(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by David.)
The New Jersey Devils are bad. And not, like, bad how they were the last two seasons where they were actually kind of good and just didn’t get a single bounce to go their way.
Bad like they are actually bad. They’re currently 24th in the NHL, which sounds just about right, and don’t even have the fundamentals in their game to back up people who say, “Well they really ought to be better.” They’re also 25th in score-adjusted corsi-for, which sounds about right.
Their roster is old and slow and not very good. This is a real and true thing I cannot believe, but here’s a stat for you: Scott Gomez is getting 16 minutes a night for them. How is this possible? Here’s another one: Of the 33 players that have put on a Devils jersey and got onto the ice this season, 17 (SEVENTEEN!!!!!) are over the age of 30. Only nine are 25 or younger.
Which is in part due to the philosophy clearly espoused on an organizational basis that old and gritty is better than young and skilled, which it isn’t in point of fact. And also due to the fact that the Devils have drafted horribly for years now. Look at any study of draft history over the past, say, decade, and you’re going to see the Devils down there near the bottom.
A lot of GMs in this league are unfairly maligned for drafting poorly — usually what this means is “not getting NHLers in the third-through-seventh rounds” which isn’t a skill so much as it is luck, but reflects poorly on GMs anyway — but Lou Lamoriello isn’t one of them. He drafts poorly. Going back a decade, you’ve got Travis Zajac, Niclas Bergfors, Matthew Corrente, Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, Adam Larsson, and Stefan Matteau as first-round picks who have made the NHL. Pretty good to get all those guys because they made the show and typically have at least 100 games played, but at the same time, like, Travis Zajac shouldn’t be your best first-round pick in the course of a decade. To be fair, the year before that it was Zach Parise, but I really shouldn’t have to go back 11 years to find an actual difference-maker in the first round.
Then there’s the NHL roster itself, which has lost a lot to attrition in the last few years. Ilya Kovalchuk wanted to take the Russian money and run (can’t blame him). Zach Parise wanted to head back home. David Clarkson wanted to get dramatically overpaid. Nothing to be done, there. But the ways Lamoriello attempted to replace these players defy logic. The replacement for Kovalchuk? “Nobody.” The replacement for Parise? “A baffling overpayment to Travis Zajac for some reason.” The replacement for Clarkson? “Ryane Clowe’s concussion problem.”
Getting Cory Schneider was just about the only good good move he’s made in a long time. And even that got fumbled in its execution (early on at least) because they couldn’t tell Marty Brodeur he wasn’t good enough to start any more. Now it’s being fumbled because they’re wasting a stellar age-28 season — and presumably age-29 through age-32 as well — with this garbage in front of him.
Lamoriello is clearly past it. Definitively. The game has blown by him like an opposing forward on the ice against Bryce Salvador, but he remains bulletproof because he won three Cups before Damon Severson lost all his baby teeth. He’s going to go out on his own terms, and until that point, the Devils are going to continue to be bad. He doesn’t see the game properly, and no amount of Sonny Mehtas are going to be able to convince him to sign helpful players to reasonable contracts. That prickly, stubborn image he projects is fun and everything, but this team really ought to be a lot better than he’s making it.
The team has three goddamn coaches, because Lamoriello thinks it’s a good idea. And he’s one of them. I mean come on.
When will the Devils be good again? “Five years after Lamoriello retires” sounds about right.
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