Claude Lemieux, a key ingredient of New Jersey's Stanley Cup championship in 1995, was reacquired by the Devils on Wednesday night in a trade that sent Brian Rolston to the Colorado Avalanche.
The Devils also will have the option of trading first-round draft picks with Colorado next year and will get Colorado's second-round pick next year.
Lemieux is a free agent after this season. If the Devils re-sign him, they will give Colorado a third-round draft pick in 2001. If Lemieux goes elsewhere, New Jersey will keep the compensatory selection that year.
"Whenever you do something, you do it because you feel it will make your team better," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said in announcing the deal minutes before New Jersey was to play Montreal.
Lamoriello said the Devils have so many young players they were bound to lose some in next year's expansion draft which will stock Minnesota and Columbus with players, so it was better to make the move.
Lemieux, 34, spent the last four-plus years in Colorado. He was dealt to the Avalanche as part of a three-team deal.
Ironically, the move came after Lemieux got into a contract squabble with Lamoriello.
"I have talked to Claude and he is delighted about coming back," Lamoriello said. "There is nothing we look back on and we feel very good about this."
"I had an outstanding relationship in a tremendous sports town," Lemieux said during a news conference in Denver. "I have no complaints with my time here. I guess they have decided to go in another direction."
"I totally understand the situation they're in with the salary structure. They made the decision to go the route they're going and if I felt sorry for myself, I could say I'm paying the price for that decision."
"But I've never been the type of person to feel sorry for myself, and I'm looking forward to the move."
Lemieux's salary is reportedly $2.4 million a year, about $1 million more than Rolston.
What makes Lemieux so desirable is that he has always raised his game in the playoffs, in which he has 76 career goals in 198 games.
The Devils have been eliminated from the playoffs early in each of the last three years and each time they have had trouble scoring goals.
Rolston, 26, had his best season as a pro in 1998-99, scoring 24 goals and 23 assists in 82 games. The 11th pick overall in the 1991 entry draft has appeared in 239 games over the past three seasons, scoring 58 goals.
"The unfortunate thing is when you have a player like Brian Rolston for the number of years we've had. It's a very difficul thing to do because he is a quality player and quality individual. But we felt we had some players of that style and we needed a different type of player."
Lemieux played five seasons in New York, scoring 125 goals. His best year was in 1991-92 when had 41 goals and 27 assists. He had 13 goals and three assists in the '95 Stanley Cup run for which he won the Conn Smythe Trophy.
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