Devils decade in review: Mostly dark clouds with a couple of bright patches

I’ve seen some decade in review things sporadically including podcasts and whatnot, plus the NFL’s 100th anniversary stuff but it didn’t really occur to me to do a decade in review for the Devils until I saw someone bring up a good point on a message board, basically a month into the decade the trade for Ilya Kovalchuk happened and thus the 2010’s were off and running into contreversy and infamy for Devils fans.

Having been sufficiently sparked into writing something different (not to mention being compelled to stay home from tonight’s game due to the lousy weather/team) I’m spending my free time today going back down memory lane.  Disclaimer: I wound up dwelling on the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons a little more than the rest for obvious good and bad reasons, respectively – but the rest I tried to give a more concise overview since the totality of reviewing ten years is freaking long!

It’s not going to be pretty most of the time but hot damn, a lot of stuff did happen in the 2010’s for the Devils.  A lot bad, some good and some macabre.

2009-10 – As the new decade opened, the Devils were where they usually were for the previous fifteen years, in first place looking to contend for a Stanley Cup in coach Jacques Lemaire’s second go-around with the team after the hideous departure of previous coach Brent Sutter to Calgary, in what would turn out to be a foreboding of things to come.  It wasn’t always then-GM Lou Lamoriello’s way to make the splashy trade but he did it at certain times – Doug Gilmour, Alexander Mogilny – and would do it again in 2010 with Kovalchuk.  At the time it was looked on as a rental trade, although rentals certainly cost more then compared to now.  Even so, the price of Johnny Oduya, Nicklas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick didn’t seem all that prohibitive…though looking back, it’s funny that it turned out to be Oduya and not either of the two highly thought of prospects who was the biggest player of consequence going the other way.  While Bergfors flamed out of the league inside of two years and Cormier had a bunch of inconsequental call-ups, Oduya lasted nearly a decade as a solid middle-pairing defenseman on good teams.  As it turned out we only got 27 regular-season games and five playoff games out of the trade itself, as the Devils had a poor second half and flamed out of the playoffs in just five games against the Flyers with Lemaire resigning.

2010-11 – Even as bad as the second half of 2009-2010 seemed at the time, it was nothing compared to the first half of 2010-11.  Shockingly, the Devils re-signed Kovalchuk – usually not something Lou bothered doing with most free agents – much less to the tune of 17 years and $102 million.  Lou himself referred to the commitment ownership (then Jeff Vanderbeek, a fan who would wind up spending beyond his means) wanting to make to this player, tacitly implying it was an organizational decision.  In hindsight, it was the first sign not all was well in Devils land.  Even more shockingly, the contract was ruled illegal due to violating the spirit of the salary cap, with the decision being upheld by arbiter Richard Bloch.  Although team and player agreed to a slightly modified 15 year, $100 million deal the damage was done as the Devils were fined, and penalized a 3rd round pick in 2011 as well as a first round pick where they would have to choose a year to surrender it by 2014.

ESPN: Ilya Kovalchuk doesn’t like penalty

As if the summer which included a coaching change – from Lemaire to long-time assistant and former franchise icon John MacLean – plus the Kovalchuk re-signing saga which took two and a half weeks, and the contract saga which spanned nearly two months wasn’t contreversial enough, the Devils still had to face their cap issues even with a modified Kovy deal.  Having Bryce Salvador go on IR before the season for what turned out to be an inner-ear concussion that would cost the venerable defenseman the entire season was convenient cap-wise but not so convenient on the ice.  New Jersey still had to field woefully short rosters of less than twenty players until Brian Rolston got put on IR for sports hernia surgery.  While the cap problems dissapeared, the real ones weren’t going away as Kovalchuk looked on his way to being a $100 million bust, even getting himself scratched for a game by perennial tardiness and the team cratered, going 9-22-2 under MacLean before he was fired after just thirty-three games right before Christmas.

Lou more or less begged Lemaire to come back and after a rocky first eight games, Lemaire did turn around the ship to an inspiring level although there were casualties, mainly captain and longtime mainstay Jamie Langenbrunner (traded to Dallas just two weeks after Lemaire came back), who’d been at odds with Lemaire for the previous several months and his play had declined towards the end of his career.  At one point Lemaire led the Devils on a 23-3-2 run, and they somehow went from 26 points out of a playoff spot to just 6 before finally fading back out of the race in mid-March.  Still, at least there was hope restored going into next season, even if we had no idea what to expect from Lou’s latest coaching hire in Pete DeBoer – who’d recently been dismissed after three playoff-less seasons in Florida.

2011-12 – The angst heading into this season didn’t come from Kovalchuk but courtesy of the team’s other star winger, Zach Parise.  While Lou did give him the C befitting his stature in the locker room, Parise had missed most of the previous year due to injury and only signed a one-year deal to get to free agency.  His contract status hung over the team like a black cloud throughout the year.  Parise also didn’t play well early due to injury rust and the team struggled to stay at .500 through 25 games (12-12-1) before slowly taking off, going 36-16-5 the rest of the regular season, including a six-game winning streak heading into the playoffs.  Salvador’s inspiring return to play every single game that season – not to mention his surprising playoff heroics – was indiciative of a year where almost everything went right on the ice and acquisitions such as Marek Zidlicky, Alexei Ponikarovsky and a couple of unheralded fourth liners in Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter fortified the team, as did the surprising return of Petr Sykora, the once-beloved Czech winger who was traded off a decade earlier.

Our season of good feeling hit a wall early in the postseason as the Devils fell behind a mediocre Panthers team 3-2, headed to overtime in Game 6 at home with more first-round dissapointment looming on the horizon after three straight playoff defeats in the first round to the Rangers, Hurricanes and Flyers from 2008-2010, every time being eliminated at home.  However, Travis Zajac’s OT goal staved off elimination, then a couple nights later down in Sunrise Adam Henrique’s double OT goal did more than that, it won the series in dramatic fashion and foreshadowed even bigger celebrations ahead.  After disposing of the Flyers in a surprisingly easy five games in the Conference Semis, the Devils would face an even bigger archnemesis in the Conference Finals – the Rangers.

To say the teams’ first meeting in a Conference Finals since 1994 was Armageddon wouldn’t be too much of an overstatement.  Pretty much every time the Devils and Rangers play in the playoffs there’s something memorable about it, from the teams’ first-round series in 1992 when a young Martin Brodeur made his playoff debut in a seven-game loss, to the aformentioned 1994 series which went down as one of the best playoff series of all-time and another painful Devils defeat just short of their first Finals.  1997 saw an older, lesser Rangers team upset the Devils in the Conference Semis in a five-game series and kept alive the myth of being our playoff daddies.  They still had 3-0 in the playoffs to hang over us even through the dark ages for them and our golden years.  Finally in 2006, we got them memorably in a four-game first-round destruction, but they got their revenge just two years later ousting us in five in the dubious Sean Avery series.

If Brodeur was green in 1992 for his playoff debut against the Rangers, he was thought to be a gray shell of himself in 2012, going up against the reigning Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist at his peak.  Even though the Rangers had home-ice the Devils had pretty much played step for step with them since Thanksgiving, if not slightly better so I figured it was a pick ’em series.  While the Devils were fortunate to get through the second round without too much trouble, the Rangers had to scratch and claw their way through two seven-game wars just to get to the Conference Finals.  It was with this backdrop that the teams met with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line, and the series wouldn’t dissapoint.  After the teams traded wins in the first four games, the Devils took a 3-0 lead in the pivotal Game 5 at the Garden.  As they’d done all year, the Rangers circled the wagons and tied the game, leading to many moments of consternation by yours truly.

However this was a different Devils team, there would be no what if, no regret and no 1994 reprise this year.  After our fourth line had been quite pivotal in our first-round series against the Panthers, they stepped up again with Carter’s late third-period goal proving decisive.  Still, the Devils had to win Game 6 at the Rock, and it was at this very game in 1994 at home where the team tripped up on the doorstep of the Finals.  Almost as if giving the Devils a chance to exorcise all the demons in one fell swoop, it was eighteen years to the day of the memorable Game 6 in 1994 where the Devils would make their own history this time with both young and old contributing – the old of course being Marty who had his final run of greatness that Spring, outdueling Lundqvist the way he couldn’t quite outduel Mike Richter at the top of his game in 1994.  While the young was rookie Henrique, who found the spotlight with his double OT winner in Florida but did more than that in Game 6 against the Rangers, he claimed a forever place in Devils history with a walk-off goal barely a minute into a tense OT.  Henrique’s goal was further immortalized by an iconic call from Doc Emrick who’d recently stepped away from broadcasting Devil games full-time but was on the mike for this memorable moment in team history.

You could argue that series was the best non-Cup win in Devils history.  Maybe our seven-game classic against Ottawa in 2003 is up there, it certainly contributed to a Cup win though.  Certainly older fans would rate MacLean’s goal in Game #82 of the 1987-88 regular season to clinch the franchise’s first playoff berth in that category as well.  Whatever the case, the Devils were in the Finals for the fifth time in the Lou era during a nineteen-year stretch where the franchise had its fits and starts but was generally a model of excellence.  Against a then-upstart Kings team though, the 2011-12 Devils finally met their match.  Would that series have been different if the Devils had managed to win either of the first two games at home (both OT losses)?  Probably.  Despite falling behind 3-0 in the series the Devils gamely fought back to force a Game 6 in LA but cruelly, a major penalty on Bernier ended Game 6 before it could really start as the Kings scored three times and began their own impressive run as a model franchise for the next several years.

2012-13 – All the fun of the Spring of 2012 temporarily shielded the two dark clouds hanging over the franchise – the impending FA of captain Parise, and the almost sure lockout that was going to cut into the next season.  I mean, when you have Gary Bettman on one side and the NHLPA imports Don Fehr over from baseball after their own labor wars, that was just begging to be another drawn out fight.  Ironically much like after the 1994 Conference Finals, a lockout delayed the start of the next season till January again in 2013.  However, the Devils’ fate in the lockout season was sealed a bit before it began when Parise decided to take $98 million and link up with buddy Ryan Suter NBA-style to go home to Minnesota.  Almost as ominously, Kovalchuk was slow to return to the states after the lockout as he was playing in Russia during it and clearly wasn’t all that enthused about coming back.  Given all of the drama around this player since we acquired him, I took that as a serious red flag while others were more willing to forgive and forget once he returned for the short season.

Although the Devils actually got off to an 8-3-3 start in 2013, it was a mirage as injuries to Brodeur and Kovalchuk sank the team back down to mediocrity and out of the postseason for the second time in three years.  Not to mention, another contreversial decision in the 2012 offseason would have reprecussions for years to come.  Remember that first-round pick the Devils had to surrender for the Kovalchuk contract penalty?  There were still two years to pick a first-rounder to give up – but with the Devils’ trip to the Finals and Parise’s status in serious doubt, me, everyone and their grandmother was begging Lou to give up the 2012 first-rounder.  Having pick #29 in a weak draft seemed like an ideal time to get a less than ideal penalty out of the way, but Lou stubbornly deferred the penalty and made it worse by attempting to troll the hockey gods picking Stefan Matteau, son of former 1994 Ranger tormentor Stephane.  Although he made the team straight out of camp, he never really did much as a pro and only played 44 games for the Devils before being dumped two years later, and he hasn’t gotten out of the AHL much since.

2013-14 – If Lou’s 2012 offseason was contreversial, his 2013 offseason was truly head-scratching.  Things started on a high note with the NHL Draft held in Newark during the summer.  Holding the #9 pick after crashing out the previous year, Lou pulled a fast one on everyone in attendance and it led to a memorable ‘I think you’ll want to hear this’ response from Bettman to the fans booing his presence at the podium, as he was about to announce the Devils’ shocking trade for Cory Schneider.

I admit I was in favor of the deal at the time, but again I didn’t know what Lou knew was coming down the pike either (which I’ll get to in a minute).  With Marty now 41 years old after an injury-plagued 2013 season, there had been talk for years of needing a ‘succession plan’ for the great Brodeur in goal.  With fellow 40-something Johan Hedberg being the other NHL option with only chaff at the AHL level, trading for a young highly-regarded goalie such as Schneider seemed like another Lou coup and you had visions of passing the torch from Brodeur to Schneider the way the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers once went from Joe Montana to Steve Young at quarterback.

There were two issues with the trade though, one was that Brodeur still had another year to go on his contract and trading for Marty’s replacement while he was still on the roster was always going to create an uncomfortable dynamic.  Sure enough, instead of the 50-55 starts Cory probably should have gotten, he got just 43 to Marty’s 39.  While Cory’s splits were far better than Marty’s, somehow Brodeur’s winning percentage was far better, bitterly dividing the fanbase and to a certain extent management over who should play, as some bizarre fits and spurts of both guys being the starter or co-#1’s didn’t serve either well and led to Marty’s departure at the end of the season after two decades as a franchise icon.

Perhaps the bigger issue with the trade in hindsight though, is that just a few weeks later Kovalchuk stunned the hockey world by announcing he was walking away from the final twelve years on his contract with New Jersey to return to Russia.  While Kovalchuk’s departure took the fans by surprise, Lou knew from the moment Kovalchuk was vacilating over coming back in the winter that his return to Russia was likely after the 2013 season Kovalchuk leaves Devils in shock after retiring from the NHL

Given that Lou knew Kovalchuk’s departure was imminent (and indeed it came out Lou knew as soon as the end of the 2013 season Kovy was leaving), why was he then continuing to make win-now moves such as trading for Cory with a team that was no longer win-now after losing Parise and Kovalchuk in back-to-back offseasons?  Especially factoring in the financial troubles of owner Vanderbeek, which came to a head soon after the 2013 draft with the sale of the Devils to co-owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer in August.  Lou spent desperately that offseason, splurging on a long-term deal for Ryane Clowe as well as short-term deals for Damien Brunner, Michael Ryder and the one-man traveling band himself Jaromir Jagr.

Predictably Clowe – who’d already had serious concussion problems – couldn’t stay healthy and was out of the league after two years and just fifty-six games of a five-year contract.  Brunner I was skeptical of given another good organization like Detroit didn’t want him back, and he not so surprisingly didn’t work out either.  Ryder got off to a hot start early in 2013-14 but quickly cratered and things didn’t get better for the rest of his two-year tenure here.  Jagr was the best of Lou’s offseason signings by a country mile, at first I thought his 24-goal, 67-point +16 was the last solid season of his NHL career but looking back, he actually managed to put up a 27-goal, 66 point season in 2015-16, at age 43 in Florida.  He and Marty were both one of a kind in terms of their durability and longevity at their positions and if there was one highlight that season it was getting to see them play together and have fun making light of their status as the oldest players in the league.

Even with Jagr providing some fun, that season was ultimately a frustrating last gasp of the Lou era as the team finished with 88 points, five out of a playoff spot – in no small part due to the ghastly 0-13 shootout record which is forever going to be what I associate that season with.  If they went 5-8 or 6-7 in the shootout maybe they make the playoffs, although it would have been hard to see us doing much in them considering we didn’t have much scoring besides our old man brigade of Jagr and Patrik Elias and still couldn’t figure out who to play in net on a nightly basis.  With the team out of contention in the final days, Brodeur got to play the finale at the Rock and say goodbye since everyone knew this would be it for him as a Devil, although he didn’t want to retire and indeed did wind up coming back for six forgettable games with the Blues before finally hanging them up for good.

2014-15 – With the team just missing the playoffs the previous year, Lou doubled down on his win-now approach by signing Mike Cammalleri in the offseason to improve the team’s scoring, and he did lead the team in goals by a mile with 27.  However, this season represented true rock bottom for the Devils at the end of the Lou era.  DeBoer was fired midway through the season, literally on Christmas Day although it was only announced the day after.  Taking his place was an unwieldy contingent of Adam Oates and Scott Stevens as more or less co-coaches with Lou overseeing them on the bench.  Lou had come down from the GM perch to sit behind the bench before but this was definitely different than his previous sojurns in 2006 and 2007, where he was clearly the man.  Now he was just a wistful soul overseeing others run the sinking ship, wondering how things cratered so far and so fast.

Pretty much the less said about 2014-15, the better.  My season recap linked above (I tried to do it with all the seasons to provide some additional context) is more of a recap than you even need for this sorry campaign.  At least the offseason got off to a decent start as the Devils got to ‘keep’ their first-round pick after all, or rather the NHL partially expunged the infamous penalty for the Kovalchuk contract, giving us pick #30 in the first round as a replacement for the #11 pick we had to surrender for the illegal contract – mainly due to the player leaving and new ownership – although keeping the picks that turned out to be washouts such as Matteau and John Quenneville probably wouldn’t have served us as well as forefiting Matteau and keeping the eleventh pick in 2014 would have.  Lou won the battle but lost the war by not surrendering #29 in 2012.

On the ice, New Jersey finished with 78 points, a season point total which actually flattered them – the goalie Lou acquired to be the successor to Marty could only prevent a sinking ship from completely cratering long before it did.  To his credit, Cory put up sterling numbers in his first season as the unquestioned starting goalie with 68 games played, a 2.26 GAA and .925 save percentage but with an offense that couldn’t score (Henrique led the team with a lousy 43 points), a defense that couldn’t play a transition game and a GM/coach who lost his way, Cory’s presence was pointless as the dark ages began in earnest.

2015-16 – Things came to a head once and for all after the disasterous 2014-15 season when Lou was strongly pushed by ownership to cede his position as GM to Ray Shero, then showing he didn’t exactly want to stick around as a hood ornament upstairs, he resigned as president three months later to take the GM job in Toronto.  Shero made immediate and sweeping changes, hiring John Hynes as head coach and cutting ties with the past by not asking Stevens to return as an assistant or hiring Marty in a front office role.  Along with Lou, Stevens and longtime chief scout David Conte going by the wayside, captain Salvador retired and longtime stalwart Danius Zubrus was released.  To say this was a changing of the guard would be an understatement.  Neccesary on some level after things had bottomed out, but still unsettling for Devils fans who’d known nothing but success for a two-decade run.

Shero and Hynes had a long honeymoon period during their first year and despite stripping down they found some early success with a motley crew of castoffs and reclamation projects…such as winger Lee Stempniak (16 goals and 41 points in 63 games after a PTO camp invite), defenseman John Moore who was deadly in the three-on-three OT, and fan favorite grinder Bobby Farnham – who scored several unlikely goals early and even got his own goal song for crying out loud.  Clearly Shero’s best move of the offseason was his draft-day acquisition of Kyle Palmieri and the Jersey native broke out with a 30-goal, 57-point season.

While nobody really thought the Devils were a serious threat to even contend for a playoff spot, they peaked at 29-21-7 on Valentine’s Day and were up to that point more fun to watch than any of the post-lockout teams.  Though the team eventually fell off, the Devils still finished just above NHL .500 and had a nice sendoff for Elias during the home finale.  Though he was only able to play sparingly in what turned out to be his final NHL season, his three-point performance on April 9 against Lou’s retooling Leafs at the Rock was a pretty good swan song to go out on.  Although he wouldn’t officially announce his retirement for nearly another year, everyone in the building felt this could be it for a beloved icon.

2016-17 – After all the changes the previous year, it truly felt like a new day in Newark, never more so than with Shero’s stunning acquisition of star Taylor Hall for defenseman Adam Larsson right after the draft, one for one as Bob McKenzie famously and succinctly put it.  In some ways 2016-17 crested with that trade though, as the second post-Lou season reality of a long rebuild hit and the surprising success of the previous year was nowhere to be found.  Although the Devils started a respectable 10-6-3, they cratered in the fall and finished 28-40-14 with just 70 points.  This season’s cast of reclamation projects like P.A. Parenteau and Beau Bennett didn’t gel quite as effectively as last year’s, to put it mildly.

Hall had a forgettable first season in the red and white, putting up 53 points in 72 games – and no doubt wondering whether he was cursed or not when his former team (the Oilers) out of nowhere made the playoffs, and even won a round.  Lou’s Leafs certainly did better than the Devils in the second season of their so-called Shanaplan, as they made the postseason themselves.  The only bright spot of the whole year for Devils fans came after the season was over when the Devils stunningly won the lottery from the #5 spot and were able to draft Nico Hischier at #1 overall.  Perhaps better times were ahead after all…

2017-18 – Optomism was abound with the drafting of Nico, who had a strong camp and made the opening night roster, putting up a solid 52-point debut playing every game as a rookie teenager.  Also debuting in October for the new-look Devils was college FA signing Will Butcher, and sixth-round breakout Jesper Bratt.  All the new blood gave the Devils a much-needed jolt of enthusiasm at the start of the season and they responded with a 9-2 start, keeping the good times rolling through Christmas where they crested at 22-9-5, before falling off with a six-game losing streak and dropping ten out of twelve overall.  Although Hall was in the midst of a career season, goaltending threatened to derail the team as Schneider’s injuries were starting to pile up while backup Keith Kinkaid struggled mightily in the first half of the season before putting together a team-saving and career-saving surge in the second half when Cory became unusable.

Still, Shero recognized this season was one where they needed to try to cash in and give the organization some hope with a successful playoff run.  He made a good hockey trade but one that made Devil fans a touch melancholy, dealing 2012 playoff hero and social media darling Henrique for Sami Vatanen to improve the D.  Deadline deals for Michael Grabner (a trade with the Rangers no less, a first in franchise history!) and Pat Maroon had mixed results with Grabner turning out worse than expected while Maroon proved to be a valuable role player down the stretch with 13 points in 17 games after being liberated from Edmonton.  After struggling his first year and being questioned by Shero whether he wanted to remain a Devil, Hall responded with a career season putting up 39 goals and 93 points in 76 games, time and again scoring big goal after big goal.

In many ways, the season came down to a pivotal six-game road trip in early March with the team at 34-26-8 and hanging onto a playoff berth by a thread over the surging Panthers.  Needing to get hot again to stay in front, the Devils responded with an inspiring crunchtime surge, going 4-2 on the trip and 10-2-1 overall (many of them nail-biting wins) to clinch a playoff spot after winning the penultimate game of the season, ironically against the Leafs at the Rock.  Although Tampa Bay made sure our playoff stay was short-lived, the Devils at least put together one last show for the fans in Game 3 of the series.

2018-19 – You would think the Devils would have wanted to carry the momentum of their previous season toward bigger and better things the following year.  Instead it became a year where the organization arguably rested on its laurels from top to bottom.  Still sitting out free agency and letting more cap space sit unused in the fourth year of the Shero regime, the do-nothing offseason set a tone.  In some ways it felt like the beginning of Rocky III where Rocky gets too big for his britches and no longer thinks he has to do the same work he did when he got to the top.

Lou would have turned over in his grave (if he were in fact not still alive and well) over the Devils being in a reality TV series – Behind The Glass on the NHL Network which provided insight to the team’s preseason Hard Knocks-style, only with four half-hour episodes instead of two hour-long episodes.  Instead of boot camp, the Devils traveled the world in a preseason that saw the team play an exhibition game in Switzerland against Nico’s former team, then a regular season game against the Oilers – where they got off to a grand start whipping Edmonton 5-2.

Maybe that was the real problem, the fact the Devils started the season so impressively winning the first four games by a combined score of 17-4 perhaps gave them a false sense of security.  Reality hit, and hit hard soon after.  Cory’s long winless streak to end 2017-18 extended into this season as well, and his career appeared to be over after an early December meltdown against Vegas at the Rock, while Kinkaid turned back into a pumpkin and eventually got unceremoniously dumped at the deadline for a 5th round pick…in 2022.  Hall followed his Hart season up by putting up 37 points in 33 games – before going on the shelf with a knee injury, never to return after December.  There wasn’t much to enjoy about 2018-19 other than goalie Mackenzie Blackwood’s solid 23-game debut and role player Blake Coleman’s 22-goal breakout as the Devils finished with a dissapointing 72-point season.

2019-20 – No full season recap to link yet, but there might as well be one.  Certainly it was an eventful offseason in Newark starting with winning the lottery (again!) and drafting Jack Hughes, then pulling off a seemingly masterful trade for one-time Norris winner P.K. Subban.  Another trade for Nikita Gusev, free agent signing of glue guy Wayne Simmonds and early in-season extension for Hischier meant last offseason’s do nothing was replaced by a ‘let’s ****ing do some stuff!’ offseason.  However, similar to the 2011 offseason, the black clouds surrounding Hall’s lack of an extension and imminent free agency were still looming in the background.

Black clouds quickly turned to storm clouds as the team got off to an 0-4-2 start and things didn’t improve much thereafter.  After rebounding with a solid second half of the season and good World Championships, Cory left the opener due to injury and it was a harbinger of bad times to come for both he and the team, as the Devils blew a 4-0 lead against the Jets and never really recovered.  Cory was released after six terrible games, and is struggling even more in the AHL, his career seemingly over now after an inevitable buyout of the last two years of his contract this offseason.  Also released – or rather fired – was coach Hynes, the final straw coming with back-to-back noncompetitive losses at home against the Rangers and in Buffalo.  Not that things have really improved yet under assistant Alain Nasreddine, who needed six games to get his first win as a head coach.

All that’s left are the selloff trades, with the first – and biggest – domino falling just a couple of days ago with the deal of Hall to Arizona, and Shero’s admission that there wasn’t really much of a negotiation towards a new contract, seeming to confirm online speculation that Shero in fact wasn’t willing to go beyond five years for Hall.  I’m not sure I disagree with that, but it makes the win-now moves this offseason all the more puzzling and most have backfired, particularly Subban who has gone pointless in twenty straight games.

As the decade comes to a close the Devils are at a crossroads, seemingly on their way to another couple of years in the wilderness at least, wasting the ELC years on Hughes’ contract.  Not that he’s played at anywhere near a star level to this point but still if you are going to build the team around Hischier and Hughes, eventually some actual building needs to start taking place and not just teardowns.

While our 2000-2015 drafting under Conte was a big reason for the falloff at the end of Lou’s tenure I’m not sure what to make of new scouting director Paul Castron either.  His results have been underwhelming to this point.  Our prospect pool may be better than it was, whatever that means (not like the AHL team is doing any better than the NHL team now) but eventually these guys are going to have to make an NHL impact for Shero and Castron to be a successful pairing here and get the Devils out of the purgatory they’ve been in for much of the decade.

At the beginning of the decade the Devils were a model franchise with a standard of excellence and a clear identity, but by the end of it they were just another losing team in purgatory who shed their identity and lost their way.  What will the ’20’s bring…more of the same or a turnaround back toward greatness?

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1 Response to Devils decade in review: Mostly dark clouds with a couple of bright patches

  1. Derek Felix says:

    It’s hard-to-believe that ’05-06 winter is so long ago. Where Lou took over and led the Devils to a sweep. Man. Where did all the time go?


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