With the playoffs winding down, speculation is under way on what Ray Shero will do with his abundance of cap space, draft picks, and the upcoming expansion draft. In what could be the most eventful offseason in Newark since 2010, the current position New Jersey is in has to be a career-first for Shero and the Devils organization. While many see the current roster as a readily modifiable canvas, the immense opportunity for reform has a lot of room for error- costly mistakes that can potentially derail the rebuild. Between dishing out exorbitant contracts, mismanaging roster depth, and acquiring players solely for the sake of making a move, Ray Shero can’t afford to take his flexibility and resources for granted. While managerial mishaps can happen in a variety of ways, there are three major moves Shero must avoid at all costs if he wants to make the Devils a playoff contender.
Overload on depth in one position…While having adequate positional depth is never bad, too many players of one position can be problematic. This is an existing circumstance on the Devils roster with their centers. New Jersey currently has established centers like Travis Zajac, Pavel Zacha, and Adam Henrique. Shero is likely to gain another with the first overall pick in Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, while prospects John Quenneville, Mike McLeod, and Blake Coleman will compete for roster spots next season…that’s seven centers.
While players like Henrique, Zacha, and Quenneville can slide to wing (which all three played during parts of last season), this is something worth avoiding if possible. Ideally, you’d like to see youngsters like Zacha, Patrick/Hischier, Quenneville, and McLeod have an established top-nine role in their natural position. With Henrique and Zajac shoe-ins for occupying two of the team’s top three center slots, it makes that arrangement impossible, and would be counterproductive to throw any of these prospects on the fourth line for the sake of having them on the big team. Simply put, Shero will have some tough decisions to make with his surplus of centers. This gives Shero a few trade chips to bolster other parts of his roster lacking depth like the wings and (especially) defense, but that’s an article topic for another time.
A free agent shopping spree…With over $21 million in cap space, the Devils will have a lot of spending flexibility going into the offseason. Shero can easily add a contract of equivalent or greater cost than Taylor Hall’s $6 million price tag, however this doesn’t necessarily give the Devils a green light to spend freely on July 1st. Teams making high-profile acquisitions aren’t necessarily guaranteed automatic improvement the following season. The Vancouver Canucks for example, were one of the big spenders last July 1st when they signed right wing Louis Ericksson for $42 million, and wound up finishing with a worse record than the Devils.
The Buffalo Sabres acquired coveted free agents like Matt Moulson (2014), Ryan O’Reilly (2015, RFA), and Kyle Okposo (2016), but haven’t made the playoffs since 2011. Moulson hasn’t tallied more than 40 points in Buffalo, while Okposo only tallied 45 points last season. These contracts are starting to look more cumbersome for the Sabres in the long-term. I’m not advocating against making a big splash, however I do think Shero should exercise extreme caution if an opportunity presents itself, and only commit if it fits his long-term plans.
Keep picking apples from the same tree…It’s a known fact some general managers are more comfortable dealing with certain teams than others. There have been a few examples of this trend around the league in recent years. The Minnesota Wild, for example, have acquired multiple former Buffalo Sabres players via trade and free agency- Moulson, Vanek, Pominville, Stewart. The New York Rangers had a similar relationship with the Arizona Coyotes, and Shero seems to with the Anaheim Ducks (Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelly, Lovejoy, Noesen). This comes amid speculation that Shero could potentially swing a deal for one of Anaheim’s coveted defensemen, since they’re inevitably going to have to be exposed at the expansion draft.
Continuously getting players from the same organization could impose an unprecedented influence on how a roster gets shaped, like inheriting any bad habits and negative qualities of your redundant trading partner. While most of the teams I cited above have been regular playoff participants, most of those acquisitions haven’t quite panned out either. Not that I’m saying this will be the case with the Devils (although DSP and Lovejoy might contradict my argument), but the players getting moved in these deals usually need a completely fresh start without any ties to their old organization. Constantly acquiring players from one team essentially defeats that purpose.