Writer’s Twitter: @ChrisMottHockey
Recap: What Just Happened?
The New Jersey Devils were preparing to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at The Rock for the second game in their back-to-back when an hour before game time, it was announced that Ray Shero and the Devils had mutually agreed to part ways. Devils’ Twitter went crazy and no one knew what was going on. There were no signs or indications, at least on the outside, that this move was possibly coming. Owner Josh Harris and newly promoted interim GM Tom Fitzgerald spoke to the media just before the game to address the situation. And for those who missed that, I will include that clip below. After agreeing to part ways with Shero, assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald was promoted to the general manager, and Martin Brodeur was given an additional job as “advisor to hockey operations”.
What Shero Has Done in New Jersey
Shero has done a lot of good things for the Devils organization despite the current state of this season. When Shero took over the Devils on May 4, 2015, he inherited a roster with minimal talent at the NHL level compared to the rest of the league. And a prospect pool that was not very talented when compared to others around the league. Say what you will, but Shero had done a great job of changing that over the years that he was here.
I guess the best way to look at this is to just simply see what good things he has done for the organization versus some other decisions, as it is easy to be torn on whether Shero and the Devils parting ways is really a good thing or not. The basis that we know and can go off of is that Shero and ownership did not share the same plan or goal for the near future of the organization.
Shero has done a great job with a lot of the draft choices he has made besides the first overall picks, and a lot of that can also be attributed to the scouting department. But at the end of the day, Shero had to decide who to take with each pick. He drafted Jesper Bratt in the 6th round, 162nd overall in 2016 as an example. As of writing this article, the Binghamton Devils are currently on a seven-game winning streak thanks to players like Brett Seney and others the Devils have drafted over the past couple of seasons.
Shero signed Nico Hischier to a long-term extension and while many in the media in general thought it was a risky contract, fans and those who truly follow this team saw it as pure gold. Hischier is locked up until the end of the 2027 season, at $7.25 million per year beginning next season, and his play since Taylor Hall was traded to Arizona shows why this contract will be an absolute win for the Devils and their cap space long term.
The Devils are a talented team and a lot of that has to do with the players Shero brought in whether through trade, free agency, or the draft. Players such as Sami Vatanen and Kyle Palmieri were brought over in trade deals, while a player such as Will Butcher was signed as an undrafted free agent. Louis Domingue was acquired from Tampa Bay for a 7th round draft pick. Both Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes were drafted 1st overall and were absolute hits in the draft. Nikita Gusev is also really starting to get it going since being acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights. The point is that a lot of the talent that is starting to perform in New Jersey is talent that Shero brought in.
Of course, there is also the entire Taylor Hall Saga; from acquiring him in a deal with the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Adam Larsson, one for one. Hall would win the Hart Trophy with the Devils and helped lead the team to the playoffs that season. Unfortunately, things could not work out long term to keep Hall, and the Devils traded him this season to Arizona. I would include the trade to Arizona as a positive as well, though others think it is a negative and Shero did not get enough. Shero got the most he could given the situation the Devils were in with Hall.
The P.K. Subban trade, as of right now, can be viewed as a negative. Though in my opinion, not a huge negative, Subban does carry a high cap hit and so far has not played up to that contract value, though he is turning it around along with the team. And for those who hate the cap hit, he will only be under contract for that value for the next two seasons after this one concludes. While it does sting that the Devils will not have their 2nd round picks for the next two drafts because of the trade, the price could be worth it if Subban continues to turn it around like he has recently.
Shero stuck with John Hynes when it was time to move on. Hynes was a great coach, but the evidence showed that the team was just not playing well under his system and his message. Shero stuck with Hynes for as long as he could until he ultimately had to fire him. Hynes has since been hired as the head coach for the Nashville Predators, which is not surprising because Hynes is a smart coach and really does have a chance to be successful in this league.
Unfortunately, the season just has not gone the way it was expected to. And between the very shaky goaltending the Devils had the first couple months, and the unwillingness to move on from Hynes, the Devils are now playing in a massive hole with regards to a chance at the playoffs.
Shero did not address the Devils’ goaltending situation because he had faith in what they had with Schneider’s play improving at the end of last season and Blackwood showing some promising play. Unfortunately, that faith did not come true, and the Devils struggled greatly with goaltending early in the season. Blackwood seems to have turned it around more recently, and Schneider was just called back up to the Devils from Binghamton after some strong play in the AHL. But the fact is that even if both players turn it around, it could be too little too late.
Where Are the Devils Going?
The Devils are at an interesting fork in the road because they are not far off from being a very competitive team, as they showcased recently beating some teams including the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. The question of whether to sell off as much as possible to acquire assets or keep building off what is already present is a question that Tom Fitzgerald, Martin Brodeur, and others within the organization will need to answer.
Myself personally, I hope they choose to build on what is already here rather than start selling off assets and taking steps backward in this current rebuild. As time goes on, I’m sure there will be more information that eventually leaks out about what the reason was for both Ray Shero and Devils’ ownership to agree to part ways. But for now, all we know is that Tom Fitzgerald is taking over. I personally have faith that Fitzgerald will do well, as he already has with all of the roles he has taken on with this organization. And for me, he would be my first choice as the new official general manager, as he knows the organization from top to bottom extremely well.