Welp I wasn’t expecting to write this blog today or at any point really in the near future although certainly I’d soured on our now-former GM Ray Shero this year when his win-now moves busted, the rebuild stalled and the franchise was at a crossroads staring down at rebuild 2.0 after a season that began with a certain amount of expectations ended by Halloween. Still, the news coming down in the middle of a football Sunday that the Devils had fired their GM came as a shock at this point in time. Not entirely an unwelcome shock mind you, but one I’m still having trouble processing fully at the moment. I’m still struggling to put my thoughts together, but the one that keeps coming back is that it was quite honestly deserved on many levels.
Let’s face it, this franchise became a caricature of itself in the latter days of Lou though they still had tradition and a culture of wanting to win. Under owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, Shero had carte blanche to reshape the organization the way he wanted and immediately took a stick of dynamite to anything and everything that had come before him. Ownership remained patient through a long rebuild which already added on to our three playoff-less years at the end of the Lou tenure. Things looked promising when the team made the playoffs in 2017-18, but the last two seasons forever altered Shero’s legacy here and completely changed the fanbase’s perception.
Just the last two years would be enough to get many GM’s fired…sitting on our collective hands after making the playoffs in 2017-2018 led to an expected result, a crappy 2018-19. Then Shero and ownership went all-in this offseason. In hindsight perhaps that should have been the first cue things weren’t all hunky dory here since the P.K. Subban trade went against Shero’s type of not making splashy moves. Or maybe it really is just as simple as things backfired so badly this year that there was a genuine butting of heads over what to do next. Shero basically backed himself into a corner where rebuild 2.0 looked inevitable (and his refusal to engage with both Taylor Hall and Sami Vatanen on long-term negotiations suggest Shero was all too willing to enact rebuild 2.0) but it appears ownership now wants a different plan.
You have to also look at the slipshod way the coaching situation has been handled. From sticking with John Hynes too long – with a long-term extension being given less than a year before his eventual firing – to the lack of urgency in finding a different voice to replace him as evidenced by the promotion of top lieutenant Alain Nasreddine. Nasreddine’s by all accounts a good man and doing his best but promoting him to the head job when the organization had prior head coaches under its employ (Peter Horachek who’s currently an assistant, and Claude Noel who’s a scout) just smacked of Shero being stubborn and not wanting to admit the system was the problem. While results have improved lately, it’s more a result of Mackenzie Blackwood’s goaltending and Nico Hischier’s improvement than anything else, there are still many problems with the team. As I’ve said before here Shero’s MO is to get young, inexperienced coaches and it could be on some level that ownership wanted a bigger name like a Mike Babcock or Peter Laviolette.
Another thing I just thought of is perhaps our recent run also makes Shero look bad in ownership’s eyes for cashing out on Hall in December. Yeah some of us look at it and say the team is helped by not having the ‘distraction’ but no owner is going to believe trading the best player improves the team. That’s the thing, there are literally a bunch of things you could speculate on as to why the owners lost faith in Shero and threw him overboard. The coaching fiasco (which includes Hynes getting a quick job after getting canned, also making Shero look bad), failed results, likely rebuilding yet again, not wanting to sign any of our pending FA’s. All our prospect-hugger fans have to accept that just because Lou made some mistakes at the end and Conte was a bad scouting director the last ten-fifteen years, doesn’t mean that Shero was doing all the right things either. Automatically going against everything the prior regime did isn’t enough, especially when the main architect of that prior regime looks like he’s building a powerhouse on Long Island after having some success in Toronto. Perhaps that also left ownership with eggs on its face wondering WTF was going on here.
While I don’t exactly have a lot of faith in what’s next, at least it won’t be dull. For now, Tom Fitzgerald is the acting GM just like Nasreddine is the acting coach. And just like Nas was a right hand for Hynes, Fitz was Shero’s right hand as well. But make no mistake, Fitz will be doing the owners’ bidding at this trade deadline. Which could mean he’s not the GM when all the dust settles this offseason. Whether you think the owners are making a sound hockey decision or not, you have to agree with the bottom line. They’ve had enough of failed results, so have we as fans.