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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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Killorn, Schwartz highlight this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Jaden Schwartz, Blues – LW: The 2018-19 campaign was a rough one for Schwartz, but he’s he’s more than making it for it this season. After being limited to 11 goals and 36 points in 69 contests last season, he already has 13 goals and 34 points in 40 games this time around. Part of that is thanks to his current hot streak though. He has four goals and 11 points in his last six games. He’ll certainly need to be re-evaluated after he cools down, but as long as he’s this hot he’s an easy pickup for those who can make the space.

Jake Virtanen, Canucks – RW: Virtanen is red hot right now with five goals and eight points in eight games. That makes him worthy of consideration at the moment, but I do caution that you should regard only as a short-term option. He averages just 12:19 minutes with Vancouver and has never been a major offensive contributor, so the odds of him being a significant fantasy asset in standard leagues for the rest of the season is low. All that said, I still like him as a short-term gamble. I recommend waiting until Wednesday before picking him up given that the Canucks are off until Thursday anyways. Then Vancouver will play against Chicago on Jan. 2nd, the Rangers on Jan. 4th, and Tampa Bay on Jan. 7th, which are all teams in the bottom half of the league in terms of goals allowed per game.

Alex Killorn, Lightning – LW/RW: Killorn had just two assists in his first six games, but he’s been great since then with 13 goals and 29 points in his last 29 contests. Over that 29-game span, he’s never gone more than two games in a row without recording a point. It’s true that Killorn was limited to 40 points last season, but his playing time has jumped from an average of 14:52 minutes in 2018-19 to 18:22 minutes this season. He’s still only owned in 48% of Yahoo leagues, so if he’s available for you then you should seriously consider grabbing him.

Tony DeAngelo, Rangers – D: DeAngelo is just someone to consider in general right now. He’s only owned in half of all Yahoo leagues despite having a very healthy eight goals and 28 points in 38 games. He’s been regularly chipping in throughout the season, never going more than two games in a row without getting a point. DeAngelo had 30 points in 61 games last season and with the strides he’s taken in 2019-20, he looks like he might be a great offensive defenseman for many years to come.

Tanner Pearson, Canucks – LW: Pearson has two goals and five points in his last three games, so he’s pretty hot right now, but beyond that he should be regarded as a good injury replacement, should you need one. Pearson isn’t going to turn heads for any prolonged period of time, but he’s a solid secondary scorer with 11 goals and 27 points in 40 games. If you’re hurting for a left winger at any point during the season, he’s a good fallback option until either you get healthy or you find an alternate solution, say on the trade market.

Sami Vatanen, Devils – D: I wouldn’t own Vatanen all the time, especially given how hot-and-cold he’s been so far, but he’s worth picking up during his hot streaks. He’s on one such run right now with a goal and seven points in his last six contests. It doesn’t hurt that the Devils also won’t be lacking for games in the short-term with them set to play eight times from Dec. 31-Jan. 14.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/RW: For years Strome has had potential, but hasn’t been able to live up to it. After struggles with the Islanders and Oilers though, it seems like he’s found his way with the Rangers. He has 10 goals and 35 points in 38 contests this season. Of course, it helps a great deal that he’s averaging 19:34 minutes in 2019-20, which is by far a career-high for him. That increased ice time makes the notion of him surpassing the 60-point milestone this season seem feasible and with him still available in slightly over half of all Yahoo leagues, you should give serious consideration towards adding him if you have the option.

Nikita Gusev, Devils – LW/RW: Gusev was an elite player in the KHL, but he’s been slow to getting going in his first North American season. He had five goals and 14 points in his first 29 games while averaging a modest 13:25 minutes. He’s managed to hit his stride recently though with two goals and eight points in his last six contests. He only averaged 14:12 minutes over that six-game span, so his ice time remains unimpressive, but there’s a real chance that he’ll have a strong second half as he gets used to North American hockey. If nothing else he’s an interesting short-term pickup, but this is one player you might end up holding onto for the remainder of the campaign.

Alex Iafallo, Kings – LW: Iafallo had 25 points as a rookie and 33 points in his sophomore campaign. With six goals and 21 points in 41 games this season, he’s well on his way to taking another step forward, but he’s still not a great option in standard fantasy leagues. In the short-term though, he’s not a bad gamble given that he’ll be going into Tuesday’s contest against Philadelphia on a four-game point streak. I wouldn’t recommend keeping him much beyond this point streak though so be prepared to swap him with a different option once he cools down.

Lucas Wallmark, Hurricanes – C: As is the case with Iafallo, Wallmark is a player who typically isn’t worth having on your squad, but is of temporary use given how hot he is. In the case of Wallmark, he has four goals and eight points in his last six games. If you have a slot open for a short-term pick and are debating between Wallmark and Iafallo, it really does just come down to positioning. Which forward position do you more need to fill over the next week or so? 

Players You May Want To Drop

Jake Muzzin, Maple Leafs – D: Muzzin has been okay, but not great offensively this season with three goals and 13 points in 38 games. I’d could still see the benefit of holding onto him under normal circumstances, but he hasn’t done enough to just hanging onto him while he’s recovering from the broken foot he sustained on Friday. Circle back to him once he’s healthy and if he’s still available at that time, consider picking him back up, but for now I’d drop him if the alternative on my team was him occupying a bench slot.

Jeff Skinner, Sabres – C/LW: Similar to Muzzin, Skinner is a recently injured player that I don’t think it’s worth holding onto for the duration of the injury. I feel stronger about Skinner than Muzzin though because I’d lean towards parting ways with him regardless. In fact, I recommended dropping Skinner two weeks ago while he was still healthy. Skinner scored 40 goals last season, but he’s fallen back to Earth in 2019-20 with 11 goals and 19 points in 39 games. Now that he’s set to miss the next three-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury, the chances of him bouncing back in any significant way this season have been further diminished.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal got off to an amazing start with nine goals and 10 points in his first eight games, but since then he’s been nothing special. Over his last 10 contests, he has two goals and three points and overall he has 16 goals and 23 points in 41 games even with that stunning start accounted for. If you picked up Neal early on hoping that the switch from Calgary to Edmonton would lead to sustained success, you should cut your losses at this point.

Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche – LW/RW: Burakovsky has enjoyed some big hot streaks this season. From Oct. 10-18 he had four goals and seven points in five games and from Nov. 14-23 he scored six goals and nine points in five contests. The problem is that he’s been very inconsistent with lows that have matched those highs. He has a goal and no assists over his last nine games. Keep an eye out for him for his next hot streak, but don’t bother holding onto him in the meantime.

Antti Raanta, Coyotes – G: Darcy Kuemper suffered a lower-body injury on Dec. 19th and was regarded as week-to-week as a result. It was a blow to the Coyotes, but it was also an opportunity for Raanta, who had been relegated to the backup role.  Unfortunately Raanta hasn’t taken advantage of the opportunity thus far. He’s 0-3-0 with a 4.37 GAA and .877 save percentage in his last three starts. It made sense to give Raanta a try, but it might be best at this point to look elsewhere for goaltending help.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Devils fire coach John Hynes; Alain Nasreddine named interim coach

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After getting completely embarrassed by the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night, and less than three hours before they take the ice for a game against the Vegas Golden Knights, the New Jersey Devils have made a coaching change.

The team announced on Tuesday evening that coach John Hynes has been fired and will be replaced by Alain Nasreddine on an interim basis.

Peter Horachek, who had been working as a pro scout in the Devils’ organization, will also be joining the staff as an assistant coach.

Expectations were extremely high for the Devils this season following a huge offseason that saw them get the No. 1 overall pick (for the second time in three years) that gave them Jack Hughes, as well as blockbuster trades to acquire P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev.

Along with that they also signed Wayne Simmonds in free agency and were getting a healthy Taylor Hall back after he missed almost all of the 2018-19 season.

Despite all of that the Devils have been off to a miserable start that has them at 9-13-4 and near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. They lost their past two games against the Sabres and New York Rangers by a combined score of 11-1.

That was apparently enough.

“John played an integral role in the development of this team in establishing a foundation for our future and we are grateful for his commitment, passion and unmatched work ethic,” general manager Ray Shero said in a statement released by the team.

“John is a respected leader, developer of talent and friend which makes this decision difficult. We are a team that values and takes pride in accountability to the results we produce. We are collectively disappointed in our performance on the ice and believe changes were needed, starting with our head coach. I have been consistent in my desire to build something here in New Jersey that earns the respect of teams throughout the league and pride in our fans. That is not where we were heading and for me to tolerate anything less was not acceptable.”

Hynes was the Devils’ head coach since the start of the 2015-16 season. The team compiled a 150-159-45 record during his time, making the playoffs one time. They lost in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2017-18 season.

Nasreddine spent parts of five seasons in the NHL as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders. He has been a long-time assistant of Hynes at both the AHL (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and NHL levels (New Jersey).

“Nas has a long history as a respected leader both as a player and a coach in the respective roles he has served for his teams,” said Shero. “His experience as a captain and alternate captain on the ice, in addition to his responsibilities behind the bench, will serve him well as he leads this team through necessary changes to alter our current trajectory.”

The craziest fact out of all of this is this will be the eighth different coach Hall has had in his 10-year NHL career.

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.

The Buzzer: Coleman’s special birthday carries Devils

Blake Coleman of New Jersey Devils shoots on Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price
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Three Stars

1) Blake Coleman, New Jersey Devils

When your birthday is in late November, it usually falls on American Thanksgiving once in a while. Coleman celebrated with his first career four-point game in the Devils’ 6-4 win against the Canadiens. He scored his eighth of the season when he opened the scoring at the Bell Centre at 7:19 of the first period. Nikita Gusev faked a shot then slid a pass through Shea Weber as he and Coleman executed a two-on-one opportunity. Coleman would go on to add two more assists and an empty netter to seal the 6-4 victory late in the third period.

2) Nikita Gusev, New Jersey Devils

The Russian winger collected three assists and recorded his first multi-point game of his NHL career. Gusev has 11 points in 21 games this season and has effectively made a smooth transition to North America after playing the previous four seasons in the KHL. The Devils have not gotten the goaltending needed to have a realistic shot at reaching the postseason, but Gusev’s ability to adapt to new surroundings has been a minor bright spot in a bleak season.

3) Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils

Zajac wonderfully batted a bouncing puck past Carey Price as the alternate captain collected his third goal of the season to give New Jersey a 2-1 lead midway through the second period. Gusev picked up his second assist of the night when he sent a fluttering puck toward the net. Zajac darted toward the cage and got behind Jesperi Kotkaniemi before the beautiful finish.

Highlight of the night

Price has been under a lot of scrutiny due to his inconsistent play in recent games. At the end of the second period, Price reminded Kyle Palmieri and the audience why he is one of the best goaltenders of this generation with this stellar glove save.

Factoids

  • The Canadiens set a franchise record by allowing 20 goals in their last three home games [Sportsnet Stats].
  • The Devils improved to 7-0-2 in their last nine games against the Canadiens dating back to February 27, 2017 [NHL PR].
  • The Devils/Rockies/Scouts franchise earned a win on U.S. Thanksgiving for the third time in its history [NHL PR].
  • On this date 40 years ago, Billy Smith of the New York Islanders became the first goalie in NHL history to be credited with a goal [NHL PR].

Scores

Devils 6, Canadiens 4

PHT Morning Skate: Bergeron out indefinitely; Ovechkin’s early D.C. days

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• On the Robert Bortuzzo suspension: “According to the Department of Player Safety, the act alone would typically lead to only a fine, rather than a suspension. That was the case in October 2017, when Bortuzzo was fined the maximum allowed ($3,091.40) under the Collective Bargaining Agreement for cross-checking New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson while Nelson was down on the ice — a ‘very similar play’ to the Arvidsson incident, although at the time, ‘he didn’t have the history,’ according to Player Safety. But this time, Bortuzzo was a repeat offender, having been suspended three games (two preseason games, one regular-season game) for elbowing Michal Kempny of the Washington Capitals in September 2018. That, combined with the injury to Arvidsson and a history of similar acts, raised this incident to the level of a four-game suspension rather than a fine.” [ESPN]

Alex Kerfoot on his two-game suspension: “I feel terrible about the incident … I didn’t mean to do it by any means, but it’s a bad spot on the ice and something I should not be doing.” [The Star] 

• A lower-body injury will keep the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron out for at least the next two games. [NBC Sports Boston]

• The chemistry between Max Domi and Nick Suzuki has been fun to watch. [Eyes on the Prize]

• A fun read about the early days of Alex Ovechkin in Washington D.C. [Capitals]

• The other part of the Jacob Trouba deal, Neal Pionk, is doing real well with the Jets. [Winnipeg Free Press]

• Why Hockey Fights Cancer is meaningful to Ryan Dzingel of the Hurricanes. [News and Observer]

• How cancer forced Kings trainer Chris Kingsley to take care of himself [LA Times]

• It’s time for the Devils to reunite Jack Hughes and Nikita Gusev. [Pucks and Pitchforks]

• Keying in on defense has helped the Sharks turn things around. [NBC Sports Bay Area]

• A look at how the Viktor Arvidsson injury will affect the Predators’ lineup. [Predlines]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.