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Devils GM Lou Lamoriello searches for answers amid the team’s second worst 20-game start ever

It’s not just a cute quip. Instead, it’s the sad reality: things haven’t been this bad for the New Jersey Devils since Wayne Gretzky called the team a “Mickey Mouse franchise.”

In fact, in some ways, the team’s second worst 20-game start (only the 1983-84 season began in a more bleak way) is their most painful because expectations were so high. Even people who have been critical of the Ilya Kovalchuk signing (myself included) didn’t expect things to be this dismal.

Such miseries aren’t lost on Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, who faces a tougher-than-ever thought process during his annual 20-game assessment of this team’s condition. When asked what is ailing the Devils, Lamoriello wasn’t totally certain, but he seemed adamant that the main issue was with the players, not coach John MacLean.

Here are a few select comments via Tom Gulitti.

“Right now, my feeling is our best players have to be our best players every night and we have not seen that,” he said. “We’ve seen some nights where we’ve got a couple and other nights (when they don’t) and I’ve got to find out why.”

When I asked if coaching could influence that inconsistency, Lamoriello repeated, “It’s within the players.”

“I’ve got to find out why one night it’s one and one night the other,” he said. “I don’t understand that.”

That said, it seems all possible solutions – including changing the coach – remain on the table. Making a trade to shake up the team is another option, but might not be an easy thing to do considering the team’s salary cap problems and the high number of players on the roster with no-trade clauses.

Here is my assessment, as a total outsider.

The Devils’ defensive group kept declining year after year with the losses of Scott Stevens via retirement and Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and Paul Martin thanks to free agency. The team was able to camouflage those blemishes for years because of excellent coaching, by my guess. (I’m more confident that defensive mastermind Jacques Lemaire covered up mistakes than Brent Sutter, but they’re both solid taskmasters.)

The problem isn’t necessarily that John MacLean is a bad coach, but rather that he’s not a brilliant coach. Perhaps a superlative, detail-oriented guy like Lemaire could make lemonade out of their blueline lemons, but MacLean cannot?

In other words, if I were to point to one person for the Devils’ problems – and really, it’s a “team effort” to be this bad – it would be Lamoriello. He boxed himself into a corner by sacrificing salary cap space for a one-dimensional scorer, leans too heavily on an aging star in net and trusted a veteran-heavy (and maybe fickle) lineup to a first year head coach when Ken Hitchcock and other coaches were available.

With little monetary wiggle room and a dim light at the end of the tunnel, Lamoriello will likely have to lay in the uncomfortable bed he made. Only a fool would deny the fact that he’s one of the game’s greatest general managers, but it’s getting difficult to wonder if he’s lost a front office step or two.

Injured Silfverberg skips trip with Ducks

Jakob Silfverberg
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Forward Jakob Silfverberg will not travel on the Anaheim Ducks’ upcoming two-game road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg while recovering from an upper-body injury.

The Ducks are leaving for Minnesota on Friday without Silfverberg, who was injured late in their 2-1 victory over Colorado on Thursday.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Silfverberg left Thursday’s game in the third period, shortly after a hit from Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov, and is considered day-to-day. Silfverberg’s head is believed to have hit the ice but it is not known if he suffered a head injury.

Anaheim recalled right wing Corey Tropp and defenseman Shea Theodore from its AHL affiliate in San Diego.

Silfverberg has 13 goals and 16 assists in a strong season with the Pacific Division-leading Ducks. The Swede is on pace to surpass his career highs in goals and assists.

Silfverberg has teamed up with All-Star center Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano on the Ducks’ most effective line this season.

Pre-game reading: Is better ice the key to more scoring?

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— Up top, the resurrection of Alexander Radulov has been quite the story in Montreal.

Corey Crawford has an interesting theory on how to increase scoring in the NHL. It’s not smaller goalie equipment; it’s better ice. “I’ve always thought the real issue isn’t goalie equipment. The issue is ice. If you can make ice like the way it is in Colorado, the way it is in Washington, Edmonton — you make the conditions like that for every game in every rink, guys are going to score. … You watch a game where the ice is just horse[bleep] — it makes a huge difference. ” (Chicago Sun-Times)

— Speaking of horse[bleep] ice…the New York Islanders! Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News think the Isles need to see what they’ve got in youngsters like Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang. Kennedy writes: “Admittedly, I’ve only watched Bridgeport once this season, but I don’t think that giving them a couple of games in The Show would foment a sense of entitlement – think of it as motivation. A call-up in 2016-17 is no guarantee of a roster spot in 2017-18.” The Isles could certainly be an interesting team to watch as the trade deadline approaches. Veteran forwards like Nikolay Kulemin and Jason Chimera aren’t going to be part of the future. If Garth Snow can move their salary, or even part of their salary, it might be wise to do it. (The Hockey News)

Marian Hossa is the 10th-oldest player in the NHL. How has the 38-year-old winger maintained such a high level of play? The answer: Hard work. “He’s one of the best professionals, the way he carries himself, prepares every day,” teammate Ryan Hartman told Sports Illustrated. “He’s always here early, even after games he’s in the gym doing some type of stuff to keep his body in shape. The way he presents himself, it helps us young guys, for sure, to learn from him.” (SI)

— A profile of Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft. Writes Postmedia’s Michal Traikos: “Some have called him the second coming of Anze Kopitar, because he has off-the-charts hockey IQ and already plays a mature, two-way game. With a dad (Steve) and an uncle (James) who both played in the NHL, Patrick understands the subtleties of the game. When he was 16, the Wheat Kings matched him up against Leon Draisaitl, who was two years older and already drafted, in the WHL final.” (National Post)

— Patrick was, indeed, the first overall pick in Adam Kimelman’s mock draft over at NHL.com. The second pick was another center, Gabriel Vilardi. The third was also a center, Nico Hischier. In fact, of Kimelman’s top 10 picks, six were listed as centers. While there may be no obvious, future superstar like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews in this summer’s draft, there’s still plenty of talent to be had — especially down the middle, apparently. (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!

Goalie nods: Talbot starts for 43rd time in 48 games

Cam Talbot
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No rest for the weary in Edmonton — though to be clear, there’s only one Oiler that currently fits that bill.

Cam Talbot, who’s emerged as the NHL’s busiest workhorse, will make his league-leading 43rd start tonight when the Oilers host the Preds at Rogers Place.

That’s right. Forty-three starts, and tonight is Edmonton’s 48th game of the season.

Talbot isn’t just the league leader in starts, either — he also sits top of the table in minutes played, shots faced and saves.

“We’re playing it one game at a time — Cam’s fresh and ready,” Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said of his starter’s workload, per the team’s Twitter account. “We’ll worry about Calgary tomorrow.”

Ah yes, Calgary. The Oilers and Flames clash tomorrow night in the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta. That led our very own Jason Brough to speculate that Laurent Brossoit might get the start tonight, thereby giving Talbot some rest in advance of a key divisional — and nationally televised — battle.

But now, who knows? Talbot’s fully embracing his workload, and McLellan doesn’t seem too concerned about overworking him. Heck, Talbot could be right back out there tomorrow.

Anyway, the Preds. Pekka Rinne gets the nod tonight, after Juuse Saros scored the win in Calgary on Thursday.

Elsewhere…

Corey Crawford has started five in a row, so Scott Darling gets a shot in Boston. Darling’s last outing was a 39-save win over the ‘Canes on Jan. 6. He’ll be up against Tukka Rask, who has lost two in a row while giving up eight goals.

— After replacing Jared Coreau in a comeback win over Boston, Petr Mrazek starts for the Wings in Buffalo. He’ll be up against Anders Nilsson, who replaced Robin Lehner in a loss to Toronto on Tuesday. That game, of course, was the one in which Lehner freaked out after getting pulled.

— One of the NHL’s other busy netminders, Carolina’s Cam Ward, will make his 39th start of the year as the ‘Canes host the Pens. Matt Murray is in goal for Pittsburgh.

Al Montoya gets the nod for Montreal in New Jersey, looking to extend his personal winning streak to four games. No word yet on a Devils starter.

Roberto Luongo returns to Vancouver and, fittingly, gets the start. He’ll have the benefit of some rest, too, as James Reimer played on Wednesday in a shootout loss in Edmonton. For the Canucks, Ryan Miller will look to continue his hot streak — he’s 4-0-2 in his last six, with a .946 save percentage.

P.K. Subban expected to play Friday

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  P.K. Subban #76 of the Nashville Predators during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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P.K. Subban is ready to play again. The Nashville Predators announced today that he’s been activated off injured reserve and will be in the lineup tonight in Edmonton.

Subban has missed the last 16 games with what the club would only call an upper-body injury (reportedly a herniated disc). The Preds had hoped he’d be back sooner, but “sometimes this is what happens with injuries,” said GM David Poile.

Nashville has won four of its last five games and has moved back into a playoff spot. The Preds have also been without defenseman Roman Josi the last three games. Rosi is still on injured reserve with what he’s said is a concussion.

Subban had 17 points (7G, 10A) in 29 games before he went on IR. The Preds play tonight in Edmonton and Sunday in Minnesota before returning home to face the Sabres on Tuesday.