Ben Lovejoy

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‘I want to do anything I can to help’: Lovejoy to donate brain for CTE research

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As a whole, people are more informed about concussions, brain trauma and CTE today than they’ve ever been before. One current NHLer is hoping to take it a step further at some point in the distant future.

In an interview with TSN, New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy announced that he’ll be donating his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation in Boston. The goal is to help researchers find out more about CTE and concussions down the line. Lovejoy is the first activate NHLer to commit to this kind of cause.

Although he’s never been diagnosed with a concussion, the 33-year-old believes this gesture can help unlock some the mysteries surrounding head injuries.

“Hockey has been so good to me,” Lovejoy told TSN.ca. “It’s helped me make a ton of friends, travel the country and world, and given me an amazing job that has paid me really well. My entire life has revolved exclusively around hockey and I want to give my brain to help make this game safer.

“I’m spoiled to have done this for so long. I’ve had teammates who are superstars and others who are minor-league role players who have struggled, missed time, and ended careers because of concussions. I want to do anything I can to help.”

Even though he hasn’t had a documented concussion, he’s still played a physical brand of hockey for a long time.  Lovejoy has suited up in 432 and 218 NHL and AHL games in his career.

Earlier this year, former NHLers Shawn McEachern, Bob Sweeney, Ted Drury and Craig Adams also pledged to donate their brains to concussion/CTE research.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Devils dealing: New Jersey’s cap situation after Severson signing

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The New Jersey Devils have a long way to go, but it looks like they’re in pretty good hands with GM Ray Shero.

For casual fans, handing defenseman Damon Severson a six-year, $25 million contract was an eyebrow-raiser on Monday. The 23-year-old isn’t a household name, so a $4,166,666 stands as a scary (though delightfully Devils-themed) cap hit.

That deal might indeed raise some eyebrows, but maybe down the line, as Severson’s shown some very nice promise, particularly in 2016-17. If anything, there’s serious evidence that the Devils haven’t been relying on him enough.

It remains to be seen if the Devils can combine nice strides and baby steps to a leap in competition with enough speed to take advantage of the stronger parts of their roster. With that in mind, let’s break down New Jersey’s salary structure after Severson’s deal.

Masters of their trades

Opposing GMs don’t need to hit the red “Ignore” button when Shero’s caller ID comes up, but they might want to approach dealings cautiously in the future. Simply put, the Devils have been dealing well over the years, especially since Shero took over.

Taylor Hall – $6M through 2019-20.

If you’re looking for anti-Hall rhetoric, you’ve come to the wrong place.

He’s a superb first-line winger, and despite somehow being a lottery ball magnet, is still just 25. Here’s hoping that Hall gets a chance to show how fantastic he really is in games that matter before too long.

The beauty of his deal is that it’s fairly easy to move if the Devils and/or Hall believe that his best chance to compete would be to go somewhere else … while netting New Jersey some assets.

Kyle Palmieri – The Ducks must kick themselves for choosing other interesting forwards over Palmieri, who’s scored 26 and 30 goals during his two seasons for the Devils. He comes at the low-low price of $4.65M through 2020-21.

Check out how convoluted the asset situation was involving Palmieri, via Hockey Reference:

June 27, 2015: Traded to New Jersey by Anaheim for Florida’s 2nd round pick (previously acquired, later traded to NY Rangers – NY Rangers selected Ryan Gropp) in 2015 NHL Draft and Minnesota’s 3rd round pick (previously acquired, later traded to Buffalo, later traded to Nashville – Nashville selected Rem Pitlick) in 2016 NHL Draft.

*scratches head*

Marcus Johansson – $4.5833M for two seasons.

The Devils took advantage of the Capitals’ cap woes to lift a quality forward who comes at a reasonable price. “MarJo” could really drive up his value if New Jersey gives him a more prominent role.

Some concerns

Cory Schneider ($6M for five more seasons) was another nice trade get, even as the Vancouver Canucks have been very happy with Bo Horvat. Shero wasn’t GM at the time of the deal, so that’s part of the reason Schneider is in a different section.

The other: there’s a bit of concern here. Schneider’s frequently been downright fantastic, but 2016-17 was rough, and one has to worry at least a little bit that he might struggle more as time goes on. At age 31, it’s possible his best days are behind him.

Age could also be a worry for banged-up center Travis Zajac ($5.75M through 2020-21) and Andy Green ($5M for three more years), a blueliner who is used in heavy defensive situations. Ben Lovejoy and Brian Boyle seem like short-term placeholders with two years remaining on their respective deals.

Of course, the biggest concern for the Devils is also an obvious one: their defense.

Even with Severson being sneaky-good, that unit has a lot of room for improvement. Considering how sought-after defense is in the current NHL, it might not be so easy to make drastic changes to this group.

(If anyone can pull off some clever trades, it might be Shero, though.)

Young guns

The plus side of the Devils’ suffering is that they’ve been able to add some intriguing young talent. That’s most obvious in the Devils nabbing Nico Hischier in a rare moment: the Devils getting the top pick of a draft.

The key, then, will be development. Hischier might not be as much of a challenge, but can the Devils get the most out of Pavel Zacha and prized college free agent Will Butcher?

***

The Devils’ forwards group has taken some remarkable steps forward, to the point that the franchise may flip its identity in the near future as an offensively potent, defensively shaky group.

Of course, that’s under the assumption that management won’t have much luck bolstering the blueline.

This isn’t a perfect situation in New Jersey, but credit Shero for putting some impressive building blocks down for a team whose past perennial status made a rebuild challenging.

After signing with Devils, Will Butcher thinks he is ‘NHL ready’

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Will Butcher believes he is ready to play for the New Jersey Devils right now.

A day after signing a two-year, $1.85 million contract with the rebuilding Devils, the 22-year-old Butcher said he was ready to make the jump from being college hockey’s top player to the NHL without a stop in the minor leagues.

Speaking on a conference call, the defenseman said he chose to sign with New Jersey because he felt good after meeting coach John Hynes and he thought the Devils’ up-tempo system best fit his game.

Butcher was drafted in the fifth round by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013 at the Prudential Center – the Devils’ home rink. He became a free agent on Aug. 15 after failing to reach an agreement with Colorado, although the former University of Denver player said he knew by May he intended to test the free agent market.

After meeting with a number of teams, his decision came down to the Devils, Las Vegas, Buffalo and Los Angeles.

“It seemed like a great fit in how I wanted to play, and they saw me being in a better role with what they wanted to do there,” Butcher said of choosing New Jersey. “It kind of reminded me a little bit of how we were going to play with my college hockey.”

Butcher knows there will be competition to make the Devils’ roster with veteran defensemen Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, John Moore and Brian Strait and youngsters Damon Severson, Steven Santini and Mirco Mueller on the roster.

“I think my game is NHL ready,” Butcher said. “I think there is always stuff to learn and to pick up. That’s mostly the reason why I chose New Jersey, because I felt with coach Hynes (there) was the development and how they cater to guys and help you get ready for the NHL game.”

Butcher described himself as an offensive defenseman who can play defense.

“I am definitely more offensive than defensive,” he said. “I try to cater to my game in the sense of making smart decisions with the puck, joining the rush at the right opportunity and using my experience to help me play in the league that I want to play in.”

When asked what players would have a similar style to him he named Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks, Torey Krug of the Bruins and Greene.

“If I was fortunate to make the big team, he would be a great mentor to me, just because he does everything,” Butcher said of Greene. “He penalty kills, power play, all situations. He is a smart player, not necessarily the biggest guy, but he uses his abilities to defend well and play the game of hockey.”

Butcher could also help the Devils’ power play, especially feeding the likes of Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson and newcomer Nico Hischier, the Swiss-born center who was the No. 1 pick in the June draft.

“I might not be the fastest guy or biggest guy out there, but I like to pride myself that I think fast and use my brain to be fast, in a sense that I try to anticipate plays and just try to use my hockey smarts to help me be effective,” Butcher said.

Besides helping Denver win the national championship this past season, Butcher won the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player.

A Wisconsin resident, Butcher had seven goals and a team-high 30 assists in 43 games last season. He had 28 goals and 75 assists for 103 points in 158 games with the Pioneers.

Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

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Save for the loss of Ben Lovejoy, the Pittsburgh Penguins of 2016-17 looked a heck of a lot like the Penguins of 2015-16.

Both those teams won the Stanley Cup, of course.

But the Pens of 2017-18, while still boasting superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, will have to attempt a three-peat without some key pieces from the 2017 run.

Gone are Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey, the latter of whom proved a savvy pickup by GM Jim Rutherford at the trade deadline.

It’s also possible that Matt Cullen opts for retirement.

True, the Penguins added Matt Hunwick in free agency, and they don’t expect to be without Kris Letang again next spring.

But for goalie Matt Murray, winning it all in 2018 seems a larger challenge.

“Obviously it’s not easy to win at all in this league, especially with the salary cap and the turnover that teams go through. Last year we were lucky that we didn’t lose too many guys and we had a lot of the same guys come back,” Murray told SooToday.com.

“This year it’s a little bit different. We lost some key pieces and we’re going to have a new look going into this season. But I think we’ve added some key pieces as well and I think we’re in really good shape. Of course it’s going to be difficult, but I think if there’s a team that can do it, we can do it.”

For any team that loses important players, the key to success is usually found in the organization’s youth. Enter forwards Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese. If those two can become contributors by the playoffs, it would sure help.

Rutherford will also have to come through by finding a new third-line center. That’s no easy task given the importance of the position. Bonino was a tremendous bargain for the Pens, but he’s in Nashville now.

Related: Pens can’t ‘panic’ to replace Bonino

Shero warned there are ‘no shortcuts’ in turning around the Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) If anyone needs the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft, it is the New Jersey Devils.

After making the playoffs for 20 of 22 seasons, the Devils have fallen on hard times. They have missed the postseason for the last five years and they are coming off their worst season in nearly three decades.

In some ways, it’s not surprising. After years of success that included three Stanley Cup championships and two other trips to the championship round, New Jersey ran into problems after going to the final in 2012.

The team was aging. It drafts were weak. High-scoring wing Zach Parise used free agency to sign with Minnesota after losing the Cup to the Kings. Forward Ilya Kovalchuk returned to play in Russia after the following season. There was a lack of scoring, a little less defense and little depth throughout the roster.

A team that knew how to make the postseason suddenly didn’t have the assets to get there.

Read more:

Devils GM keeping options open, but expects to keep No. 1 pick

Moving on up: Devils win NHL Draft Lottery, secure No. 1 pick

The Devils finished seven points out of a playoff spot in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, a campaign that saw long-time goaltender Martin Brodeur miss a month with a pinched nerve in his neck and had Kovalchuk battle a shoulder injury down the stretch. While they collected 88 points in 2013-14, Pete DeBoer’s team missed the postseason by six points, in large part to 18 overtime losses, including 0-13 in shootouts.

DeBoer was gone the following December after New Jersey started 12-17-7, and the team eventually finished 20 points out of a playoff position with Scott Stevens and Adam Oates sharing head coaching responsibilities.

Ray Shero was hired as general manager in 2015 and picked John Hynes, the coach of the Penguins’ top farm team, to run the Devils. The team exceeded expectations in 2015-16, posting a 38-36-8 mark and staying in contention until the final two months as goaltender Cory Schneider and forwards Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique had big seasons.

Despite the addition of Taylor Hall in an offseason trade, last season was a disaster. The team opened 9-3-3 then went 19-37-11 in finishing last in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey’s 70 points were its fewest since 66 in 1988-89.

The Devils need help everywhere on the ice, particularly at center.

The problem with this year’s draft, which begins Friday in Chicago, is that there seemingly is no franchise-changer on the board. There are a lot of good players, but no Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews.

Shero is not saying who the Devils will take with the top pick, if they use it.

However, most experts think it will be either center Nolan Patrick of Brandon of the WHL or center Nico Hischier of Halifax of the QMJHL. Both fit into Shero’s desire to have a fast team on the ice.

It’s the model the Pittsburgh Penguins have used to win the last two Stanley Cup championships, and one that Shero is familiar with since he was the Penguins’ general manager until after the 2013-14 season.

“When I came in, I said to ownership, we have to get younger, we have to get more assets and that was not going to happen overnight, but that is OK,” Shero said. “When you see the teams that are having success, that’s the way it has been done. There are no shortcuts or patchwork in signing a bunch of free agents, or you get back in the same spot you were before.”

There are only five players over 30 on the current Devils’ roster: Mike Cammalleri, Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, Travis Zajac and Schneider.

Patrik Elias just retired, and over the last five years Brodeur, Dainius Zubrus, Scott Gomez, Martin Havlat, Jaromir Jagr and Marek Zidlicky were either traded or left to sign with other teams.

Still, the Devils have a way to go, even with the No. 1 pick and 10 other choices in the draft this weekend.

Shero isn’t certain how long it will take the Devils to get back to the playoffs.

“I don’t know, it’s a tough league, a tough division,” Shero said. “Nashville made the playoffs in the West as the eighth seed, and they were picked for the Stanley Cup by some before the season. That’s how close this is. It’s not like the NBA, where there is no competition.”

The Devils played like an also-ran NBA teams last season. They were not competitive most nights.

They need more talent, more depth – and maybe a top pick who surprises the league next season.