Devils fans

Can new owners make Devils a hot ticket?

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The best way for a sports team to sell tickets is to win. That’s common knowledge. Fans want to support a winner. They want to celebrate championships, as if they won them too.

Which is why the New Jersey Devils have been such a puzzling franchise to follow from a business perspective. On the ice, they’ve been one of the most successful teams in the NHL for the past two decades. Off the ice, not so much.

“A Lack of Charisma Hurts Devils at Gate,” reads a New York Times headline from 1999.

“Empty Feeling for the Devils at Home,” reads one from 2003.

“The First-Place Devils Are Struggling at the Gate,” is from 2006.

Even their move to a brand new arena, the Prudential Center in Newark, in 2007 didn’t make them a hot ticket. At least, not compared to their Manhattan rivals, the New York Rangers.

Among the list of reasons/excuses presented:

—- The team is good, but boring to watch.
—- Newark is dangerous.
—- The club’s marketing is poor.
—- The tickets are too expensive.

Fast forward to the present and enter new owners Joshua Harris and David Blitzer, along with new CEO Scott O’Neil to run the club’s business operations. Former CEO Lou Lamoriello will remain in charge of hockey operations.

“This team has stood for excellence and we want to continue the excellence, so we don’t want to fiddle in what Lou and his staff have done incredibly well for their entire careers,” Blitzer said today. “I think the New Jersey Devils are the envy of 99 percent of the NHL from the standpoint of their performance on the ice. We don’t really want to change that.”

But they do, clearly, want to change the way the business is run.

Lowering ticket prices would seem to be a possibility, particularly for mid-week games against non-rival teams. When Harris bought the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers in 2011, the club announced dramatic reductions in ticket prices.

The fan experience could be an area targeted for improvement, too.

“When you have an arena and a team, you have more flexibility in terms of the fan experience than you do as a tenant,” Harris said. “Here we’ll have more control.”

SI.com’s Stu Hackel wonders something else about the new owners:

Will they want the Devils to become a more exciting product on the ice? Acquiring [Ilya] Kovalchuk and developing [Zach] Parise were rather groundbreaking moves for this franchise, which has rarely boasted elite offensive talent. Now those two players are gone and that could necessitate a renewed emphasis on defense, unless ownership suggests a change in direction.

So while Devils fans are rightly happy that the new deep-pocketed ownership group should mean fewer depressing stories about the team’s financial struggles, the business story will still be one to watch (if you’re one to watch those sort of things.)

Related: Prospective Devils owner may see turnaround opportunity in New Jersey

Scrivens signs in KHL with Dinamo Minsk

Montreal Canadiens' Devante Smith-Pelly , center,and Brendan Gallagher, left, celebrate their victory over the Carolina Hurricanes with goalie Ben Scrivens at an NHL hockey game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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Ben Scrivens is off to Belarus. The 29-year-old goalie has reportedly signed with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL.

Scrivens made 14 starts for the Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16, failing to really take advantage of his opportunity with the Habs and finishing 5-8-0 with a .906 save percentage.

In total, Scrivens made 144 appearances (130 starts) in NHL games, his best season coming in 2013-14, which he split between Los Angeles and Edmonton. The Oilers gave up a third-round draft pick to get him. They eventually acquired Zack Kassian when they dealt him away.

Related: Maple Leafs reportedly close to signing Jhonas Enroth

Small world: Flames prospect Phillips drawing comparisons to Johnny Gaudreau

Johnny Gaudreau
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Johnny Gaudreau has proven that smaller players with exceptional talent can excel in the National Hockey League.

In only two full seasons with the Calgary Flames after a career at Boston College, the five-foot-nine-inch tall Gaudreau has emerged as an offensive dynamo, finishing tied with Blake Wheeler and Joe Pavelski with 78 points last season. Only five players in the entire league had more points.

He could also act as a source of inspiration for Flames prospect Matthew Phillips, taken in the sixth round, 166th overall, by Calgary in last month’s NHL Draft.

Phillips is actually smaller than Gaudreau. He’s currently listed at five-foot-six-inches tall and 137 pounds. Yes. That’s 137 pounds.

Despite the lack of size, Phillips had 37 goals and 76 points in 72 games with the Victoria Royals in the rugged Western Hockey League.

“My first good look at him was at the World Juniors when he won gold [in 2012 with the United States],” said Phillips, as per NHL.com. “Every game I watched, he lit it up. Then I found out he was a Flames prospect. My eyes blew open there. I’ve been glued to his games ever since.

“I just like watching his focus. When he has the puck, I watch how creative he is. He doesn’t shy away from making the bold play with the puck that if it works, it’s high reward. Not just that, but his focus on the ice, from what I hear around the rink, is pretty special. I like watching his demeanor on the ice and how he approaches it all.”

Because of their respective but similar statures, Phillips has already garnered comparisons to Gaudreau, who went to the Flames in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

“Goalies and forwards are kind of going in opposite directions but the game has changed a lot in the past 10 years with the new rules,” said Phillips, as per Global News. 

“And it’s a faster pace of play and there’s more and more space for the small player.”

Related: Flames ‘have every confidence’ they’ll be able to re-sign Gaudreau, Monahan

Report: Maple Leafs closing in on deal with Jhonas Enroth

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jhonas Enroth, of Sweden, deflects a shot off the stick of a Colorado Avalanche player in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs held on to Garret Sparks, signing him earlier this month to a two-way contract.

But they may not be done there, as they look to find someone to fill the role of back-up to Frederik Andersen.

On Sunday, a report from Expressen in Sweden — and put through Google Translate — began circulating that the Leafs are closing in on a deal with free agent goalie Jhonas Enroth, who turned 28 years old last month.

It’s one report and the team has not confirmed or announced anything. But it’s something to keep an eye on over the next few days.

Enroth posted a .922 save percentage last season with the L.A. Kings, appearing in only 16 games behind starter Jonathan Quick.

Signed to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million with the Kings, his playing time was a source of contention, however, because Enroth seemed to be under the impression he would play more than he did in L.A.

The back-up position in Toronto became available when the Leafs traded Jonathan Bernier to the Anaheim Ducks.

Related: UFA of the Day: Jhonas Enroth

Providence College product Schaller saw opportunity to play with Bruins, but challenges lie ahead

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 15:  Tim Schaller #59 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on January 15, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/NHLI via Getty Images)
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After spending the last three seasons in the Buffalo Sabres organization, Tim Schaller wasn’t going to resist the opportunity to sign with the Boston Bruins.

A product of Providence College, the now 25-year-old Schaller, a center who provides size up the middle at six-foot-two-inches and 219 pounds, signed a one-year, two-way deal worth $600,000 at the NHL level with the Bruins as a free agent at the beginning of July.

“We had probably about 10-12 teams calling on one day,” Schaller told the Boston Globe.

“About halfway through the phone calls, Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins called. At that moment, I almost told my agent, ‘Why take another phone call? Why not just say yes to the Bruins right away?’ It’s a good opportunity to have to play in Boston. All the numbers worked out perfectly to where it was impossible to say no to them.”

The move helped to provide depth up the middle for the Bruins.

Schaller has put up decent numbers in the minors, with 43 points in 65 games with the Rochester Americans in the 2014-15 season. In 35 NHL games with Buffalo, he had two goals and five points.

However, earning a spot on the Bruins roster could be difficult.

They have centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who had off-season surgery, Ryan Spooner and the additions of Riley Nash and David Backes as free agents.

Backes can play wing in addition to center.

“Boston was a good fit,” said Schaller. “We think I’m better than the prospects, so we thought it was a good fit. Hopefully I can beat out a bunch of guys for a job.”