The New Jersey Devils’ long seven-game road trip has mercifully reached its conclusion. The team, which only won once on the trip thanks to a hat trick from Brian Boyle in Pittsburgh, is demoralized and lacking confidence. During the last seven games, the team was outscored 34-17 and blown out (deficits of three or more) in five of those seven games. In addition, the Devils have won just twice in their last 11 contests after starting the season 4-0-0. It was a horrible couple of weeks for Jersey’s Team, which now heads back to the Prudential Center to face a Pittsburgh Penguins team looking for revenge from the Devils’ only win on their road tip.
Devils fans on social media have been justifiable frustrated and angry with the team’s performance, and have been pointing the finger of blame at scapegoats ranging from Coach John Hynes and the defense, to subpar goaltending and the offense. Surely, injuries are partly to blame for the team’s sharp decline in play, but there is one single man who has not gotten much of the warranted criticism,
Let me be clear: I think General Manager Ray Shero has done some tremendous things for the New Jersey Devils organization. From acquiring Taylor Hall in a one-for-one deal, to getting Kyle Palmieri for a couple of draft picks and everything in between, he’s made the team into one that is younger and faster, and is able to compete with the upper echelons of NHL talent when they are on their game.
That being said, this off-season was horrible for the GM. The team lost players like John Moore, Brian Gibbons, Pat Maroon and Michael Grabner for literally nothing, after all four walked away during free agency. What did Shero do to replace these players? Next to nothing. He made a few depth signings, but in large part, his strategy for the 2018-19 campaign seems to have been letting the team’s young core get increased ice time and exposure at the NHL level. While I certainly understand this idea, no moves were made to help the team over the offseason, which attributed to the team getting worse for the short-term. New Jersey started to slide during the final quarter of the 20117-18 season, before being bested by the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games during the first round of the playoffs. It was clear the Devils were not far from being a competitive team every season, but after their offseason departures and recent struggles, that may no longer be the case.
The good news is how early we still are in the 2018-2019 season. Only 15 out of 82 games have been played, but as we near the quarter-mark of this year’s campaign, it is time for Shero to explore external opportunities for getting the team back on track. Some may argue firing Hynes is a good start. I personally disagree, and do not think coaching is the issue. Rather, Having said that, I do believe the coaching staff lacks necessary talent to have a competitive team on a consistent nightly basis. Before Hynes gets canned, it is up to Shero to explore the possibility of bringing in some players via trade (maybe targeting William Nylander would be a good avenue). However, doing so with a roster that consists largely of young no-name players will prove difficult, as Shero does not want to mortgage the future (in terms of draft picks or young players) for short-term success.
What kind of player should Shero be looking to acquire? Well, he should continue targeting younger assets both up front and on the blue line. It would be wise to add some size to his roster, especially on defense, which has been an area of major concern the last 11 games. Defensive improvements are a must, along with adding an additional center who excels in the face-off dot, and maybe a couple more third-line scoring wingers. I doubt Shero will be able to add any big-name players at this point in the season, so he will have to continue looking for needles in the haystack that may be able to add some scoring depth to a team that is severely lacking.