NJ Devils: A franchise in transition
The New Jersey Devils are in the midst of one of the most polarizing offseasons in franchise history — arguably their most drastic offseason since relocating to New Jersey in 1982.
2014-15 wasn’t a season that was kind to the Devils. They dealt with a litany of injuries, fired their coach mid-season for a three-headed coaching committee and dealt with the oldest roster in the NHL. Only two players (Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri finished with more than 35 points, and they ended the season with a 32-36-14 record for 78 points (seventh in the Metro Division) and a missed playoff berth for the third-consecutive season.
In early May, longtime GM Lou Lamoriello made headlines by stepping down from his position, and hiring former Pittsburgh architect Ray Shero as his replacement. Lamoriello had been the league’s longest-tenured GM (having served in that role since 1987), and was the brains behind their three Stanley Cup wins in 1995, 2000 and 2003. He was to continue in his capacity as team president.
The team then proceeded to reach out to the American League for its next coach, hiring John Hynes of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for his first NHL job. The move reunited Hynes with Shero, and gave the Devils a coach with a proven track record. Since his first season as the Baby Pens’ coach (2010-11), the team made the playoffs every season while reaching two conference finals.
The biggest twist, however, came on July 23. In a move that only WWE could script, Lamoriello resigned as president, and headed to Toronto to assist the Maple Leafs in their rebuild. Just when it seemed that Lamoriello would be a Devil for life, he moved on, citing a desire to be a general manager again.
With the sixth-overall pick in this year’s draft, the Devils took center Pavel Zacha from the Ontario League’s Sarnia Sting, and moved their second- and third-round picks to Anaheim for 24-year-old North Jersey native Kyle Palmieri. When free agency opened in July, the team signed John Moore, the 24-year-old former New York Ranger. They also locked up young blueliner Adam Larsson to a six-year, $25 million extension late in July, where he will return to a crop of young defensemen that includes Moore, Damon Severson, Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill.
A rebuild seems a bit unconventional for the Devils, who were always build to compete for the Stanley Cup year in and year out. Their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 offered promise for a bright future, but missed playoffs in the three seasons that followed proved that to be a fluke. Factor in that the Devils advanced past the quarterfinal round of the playoffs just once since 2007 (their 2012 run), and it’s easy to see why a rebuild would be necessary.
Owner Josh Harris has also proven to be committed to a rebuild. Harris also owns the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, who are in the third year of a rebuild of their own. The Devils’ rebuild may not need to be a drastic as the Sixers’ well-documented tank job, but it still proves what ownership is willing to do in order to build a contender.
The past few seasons have been rough for the Devils and their fans, and this offseason was one of their most shocking. But now, the team is in a needed transition period, the rebuild can begin, and the Devils can look to return to their Stanley Cup glory.
Follow Rob Riches on Twitter @Riches61