Devils owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer brought a once proud hockey team that has been on the decline since 2013.
It would have been easy for them to keep successful Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello and have him get the Devils out of this mess, but it wasn’t working anymore. The Devils were older and there was no young talent in the team’s farm system. They were not good enough to play today’s hockey at the time, which featured emphasis on scoring. They knew they could not keep this at status quo.
They had the conviction to phase Lamoriello out by naming him as president of the team and hiring Ray Shero as their general manager to oversee the rebuilding process in 2015. Fast forward to now, the Devils qualified for the playoffs this season, and this team was made in Shero’s image, which is being big, strong and fast.
Shero was the right hire at the right time. They were fortunate to hire him when he was available after the Pittsburgh Penguins fired him. The league is no longer about defensive hockey. It’s about speed, skating and scoring. He built some good Penguins teams when he was their GM as he built the team around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin by getting so many scorers, which was a selling point for the new owners to hire him.
Shero’s acquisitions such as Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Kyle Palmieri and Patrick Maroon helped made the Devils a playoff team. His selection of free agents has worked out well by signing Will Butcher, Ben Lovejoy and Brian Boyle. His coaching hire of John Hynes turned out be a success. Just looking at what he has done, it’s easy to understand why the Devils’ rebuilding process went faster than anyone thought. He has a good eye for talent and leaders.
Hall has been the foundation of the Devils’ rebuilding project. He has been a great scorer, but he
never win with the Oilers since they had many coaches during his tenure. He finally had stability with the Devils, who were committed to him.
Hall has been good in his first two seasons, but he has played like a MVP candidate this season by being a two-way player. Not only has he been great offensively this season by scoring 39 goals and dishing out 54 assists, but he has been effective defensively by checking others and blocking shots. He is a guy the Devils can build around for the next 15 years if he stays with the Devils being that he is 26 years old.
Getting Hall was a no-brainer. The Devils needed a go-to guy to score. They needed a franchise player. For Shero to get him, he has to consider himself fortunate. A general manager needs to have some luck to build a team, and he received it from the Oilers, who for some reason wanted to get rid of Hall. Players like Hall don’t come around often, so for Shero not only to get him but beat other teams to him is impressive. It’s the type of move Devils fans will remember for a long time just like when the Devils acquired Scott Stevens from the Blues for Brendan Shanahan as a compensation for the Blues signing the Devils free agent. In both cases, luck had to be involved for the Devils to get what they want.
Drafting Nico Hischier this summer paid dividends for the Devils. He has been a force defensively, and he has improved the Devils power play along with Butcher. He had 20 goals and 32 assists this year, which is good for a rookie. He has been great as advertised. This is another example of Shero’s ability of having an eye for talent.
Shero took a risk in trading one of the team’s popular players in Adam Henrique to the Anaheim Ducks for Vatanen. He needed to improve the team’s defense, but the other side of the argument was he could have destroyed the team’s chemistry in the locker room. Henrique was a character player and a clutch player. He is a guy that got it done, but the Devils defense needed improvement if they were going to be a playoff team, so Shero made the move. Vatanen has been effective in the blue line since he was acquired.
WFAN’s Lori Rubinson made a great point about Shero being a team builder on her excellent show Sunday night. She mentioned that he has done a great job integrating veterans with rookies by citing Boyle, Palmieri and Lovejoy, who knows a thing or two about winning. The veterans have showed the young players how to win and how to be professional in the locker room. It’s no wonder why the talented Devils sideline reporter Deb Placey told Rubinson on Sunday this was the best group of players she ever covered. It says so much about Shero knowing the locker room and knowing what it takes to build a team. That’s his great strength as general manager.
Shero also deserves credit for sticking with Hynes as coach despite him learning on the job in his first two years as coach. He believed in him since he knew him when they worked together in the Penguins organization. He knows his head coach nurtures talent and a leader, so he was going to stick with him and give him a chance to succeed despite the last two seasons.
It’s clear Shero knows what he is doing. His work speaks for itself with the Devils. He has escaped Lamoriello’s shadow once in for all. This is his team now.
The roster was made of clay two years ago when Shero got here, and now the foundation has been built.