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Coming seemingly out of left field, Ray Shero’s succeeding of Lou Lamoriello as general manager marked the conclusion of one of the most illustrious eras in hockey history. It doesn’t make sense not to start a piece like this without paying tribute to the 28 years Lou Lamoriello spent as general manager of the Devils. He turned a subpar bottom-feeding organization into a perennial playoff contender that amassed three Stanley Cup championships, five runs to the Stanley Cup Finals, nine division titles, three hall of fame careers, and countless other achievements.
The imposition of the salary cap was the forefront of change that propelled the NHL into the modernized era it’s currently in. It slowly became apparent that his stagnated philosophical outlook on hockey operations wasn’t complying with the changes that were brought about in the game, on and off the ice. You can’t say Lamoriello didn’t try to at least modify his ideologies, but he ultimately succumbed old habits that carried over from the pre-salary cap era. His brutal track record of unrestricted free agent retention, committing to the wrong players (role-wise and contractually), and the unforgettably maddening continuum that was the coaching carrousel, ultimately prompted the downfall that put the Devils in the state they’re currently in.
The ramifications of Shero’s installment as general manager will resonate through the organization on a cultural and structural basis. We may start seeing subtle changes like the issuing of higher numbers, instead of the “No. 30 cap” that Lamoriello strictly enforced over the years. Will the impenetrable veil of secrecy shrouding the organization at least gain a degree of transparency (no more status-quo and other cryptic answers)? The biggest differences between Lamoriello and Shero will be the handling of unrestricted free agents and coaching stability. You could construct a full roster out of the notable players Lamoriello lost to unrestricted free agency over the years. It’s an ordeal Shero never dealt with to the degree that Lamoriello did. Players like Marian Hossa and Jarome Iginla left as unrestricted free agents under Shero’s watch, but the presences of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin always made up for it. One thing Shero succeeded with in Pittsburgh was locking up his core players to long term deals. He signed Crosby (12 years) in 2012, Malkin (8 years) and Letang (8 years) in 2013, and signed Marc-Andre Fleury (7 years) in 2008, which laid the foundation for the four-year extension he recently signed.
Since the 2006-2007 season, the Devils have had eight coaching changes (seven different coaches) under Lamoriello’s watch. It never seemed to be a normal summer if the Devils didn’t have a head coaching vacancy going into the offseason. The irony of the Devils’ coaching situation is how Pete DeBoer was thought to be the solution to long term coaching stability after he guided the team to their unexpected Stanley Cup Final run in 2012, which (as we all know) marked the last time New Jersey qualified for the postseason. Over the eight seasons Shero presided as Pittsburgh’s general manager, he only made one coaching change, which seemed to be the final piece needed for the Penguins to attain championship status in 2009. After replacing Michel Therrien midway through the 2008-2009 season, Dan Bylsma coached for five more seasons (reaching the postseason every year).
It’s worth reiterating between 2009 and 2014 (Bylsma’s coaching tenure in Pittsburgh), six of those eight coaching changes took place in New Jersey.
On the front of roster transactions, Shero was renowned for the trades he orchestrated that suited both Pittsburgh’s long term needs and last minute additions for their annual playoff runs. Unlike Lamoriello, whose trades either shored up on the Devils’ depth (with the exception of the Kovalchuk and Zidlicky deals), or brought back players for a second roundabout with the organization, the magnitude of the splashes Shero made via trade compensated for his lack of making any groundbreaking splashes in the free agent market. In 2008 and 2009, the years Pittsburgh made back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals appearances, Shero executed trades for Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis, Billy Guerin, and Chris Kunitz. Guerin and Hossa played integral parts in those playoff runs, while Kunitz and Dupuis have since played with the team. Shero acquired James Neal and Matt Niskanen in 2011, made the Jordan Staal trade in the summer of 2012, and acquired Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Doug Murray, and Jussi Jokinen in 2013, all whom helped carry the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Simply put, Ray Shero isn’t afraid of making the necessary moves to give his team the best edge possible, which came at a cost of sacrificing prospects and draft picks. Between 2007 and 2014, there were five years where Pittsburgh had six or less draft picks. Although Shero only went into two drafts without a first round pick, his track record over that span has, at best been mediocre. Shero drafted six players that have played more than 90 NHL games. He found a few diamonds in the rough in the later rounds of the 2007 draft in Jake Muzzin, Dustin Jeffrey, and can be credited for drafting promising prospects in the first round like Simon Despres, Beau Bennett, Olli Maatta, and Derrick Pouliot. This upcoming draft is essential for the Devils. From his handling of the sixth overall pick to the rest of the team’s picks, Shero’s moves will be closely watched.
Shero inherits a Devils team with a dilapidated offense, an established No. 1 goaltender, and a young promising defense. As the Penguins were when Shero was hired to be their general manager in 2006 (finished 29th in the league), the Devils are close to (if not there already) rock bottom status. The credit Shero gets for what he’s done in Pittsburgh has been downplayed because the team’s core players like Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Fleury were already in the organization when Shero first arrived. He maintained the foundation in Pittsburgh that was set in place when he inherited the team, by signing Pittsburgh’s core players to their respective long term deals in his final years as the team’s general manager. Pittsburgh was always a perennial playoff contender over the eight years he spent there, and hopes are high the success Shero achieved in Pittsburgh will continue in New Jersey.