Cam Tucker

AP

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.

 

Report: Sabres won’t bring back assistant coaches

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The Buffalo Sabres continue to make changes to their coaching staff.

With Phil Housley in place as the new bench boss, the Buffalo News is reporting that the Sabres are not planning to bring back assistants Terry Murray, Bob Woods and Tom Ward, and that former Islanders coach Jack Capuano has been in contact with Housley.

The Sabres have undergone a major shakeup this offseason, with Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma fired, and Jason Botterill hired as the new general manager and Housley as the new head coach.

“It’s going to be very important that we surround Phil with a staff that he feels comfortable and they can rely on each other,” said Botterill, per the Buffalo News. “The head guy has to be the leader of your group, but over the course of 82 games you have to have strong assistant coaches who are empowered. We just have to make sure there’s a good fit.”

Could the Wild still make a deal with Vegas? (Updated)

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George McPhee said Tuesday that he has at least six trades completed ahead of tomorrow’s expansion draft. Could the Minnesota Wild perhaps be among the potential trading partners?

General manager Chuck Fletcher and the Wild left Eric Staal, Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella unprotected — a tantalizing trio of players to chose from, although Vegas would only be able to select one. That’s still a difficult spot to be in for the Wild, which didn’t make a move before the trade/waiver freeze went into effect.

And now, there is this:

Here’s an update from the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Things were still fluid Tuesday night, but there’s a chance pending restricted free agent Erik Haula signs with the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

If that occurs, the Wild won’t lose defensemen Matt Dumba or Marco Scandella, center Eric Staal or any of its other unprotected players when the expansion team announces its initial roster later in the night.

That certainly seems to be the cost of doing business with Vegas, as other general managers try to persuade McPhee from taking certain players that have been left unprotected.

Interesting times.

Related:

Lightning have side deal in place with Vegas

Vegas could make ‘throwaway picks’ in expansion draft

Nolan Patrick highlights Hockey Canada roster for World Junior Summer Showcase

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Nolan Patrick, the potential No. 1 overall pick in this week’s NHL Entry Draft, highlights the list of players on Hockey Canada’s development camp roster for the upcoming World Junior Summer Showcase.

Click here for the full list.

Hockey Canada invited 14 players that are eligible for this year’s draft. Among them are potential top-five picks Cody Glass and Gabe Vilardi.

A total of nine first-round picks from last year — Jake Bean; Dennis Cholowski; Dante Fabbro; Logan Stanley; Pierre-Luc Dubois; Brett Howden; Tyson Jost; Michael McLeod; Sam Steel — have also been invited to the camp.

“For about three-and-a-half weeks in July and August, we get to see all of the players in our program concentrated in two locations, which gives our management team, coaches, and staff a chance to develop, first and foremost, what we feel is our top talent in Canada and evaluate those players as we look to put together winning teams throughout the upcoming season,” said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s vice-president of hockey operations and national teams, in a statement.

Hockey Canada’s junior development camp runs July 30 – Aug. 2 in Toronto, with a four-game series versus Finland, Sweden and the U.S. from Aug.3-6 in Plymouth, Mich. 

Last summer, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. He then missed the 2017 World Juniors due to injury.

Related: NHL Draft profile — Nolan Patrick

Report: Mrazek’s attitude among reasons he was left unprotected

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It seems like the relationship between Petr Mrazek and the Detroit Red Wings has been through a lot in the last year.

They were scheduled to go to arbitration last summer — a team-requested arbitration hearing — before coming to terms on a new deal, and, after a difficult season for the 25-year-old netminder, the Red Wings have now left Mrazek unprotected in the expansion draft.

It was one of the bigger surprises when the protected/available lists were revealed.

The eight-year age discrepancy between him and 33-year-old Jimmy Howard has something to do with it, as does contract. Howard has two more years remaining at a costly $5.291 million cap hit and is a pending unrestricted free agent when this current deal is over. Mrazek, who had a .901 save percentage this season, is the cheaper of the two right now at $4 million.

However, a few theories about why the Red Wings made Mrazek available to the Golden Knights have started to circulate.

From MLive.com:

Part of the reason Mrazek’s luster has faded could be due to deportment issues that can be traced to contentious off-season contract negotiations (they settled on a two-year, $8 million deal; Mrazek will be a restricted free agent in 2018).

Mrazek was not happy the Red Wings were unable to trade Howard in the off-season and let the club know in less-than-tactful terms.

Mrazek has always had a swagger and air of confidence, which appealed to the Red Wings. But sometimes he’s too cocky for his own good, some in the organization believe. He became increasingly difficult to coach last season, they said.

According to The Athletic, the Red Wings had tried to trade Mrazek prior to the expansion draft, but couldn’t get something done in the end.

From The Athletic:

When things went sideways for Mrazek this season, there was concern internally about his response. Rather than digging in and trying to work his way out of it, Mrazek, according to multiple sources, soured and placed the blame elsewhere.

Contrasted against Howard, whose work ethic picked up when his play went south in previous seasons, it presented a tough decision for an organization with an embedded belief in culture and work ethic for its best players.

“Work has never been a problem in Detroit,” said one NHL source outside the Red Wings organization. “And there’s a changing of the guard and the leadership is changing. You can’t let that creep in. If that guy, who doesn’t want to work, is going to be handed your No. 1 goalie job, it changes everything.”

The two sides were able to avoid arbitration last summer.

But if George McPhee decides to take a pass on Mrazek in the expansion draft, it might make for an uncomfortable situation for all parties concerned in Detroit this summer and leading into next season.