New York Night coach Nick Foster has made no secret of his plans to remake his roster in order to build a more balanced and competitive team. He’s already taken several steps in that direction, shaking up his lines and calling up several players from the minors. The Night took another step toward rebuilding on Monday, sending RW Daniel Bellanger to the Seattle Sailors in exchange for F Randy O’Connor and a 2nd-round draft pick.
“I’m not afraid of shaking things up for the sake of getting better,” Foster told reporters. “This deal is an example of that.”
Bellanger has been in the coach’s crosshairs since the first week of the season. After New York dropped its first four games of the season, Foster called an unscheduled practice on an off-day. Bellanger, along with D Teddy Morrison, failed to show for the practice. The coach responded by benching both players.
Both were ultimately reinstated to the lineup, but as the Night continued to struggle, Foster called for reinforcements from the team’s minor-league affiliate in Utah. He called up winger Sylvester Catarino, defenseman Rocky Winkle, and goalie Sherman Carter, and started giving them all regular playing time. Bellanger wound up being a healthy scratch in a number of games, appearing in only 14 games this season with the Night before the trade, recording 4 goals and 2 assists.
Bellanger has a reputation for being talented but temperamental. He came to New York from Saskatchewan in 2015 after he called his teammates “garbage” and said he was tired of “carrying [the] team.” Last season, Bellanger left the Night and went home with two games left in the season, an apparent show of displeasure with coach Preston Rivers, who was later fired.
Foster refrained from attacking Bellanger on his way out the door. “This trade is not a reflection on Daniel as a person or a player,” Foster said. “He’s a talented hockey player and I wish him well. But we’re headed in a different direction as a team.”
Bellanger took the trade rather personally. “I feel that I was never given a chance to succeed,” the winger told reporters. “I hope to play New York many times in the future and beat them.” He has gotten off to a hot start in Seattle, putting up a goal and an assist in 3 games since the trade. Additionally, the Sailors pummeled the Night 9-3 in a game played two days after the trade, although Bellanger scored no points.
The trade reunites O’Connor with his old team. The 25-year-old forward played for the Night in 2015 before being tabbed by Seattle in the expansion draft. He had been playing on the Sailors’ third line, posting 10 points (2 goals and 8 assists) in 24 games.
“Back in the Big Apple, baby!” crowed O’Connor. “I love this deal.”
O’Connor is not expected to start with New York; Bellanger’s playing time is expeted to go to Catarino instead. For the Night, the draft pick is the most valuable asset in the deal. In previous seasons, GM Royce McCormick has freely traded away draft picks for established veterans in a futile attempt to become a contender. But Foster has stressed the importance of a winning culture, and he would rather bring in young players that he can select and mold in his image than try to remake the games of the team’s self-centered, shoot-first veterans.
This deal raises an interesting question, however. With the trade deadline still a couple of weeks away, this is almost certainly not the last deal New York will make. Foster’s goal of culture change will require much more than trading away a single disgruntled player. On the other hand, Night owner Marvin Kingman has reportedly been resistant to a wholesale rebuilding of the roster. And New York has been playing better lately, and are creeping onto the fringes of contention in the East.
If the Night start to climb into the race before the deadline, will Kingman be pushing for win-now deals instead of the culture-change deals Foster prefers? Will Foster be willing to sacrifice a shot at winning this season to further his long-term vision? One thing is for certain: the Night will be a team to watch in the weeks ahead.