New Jersey Devils, GM Lou Lamoriello receives harsh criticism for dressing less than 18 players

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Maybe it was salary cap circumventing deals such as Marian Hossa’s with the Chicago Blackhawks. Perhaps instead it was the fact the New Jersey Devils keep winning the Atlantic Division only to get kicked out of the first or second round of the playoffs. Or it could just be that GM Lou Lamoriello saw the team’s window closing and made a desperate move.

Either way, signing Ilya Kovalchuk to that wacky $100 million deal really backed the Devils into a salary cap corner, culminating in the team being forced to play less than 18 players on Monday. It was something of a perfect storm as Brian Rolston and Anton Volchenkov dealt with short-term injuries while enforcer Pierre-Luc Letorenau-Leblond received a one game suspension. Chances are that the team won’t be dealing with the same exact circumstances soon, although those injuries might not clear up too soon.

The situation hurt the team on the ice (they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1), but they might have been dealt an even bigger blow in the court of public opinion.

It’s important to note that the league probably won’t fine or reprimand the Devils for dressing only 15 skaters (barring the NHL pulling a 180, which is an undeniable possibility in the Wild West-like league justice system). That hasn’t stopped the winds of controversy from swirling, though. Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy provides a nice roundup of the viewpoints on the subject, with Derian Hatcher saying that “(Lamoriello)’s mocking the league” while others go as far as to wonder if it’s an issue that the NHLPA might want to intervene on.

Again, chances are this will just be a source of embarrassment for Lamoriello and the team. Honestly, I feel like the well-respected general manager has had his missteps over the years (letting too many valuable defensemen depart, signing Rolston to that ridiculous contract), so it’s not as if he was infallible until this summer.

All of that being said, his moves will be judged by how well New Jersey fares this season. If Kovalchuk helps the team lift the Stanley Cup for the fourth time, he’ll look like an evil genius. Yet if the Devils fall short of the mark again – or dare I wonder, even maybe miss the playoffs – then he’ll truly have egg on his face.

Either way, this isn’t exactly a shining moment for Lamoriello’s legacy as one the NHL’s shrewdest team builders. Too bad Lamoriello doesn’t care.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”