The unexpected happened a month ago: Lou Lamoriello – the architect, the Godfather, the face of the Devils for 27 years – relieved himself of his GM duties in the way only he could—in utter secrecy. It was a shock to everyone including the media, his own players and NHL hierarchy alike. There were rumors of him being pushed out by management and that he was 71 and had grandkids that he wanted to spend more time with.
But the fact is, as the Devils begin their post-Lamoriello era, this draft and the following 13 months could shape the next decade for this team, making it arguably the most pivotal time in the last 20 years of this proud franchise—and thus, the perfect time for Lamoriello to go.
While many were hoping (myself included) that he’d simply expire in his office chair sometime in his mid 90’s, Lou is smart enough to recognize that if he’s not gonna be around for most of it, he might as well let someone else put their fingerprints on it and see it through. With a resume that includes 3 Stanley Cups and 2 more trips to the finals, that kind of power is a tough thing to relinquish. But Lou has always had the team’s best interest in mind. So, when he had the opportunity to land a top, young replacement in Ray Shero, he pounced.
What’s piled on Shero’s plate is no small task. We’ve got a new coach who, by all accounts, is a smart hire and represents a bold, new direction in the NHL. Shero will also look to establish culture, leadership and a team identity (which was recently defined as “Fast, attacking and supportive.”) But he’ll especially have his work cut out for him in regards to personnel.
We all know the Devils have a farm system in dire need of replenishment. Fortunately, they’ll have three picks in the top 41 in this years draft to help do that. At the #6 spot, the Devils are sure to land one of the top forwards. While the London Knights RW Mitch Marner would be the ideal pick, there’s a slim chance he’ll still be on the board when Shero needs to walk to the podium. That still leaves very solid options in Pavel Zacha, Mathew Barzal and Mikko Rantaanen. There’s no guarantee, however, that any of these top young forwards will be NHL ready for 2015/16. More pressing, at the end of next season, the Devils (as of now) have only 5 players signed beyond 2016 (Schneider, Cammalleri, Henrique, Zajac and Greene). This means the big club has more than a few holes to fill.
Yes we’ll sign a few of our role players. Sure, we’ll bring some of our promising young D-men up. But scoring is still a major issue. While this years FA class is arguably the weakest in years, the 2016 class is far more appealing. Which means the Devils may have some interesting options come the March trade deadline should they choose not to wait till next June to add some scoring punch.
Eric Staal is entering his last year and Carolina will surely balk at re-upping him at his current $9.5MM per. Blues Captain David Backes could be a nice fit and Ryan Kessler could be a cap casualty in Anaheim. Michael Grabner, though he hasn’t put up 30 goals in 4 seasons, is young and could be looking for a new home. Of course, the Devils could also use their depth at D and make a trade. Phil Kessel, Patrick Sharp, Loui Eriksson and Ryan O’Reilly are some names I’d keep an eye on.
This is a brand new era in NJ. Whatever transpires, between the upcoming draft and next years Free Agency, The Devils will be undergoing a massive makeover. And for the first time in 27 years, someone other than Lou Lamoriello will be in charge of shaping it all.