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Where it all went wrong for Ray Shero and the Devils

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The New Jersey Devils fired general manager Ray Shero over the weekend, ending his four-and-a-half year run with the team.

On the surface, it’s not hard to see why the decision was made. Given the circumstances, it was inevitable.

The Devils have been a massive disappointment this season after a huge offseason, and were on track to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years under Shero’s watch. Not many general managers are going to make it through that sort of run unscathed. Especially when you consider how high expectations were in the preseason after the additions of top pick Jack Hughes and the acquisitions of Nikita Gusev, P.K. Subban, and Wayne Simmonds.

So where did it all go wrong for Shero and the Devils?

We should start with the very beginning.

1. Shero inherited a mess

While the lack of progress is the thing that will stand out in the wake of the change, it can not be understated how bad of a situation Shero walked into when he was hired by the Devils in May of 2015.

The Devils were coming off of a 2014-15 season where they had one of the worst records in the league, had missed the playoffs three years in a row, had a barren farm system, and had what was by far the oldest roster in the league.

Things were bleak. Very bleak.

Consider…

  • Seven of the top-12 scorers on the 2014-15 season were age 32 or older. Five of them were out of the NHL completely within two years.
  • Of the 35 players that appeared in a game that season, 18 of them were out of the NHL within the next two years.
  • Only two players on the team recorded more than 40 points, and nobody scored more than 43.

It was a team of fringe NHL players that were not only not very good, but were on their way out of the league.

Combine that with a mostly empty farm system and there wasn’t a lot to build on.

He had to start from the ground level and try to build a contender out of nothing. That was always going to take time.

2. The trades always seemed to look good on paper…

… But the timing and the luck was never on the Devils’ side.

Given the lack of quality talent on the NHL roster, Shero had to work quick to bring in talent from outside the organization. And when you break down his individual trades, he almost always seemed to come out on the winning side of them.

Getting Kyle Palmieri for a couple of draft picks was a steal.

He pounced on the Capitals’ salary cap crunch and picked up Marcus Johansson for two draft picks.

Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall was one of the biggest one-for-one steals in recent league memory.

The same thing happened this summer when he managed to get Subban and Gusev for next to nothing. Combined with a pair of No. 1 overall draft picks (Nico Hischier and Hughes) and there was a huge influx of talent on paper over the past couple of years.

But for one reason or another, the results never followed.

For as promising of an addition as Johansson was, his time with the Devils was ruined by injuries that prevented him from ever making an extended impact.

Subban and Simmonds were big-name pickups this summer, but it has become increasingly clear as the season has gone on that he got them at the end of their careers.

There was even some bad luck with Hall when he lost almost the entire 2018-19 season to injury.

3. Cory Schneider rapidly declined, and the Devils never adjusted in goal

This might be the single biggest factor in the Devils’ lack of progress under Shero.

When he joined the Devils he had one franchise cornerstone that he could build around, and that was starting goalie Cory Schneider. And he was a legit building block.

Coming off the 2014-15 season Schneider was one of the best goalies in the league. Between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 seasons he owned the best save percentage in the NHL (minimum 100 games played) and was just beginning a long-term contract that was going to keep him in New Jersey for the next seven seasons.

He was also still at an age where his career shouldn’t have been in danger of falling off. But after one more elite season in 2015-16, Schneider’s career did exactly that. It fell apart.  After his 30th birthday Schneider went into a sudden and rapid decline that sunk him to the bottom tier of NHL starting goalies.

This is where Shero’s biggest failing in New Jersey came into play. He never found a goalie to replace Schneider. That was the biggest question mark heading into this season, and the play of their goalies this season has been one of the biggest factors in their disappointing performance.

Shero’s tenure with the Devils is a fascinating one to look at from a distance. He inherited a team that had absolutely nothing to build around and tried to swing for the fences with some big additions over the years. He made a lot of the right moves and brought in legitimate top-line talent. But some bad injury luck (Johansson; Hall a year ago), a couple of star players declining (Schneider, Subban), and his inability to make the one big move that he needed (a goalie) helped hold back what started as a promising season. The 2019-20 season ended up being one losing season too many for the Devils.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Subban, Hischier help Devils win third in a row

For the first time this season the New Jersey Devils have won three games in a row.

They extended their winning streak on Thursday night with a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders thanks to goals from P.K. Subban and Nico Hischier, as well as a 29-save effort from Mackenzie Blackwood in net.

It was a mostly quiet night for the Devils offense with the exception of a three-minute stretch of clock time between the second and third periods.

Trailing by 1-0 with less than two minutes to play in the second, Subban blasted a one-timer from the blue line for his fourth goal of the season.

Hischier broke the tie just one minute into the third period with this slick goal.

It is his ninth goal of the season and extended his current point streak to four consecutive games.

The Devils played this game without No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes due to an upper-body injury.

It may be too late to salvage their season when it comes to making the playoffs, but the Devils have been finding a bit more success over the past few weeks following a dreadful start. After winning just nine of their first 31 games, the Devils are now 6-2-1 in their past nine games.

They are still facing a double-digit point deficit in the race for a Wild Card spot, while only the Detroit Red Wings sit below them in the standings. Even so, given where they started the season, going through a coaching change, and then trading Taylor Hall it is pretty clear they have not packed it in on this season and still have some fight.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL injury news: Good for Bruins, bad for Jack Hughes and others

Bruins injury news Krug Krejci McAvoy Hughes
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The 2020 Winter Classic began the next decade of NHL action, and that action included violence, a comeback, and Texas-sized fun. Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 feels more like the first full round of hockey in this new decade, though, and it’s not surprising that there’s plenty of NHL injury news to consider, from returning Boston Bruins to less positive developments for the likes of Jack Hughes.

Let’s get to the tidbits like Brian Boucher seeking fried Snickers.

Plenty of good Bruins injury news updates

The Bruins hold a significant lead in the Atlantic Division, but can’t be happy about a 4-2-4 stretch, and their generally mediocre end to 2019.

That said, as much as the Bruins rolled with the punches over the last few seasons, you can only hold off injuries for so long. Boston buckled after a while, so the Bruins must be heartened to start 2020 a little bit healthier. It certainly looks that way right now.

The Bruins’ website shared plenty of promising updates:

Even if McAvoy can’t quite return, that’s quite the slew of returning players. Danton Heinen is also expected to be back in the mix after being a healthy scratch.

More bad breaks for Blue Jackets

The Bruins face the Blue Jackets on Thursday, and Columbus stands on the other end of the spectrum. The Blue Jackets keep finding ways to earn standings points, even as injuries pile up, and John Tortorella receives more fines.

The Blue Jackets placed intriguing young forward Alexandre Texier on IR on Thursday with a lumbar stress fracture. “Lumbar stress fracture” translates to a back/spine injury, so it’s no surprise that Texier is sidelined indefinitely.

Texier adds to an increasingly ridiculous Blue Jackets injury list that also includes:

Combine injuries with all of those free agent loses, and Columbus deserves credit for hanging in there. Sadly for Torts & Co., they face tough odds to actually persevere to the playoffs, though.

Setback for Jack

Jack Hughes looked like he was heating up with three points in his last four games, but now he’s hurt. The top pick of the 2019 NHL Draft suffered an upper-body injury, leaving him day-to-day.

Considering the sorry state of the New Jersey Devils, there’s no sense in risking Hughes’ long-term health by rushing him back. Honestly, Hughes might benefit from a break.

The Devils face the Islanders as part of NBCSN’s doubleheader on Thursday, with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Click here for the livestream link.

[MORE: Devils – Islanders preview]

Assorted injury news

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Huberdeau sparks Panthers; Stars complete comeback

Jonathan Huberdeau #11 of the Florida Panthers celebrates his second goal of the game
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Three Stars

1) Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

After recording two assists in the first half of the Panthers’ 6-5 win against the Montreal Canadiens, Huberdeau added two goals of his own in a 35-second span in the second period. The 26-year-old forward benefitted from a fortuitous bounce when his cross-ice pass attempt deflected off a Canadiens player into the back of the net. Moments later, Huberdeau wired a wrist shot to extend Florida’s lead to 5-3 at the time. Huberdeau is currently the Panthers’ leading scorer and is well on his way to matching or surpassing his 92-point total from last season.

2) Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils

When selected at the top of the draft, you are expected to be one of the players leading the way for that organization. Sunday, Hughes recorded his first NHL overtime-winning goal and helped lead the Devils to a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. The 18-year-old forward showed a lot of maturity during his breakaway attempt, wisely keeping the puck out of reach from the chasing Senators skater. The simple, yet effective move to the forehand allowed Hughes to lift the puck over Craig Anderson’s glove. Hughes also recorded an assist earlier in the game giving him his third multi-point game of the season.

3) Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

In their final game before the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, the Stars erased a two-goal third-period deficit in a 4-2 win over the Coyotes. Benn had a nifty goal and added an assist during the comeback. The Stars captain showed off his net-front skills as he collected a loose puck in front of the crease then cleverly kicked it over to his backhand to help jumpstart the rally and get Dallas on the scoreboard early in the third period.

Other notable performances from Sunday

John Tortorella – The Blue Jackets were the recipient of some bad fortune, and Tortorella let everyone know the facts of the situation in a clear, concise message after the game. More on the referee’s costly mistake here

Jaden Schwartz – The undersized forward scored two goals Sunday as the Blues captured their eighth straight victory.

David Pastrnak – The NHL’s leading goal-scorer picked up his 29th goal and 29th assist in the Boston Bruins’ 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres.

Tyler Myers – The defenseman had two goals early in the first period to help Vancouver start with a 2-0 lead against the Calgary Flames.

Highlights of the Night

Jake DeBrusk – Two power-play goals in 18 seconds helped the Bruins extend their point streak to seven games.

Jakub Voracek – The Flyers forward had two assists but his pass to set up Kevin Hayes’ overtime-winning goal was a thing of beauty. From the top of the left circle in the defensive zone, Voracek fired a pass up ice to Hayes as Anaheim made a poor line change. The Flyers improved to 5-1-0 in their last six games.

Andrej Sekera’s blind pass from behind the net set up Alexander Radulov’s game-tying goal.

Brayden Point found the smallest of openings when he scored the go-ahead goal in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 victory against Detroit.

Stats of the Night

NHL Scores

St. Louis Blues 4, Winnipeg Jets 1

New Jersey Devils 4, Ottawa Senators 3 (OT)

Chicago Blackhawks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2 (SO)

New York Islanders 3, Minnesota Wild 1

Boston Bruins 3, Buffalo Sabres 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Detroit Red Wings 1

Florida Panthers 6, Montreal Canadiens 5

Dallas Stars 4, Arizona Coyotes 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Anaheim Ducks 1 (OT)

Vancouver Canucks 5, Calgary Flames 2

Jack Hughes’ first OT goal lifts Devils

The New Jersey Devils invested a lot in Jack Hughes when they made him the top overall pick of the 2019 NHL draft this past June. Every time he takes the ice this season, the hope is he continues to improve.

On Sunday, Hughes took another important step when he scored his first game-winning goal in overtime to propel the Devils to a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Kyle Palmieri sent a floating pass down the middle of the ice that allowed Hughes to turn on the jets and create a breakaway for himself. The 18-year-old forward wisely kept the puck in front of him and to the right in order to prevent Jean-Gabriel Pageau from disrupting the play. Hughes then made a subtle move to his forehand and flipped the puck over the glove of Craig Anderson before celebrating with teammates.

Hughes was not the only positive from the victory as Nikita Gusev scored for the second time in as many games and Sami Vatanen boosted his trade value by recording three assists. Mackenzie Blackwood made 20 saves to help New Jersey extend its point streak to three games.

Hughes recorded his first game-winning goal in regulation earlier this season when the Devils defeated Quinn Hughes and the Vancouver Canucks in the middle of October. Hughes also recorded the secondary assist on Gusev’s goal, giving him his first multi-point game since November 7th and third NHL game with two or more points.

The Devils were expected to compete for a playoff spot this season but find themselves near the bottom of the NHL standings through 35 games. While bigger things were anticipated in New Jersey this season, the best thing that could happen for the franchise is Hughes continues his development and forms a dynamic duo with Nico Hischier for years to come.

His first overtime goal is another step in the right direction.