Following a third consecutive playoff-less season, the New Jersey Devils have had a transformative past six months. After 27 years at the helm, Lou Lamoriello brought in Ray Shero to succeed him as general manager. A few months later, Lamoriello left the Devils organization entirely to become general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, sending shockwaves through the hockey community as one of the most illustrious managerial eras in sports history officially ended. One of Shero’s first significant moves was hiring head coach John Hynes, who became the youngest NHL coach (40) going into the season. Hynes’ hiring marked the beginning of a summer overhaul on the team’s coaching, scouting, and managerial staff.
The Devils enjoyed a bountiful draft where they selected highly touted players like Pavel Zacha, Mackenzie Blackwood, and other promising young prospects. We saw several longtime veterans leave the team this offseason via free agency, retirement, and contractual termination. Their roster spots were replenished with younger players looking to make the next big stride in their professional careers. Shero didn’t really make any big splashes in the trade or free agent market. He mostly acquired players who adhered to his “fast, attacking, supportive” model, like right wing Kyle Palmieri from the Anaheim Ducks, 25-year old free agent defenseman John Moore, and made some late offseason signings and PTO invites.
Departures…The most significant departure is a no-brainer. After relegating his general manager duties to Shero, Lamoriello clearly wasn’t ready to fade in the background. His departure would end the team’s strict longtime policies pertaining to jersey numbers, social media, along with the public and media’s accessibility to the players. Moving forward, these changes should help New Jersey gain more social relevance around the league and begin the modernization of Devils culture. Lamoriello was just the tip of the iceberg. Coach Hynes didn’t retain any of last year’s bench staff (except for goalie coach Chris Terreri). The Devils severed ties with co-coaches Adam Oates and Scott Stevens who were replaced with personnel Hynes was more familiar with.
After a spotty track record dating back to the mid-00’s director of scouting David Conte was also released after spending more than 30 years with the organization. He’ll always be credited with discovering marquee talents like Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Zach Parise, and Brendan Shanahan. The latter years of his career however, weren’t as bountiful and depleted the team’s prospect pool. The Devils opening night lineup is going to be vastly different from the one that skated in the final game of last season. Gone are veterans Dainius Zubrus, Scott Gomez, Steve Bernier, Peter Harold, Bryce Salvador, Michael Ryder, and Martin Havlat. These seven players had an average age of 34.5 (as of the date the Devils played their last regular season game). Outside of Bernier, the six other aforementioned skaters combined for just 25 of the 181 goals the Devils scored in 2014-2015. Although Bernier had 16 of his own, the Devils opted not to sign the 30-year old right wing.
Acquisitions…Ray Shero spent most of the offseason retooling his personnel, and orchestrated a very according but gainful summer for New Jersey. Shero’s first major move was the hiring of former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes. Over five seasons coaching the Penguins, Coach Hynes leaves with a .637 winning percentage. He was the AHL’s 2011 Coach of the Year, and made five consecutive playoff appearances, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in back-to-back years (2013-2014). Hynes brought in Alain Nasreddine, his Wilkes/Barre assistant coach, and Geoff Ward, who won a championship in Germany last season and a Stanley Cup in 2011 as an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins. Shero also hired Tom Fitzgerald as assistant general manager, and to oversee the operations of the Albany Devils. Shero succeeded David Conte with Paul Castron, formerly the Director of Amateur Scouting with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Under Castron, Columbus drafted players like Rick Nash, Ryan Johansen, Ryan Murray, Jakub Voracek, and Derek Brassard.
Shero’s highlight player acquisition was right wing Kyle Palmieri, who was acquired at the draft. Unable to get consistent playing time in Anaheim’s loaded top-six, he’s gelling nicely in training camp and has had an impactful presence in his preseason games. Shero’s biggest free agent signing was defenseman John Moore. After being involved in two major Ranger trades over the past two years and Phoenix opting not to re-sign him, his three-year deal gives his career stability, so he can continue his development uninterrupted with one team. Showing their worth this preseason have been Jiri Tlusty, Lee Stempniak, and Tyler Kennedy. Shero signed Tlusty to a one-year, one-way contract and issued training camp invites to the other two. Tlusty has fit in well so far after being rotated throughout the top-three lines. Shero is familiar with Stempniak and Kennedy from his Pittsburgh days, and both players have survived the first few cuts and got on the score sheet throughout the exhibition season.
The Present Situation…Like I said, this team is practically unrecognizable from the one that played in last season’s final game. The old, slow, unwatchable roster is now down to one player over 35-years of age (Patrik Elias), who appears to be starting the season on IR. It’s possible the Devils won’t have a captain going into the season. This would be the fourth time since 2005 the team has been without one. Up front, the Devils currently have seven forwards in their mid-twenties or younger, and only one defenseman (Andy Greene) older than that. In addition, eleven of the remaining 27 skaters on the roster are Devils draft picks, five of them defensemen.
Outside of John Moore and Marc-Andre Gragniani, the Devils have made a full-fledged commitment to their defensive youth crop. Youngsters like Damon Severson, Adam Larsson, and Eric Gelinas have an opportunity to build on their success from last year, and take the next giant step in their development. It’s not all about age that made these past six months significant for the Devils. It’s been a tiresome past couple of seasons in New Jersey and the changes that Shero implemented this summer were sorely overdue. The Devils are conforming their culture, roster, and style of play, all under a refurnished staff that knows how to succeed in this era the game is in. Even if the Devils fail to qualify for the playoffs this season, they’re forming a roster that should at the very least, make the team competitive and give the fans a reason to tune in every night.