skill. Unlike Foster, he could actually play defense, and Devils coach Peter DeBoer could use him in every situation. He immediately became the go-to offensive weapon, and slotted perfectly with Ilya Kovalchuk on the point during the powerplay. He could lead the breakout in his defensive end, and assumed the role of the offensive defenseman the Devils never had.
His presence also changed the way the entire defense played. It seems like defenseman are more likely to pinch in the offensive zone, helping to maintain possession. Each seems willing to shoot the puck more, and breakouts are better in their own end.
He's also become a rock that's led the charge into the Eastern Conference Finals. He's led the team in ice time, playing 24:38 in each game. He's tied with Bryce Salvador with six points for the lead among Devils defensemen, and his five assists are the most among defenseman on the team.
A few days off before the Eastern Conference Finals should help Zidlicky. The defenseman took a hard hit from Wayne Simmonds, and missed the third period of Game 5. The Devils can only go so far without their newest diamond, one that can help them battle for a Stanley Cup championship.