Ray Shero

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Subban ready for Devils to ‘take over the town’ after busy summer

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The closest P.K. Subban ever came to being a devil before this past June was during his junior hockey days in Belleville when he wore No. 6, creating the 6-6-6 across the back of his jersey.

The NHL draft weekend deal that sent him from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils was expected by the 30-year-old Subban. He had a feeling that he would move on from the Predators in either of the last two offseason, knowing that his time in Music City would be a short one after the shocking trade three years ago from the Montreal Canadiens.

Subban enters a Devils team that is trending upward. Following a playoff-less 2018-19 season, general manager Ray Shero was ready to be aggressive in the summer after winning the draft lottery and selecting Jack Hughes with the first overall pick. Along with Hughes and Subban, Wayne Simmonds was added up front on a one-year deal with the hope that he can bounce back offensively, and Nikita Gusev, the talented KHL scorer, was acquired and signed from the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Summer of Ray has put the Devils in “sleeper team” status and it’s not just media and fans thinking that. A number of NHLers at the Player Media Tour last week in Chicago pegged New Jersey as a team that can surprise in 2019-20.  

Subban has one question for those players.

“I’d ask those same players why do you pick us as a sleeper?,” he told NBC Sports. “I think that players are just making something aware that they already know what’s coming, you know? That’s not a shocker to me. You can call us a sleeper, you can call us a contender, you can call us whatever you want. But I can tell you one thing, we’re a team that competes, I know that. 

“Playing in the East for a couple of years, watching this team, New Jersey’s always been a team, no matter where they are in the standings, whether top or bottom, you knew that you were going to have a frustrating game against them. You knew that they were going to compete on everything, you knew you were going to have to work to earn those two points and I don’t think that’s changing any time soon.”

After beginning his NHL career in Montreal and playing in heated rivalry games against the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, Subban is eager to enter similar environments when the Devils play their Metropolitan Division enemies.

“Playing in the [Western Conference] was great, playing in Nashville was awesome. What was the most exciting thing about Nashville was when I went there people asked, “How is he going to deal with the fact that he’s not playing in front of the Montreal Canadiens fans?” I’ll tell you, those Nashville fans delivered a lot of support. 

“I would expect the same in New Jersey and I would expect the same now that I’m in these [Eastern Conference] rivalries. That’s energy that I feed off of. I think I’m going to really enjoy it.”

The Devils have missed the playoffs in six out of the last seven seasons. That followed a 14-season run where they missed only once and reached the Stanley Cup Final three times, winning twice. Shero is following his plan to bring those winning days back, and Subban is excited for what success can do for the franchise.

“To think of being in that type of market and being the only sports team [bearing New Jersey’s name], that’s pretty amazing, actually,” Subban said. “That’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for the team to really take over the town and own it.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Devils GM doesn’t care if Zacha considers signing with KHL

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero says he is still attempting to sign center Pavel Zacha amid concerns the former first-round draft pick will play in the Kontinental Hockey League this season.

Peppering his comments with profanities, Shero told The Associated Press on Monday that he doesn’t care if Zacha signs with the KHL, a Russian-based pro league, with Brampton, an ECHL team, or anywhere else. Shero says the Devils still retain the restricted free agent’s rights after issuing him a qualifying offer this summer, and he hopes to get a deal completed with training camp opening this week.

Shero says he’s unaware if Zacha has signed with a KHL team, though he adds that possibility was raised by the player’s agent during a recent conversation.

Shero says playing in the KHL is ”not the advice I would give him,” and adds ”it’s a long way back to the NHL” if Zacha goes that route.

Zacha’s agent, Patrik Stefan, did not immediately respond to several messages from the AP seeking comment.

Shero called Zacha an ”important player” entering a key year in his development. He spoke while watching the Devils’ third and final game at the Sabres’ prospects tournament in Buffalo.

The 22-year-old Zacha is from the Czech Republic and had a career-best 13 goals in 61 games last season. Overall, he has 29 goals and 47 assists for 76 points in 201 career NHL games.

Will Taylor Hall re-sign long-term?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

Let’s ponder three questions for the 2019-20 Devils:

1. Has all the offseason work enticed Taylor Hall to re-sign?

In early June, a report from The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta suggested that Hall had no interest in re-signing with the club.

Fast forward a month, and the team that managed just 74 points in a dismal regular season now had Jack Hughes, the top prospect in the 2019 NHL Draft, P.K. Subban, one of the league’s best defensemen, and were about to embark on adding Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev before August hit.

Ray Shero needed to do something to convince Hall that the Devils were heading in the right direction and perhaps it has worked, although there is still no long-term extension in place for the former Hart Trophy winner.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

Hall’s agent, for what it’s worth, says there’s no rush. As does Shero.

And while that may be true, these sort of things only become distractions as the regular season hits in 2019-20. The Devils would certainly need to know by the trade deadline so they could avoid a John Tavares incident.

Two first-overall picks in the past three seasons and a genuine attempt to make the team better has to sit well in Hall’s camp. But there’s always going to be that allure of having the world at his feet with truckloads of money and the ability to chose his destination next summer.

2. What role will Mackenzie Blackwood take on this season? 

Cory Schneider went more than a calendar year without a win and he was horrific to start the season, posting a 0-7-2 record before finally getting that elusive ‘W’ in the middle of February.

From there, he went 6-6-2 with a .927 save percentage down the stretch as he finally looked like the goalie sans the hip issue that had plagued him (and was surgically repaired in May 2018.)

Schneider’s injuries and Keith Kinkaid not being very good allowed the Devils a chance to see what Blackwood could do. And 22-year-old didn’t disappoint, even with the mess in front of him.

In 21 starts he went 10-10-0 with a .918 save percentage and two shutouts.

While Schneider appeared to begin his bounceback from surgery in the last half of the season, Blackwood should see increased time (even if the former is making $6 million a season.) Blackwood appears to be the future in New Jersey and the Devils shouldn’t be married to Schneider being their de facto No. 1.

3. What, if anything, will Shero do the rest of his cap space? 

There’s roughly $8 million still sitting in his kitty, although the team still needs to sign restricted free agent Pavel Zacha.

Evolving Wild’s model has Zacha coming in around the $2 million mark in terms of annual average value, which gives the Devils $6 million-ish to work with they want to strengthen the team further.

Of course, the unrestricted free agent pool has shrunk over the summer, but you wonder if a guy such as Patrick Maroon might make for a good addition in terms of grit and experience.

What about a Ben Hutton on defense to make another improvement on the blue line?

There still may be some bargains out there and the Devils appear to have assembled a team worthy of playoff talk.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Devils eager for offseason splashes to help deliver wins

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VANCOUVER — The New Jersey Devils entered the off-season with one marketing plan. After April 9, the night they won the NHL draft lottery, those plans changed. Two and a half months later, the morning after they selected Jack Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick, they acquired P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators. Those plans changed once again.

“The news over the last 24 hours will challenge our marketing and content team and everyone else to ramp it up,” Devils president Hugh Weber told NBC Sports during draft weekend in Vancouver. “But we’ve been preparing behind the scenes, adding resources and getting things in place preparing for success, preparing for more demand. The team will be ready. What that actually looks like in terms of campaigns and all that other stuff, I’m not sure yet. Ray’s not done yet.”

Weber was the first person in the organization to know that the franchise had won the lottery and the right to make the first overall selection. The lottery process played out behind closed doors hours 90 minutes before the television broadcast announced the results. There, Weber and the other NHL team representatives were sequestered watching as the ping pong balls were pulled and the unique combinations were drawn. 

Through the excitement of knowing the Devils would be picking first, Weber couldn’t share in that joy as the reps were forbidden from leaving the room until the broadcast ended and he certainly was going to withhold his exuberance in front of the teams that lost out on the top spot.

Once the lottery knew became public, Devils fans were eager to look toward the 2019-20 NHL season. Post-lottery, the franchise moved into the top 10 in the league in new ticket sales. After drafting Hughes and later acquiring Subban, they had sales staff working to capitalize on the excitement.

“I haven’t gotten numbers but there’s been a lot of activity and I think you’re going to see in a week’s time we anticipate an acceleration of not only people who were on the fence that didn’t renew yet, were kind of waiting to see, but also those that have been with us over a long time who said, ‘OK, I get it now, you guys are using that cap space just as you said you would and let’s get after it,'” Weber said.

[MORE: Jack Hughes and the impact of USA Hockey]

While they’ve had time to prepare a plan for introducing Hughes to the market, Subban is his own marketing team. With over one million Twitter followers and 900,000-plus more on Instagram, his personality and work in the community will help sell the Devils.

The additions of Hughes and Subban not only upped the excitement levels in the Devils’ fan base, but the New York Rangers’ acquiring Jacob Trouba and drafting Kaapo Kakko second overall revived a rivalry between the two franchises. The Devils have long been on the outside in a crowded New York metropolitan market and they’re hoping this past weekend, plus whatever happens during the free agency period, will allow them to gain ground on their regional rivals.

“When hockey is competitive and the rivalries are strong in New York, I think it’s good for the NHL,” said Weber. “The Islanders are no slouches, they have a good core coming. You’ve got Lou [Lamoriello] and you’ve got the Rangers and us, even the Flyers now with [GM] Chuck Fletcher, there’s some good narratives happening in and around the Metropolitan, and we’re glad. If you stack up the teams in the East, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a very competitive conference. I think that’s just going to push us all. But generally, those types of rivalries, those types of stories are good for business.”

The Devils missed the playoffs last season coming off a surprising 2017-18 campaign that saw them play postseason hockey for the first time since 2012. Last season wasn’t necessarily a step back in Weber’s eyes. He viewed the playoff year as playing with “house money” and, according to their plan, the franchise is ahead of schedule.

“We never saw this as a linear progression,” Weber said. “We looked at are we making progress, are our prospects and our pipeline making progress, are they developing a team, does [head coach] John Hynes have a foothold on the culture here, is there a plan that we can continue working at? The answer was yes, which is why we extended Ray [Shero], we extended John, we extended the coaching staff, we extended virtually everybody on the hockey staff because this part of a linear, longer plan. We believe that patience in sports is one of the great arbitrage because too often teams and/or partners and owners get too impatient and want to make a change just for change’s sake. 

“I wouldn’t say the lottery pick did anything more than to say it kind of accelerated a little bit because when you have the potential of the fifth or sixth pick, you might not see that player on your roster for a few more years, where now you have an impact player, an elite player that’s going to potentially contribute right off the bat. It helped us accelerate our plans and put things in place, not to rush anything. We’ve said over and over again there are no shortcuts to the top. There are shortcuts to the middle, but we don’t want to be in the middle.”

Keeping stability in the organization is key to the Devils in seeing progress. They believe that Hynes has helped create an identity for his team and that despite a playoff-less season, he kept them competitive through the end of the 82-game schedule. When Shero was hired in 2015 he made it a goal to ensure the franchise was respected again. A draft weekend splash certainly got people talking and excited about the on-ice product for next season. There’s still the Taylor Hall extension to take care of and then more work to be done when free agency opens, but the organization sees itself on the right track. But in the end the results will speak for themselves.

“In terms of fans and how fans have seen us, we have to earn that and it’s going to take some time to have the consistency,” Weber said. “Now moves like we did [this weekend], those are big splashes and they’re great stories, but unfortunately great stories don’t win games. It’s going to come down to team performance. We’ve been bullish, even without the additions that we’ve had, is that to see the progression of these prospects coming up and watching them being close to it. We think there’s going to be a few offshoots out of there that will surprise some people as well.”

MORE DEVILS COVERAGE:
Devils take Jack Hughes with No. 1 overall pick
Shero on Subban trade, Hall’s future with Devils
Devils-Rangers rivalry gets boost thanks to Hughes, Kakko

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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.

Ray Shero on Subban trade, Hall’s future with Devils

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VANCOUVER — Ray Shero and David Poile started communicating about P.K. Subban earlier this week and heading into Saturday morning the New Jersey Devils general manager was unsure where things stood.

The Nashville Predators GM has been busy trying to free up cap space to pursue an impact forward while also leaving room to extend defenseman Roman Josi. The Devils’ second round pick (No. 34) was always involved in the discussions, so Shero needed to know one way or the other before Round 2 began.

Poile rang Shero Saturday morning before the teams arrived at Rogers Arena for the second day of the 2019 NHL Draft and asked if he still wanted to go through with the deal. Not long after it was official and Subban became a New Jersey Devil.

“I’ve always been a fan of P.K. Subban from his Belleville days,” said Shero. “Just watching him in the playoffs [with] Pittsburgh and Montreal, he’s a competitor. His legacy, in terms of off ice stuff is well known. But on the ice he’s a competitor and wants to win. I love the fact he’s not won a Cup yet, he’s hungry for that.”

[Predators send P.K. Subban to Devils]

Subban’s contract carries a $9M cap hit and ends after the 2021-22 season. Not too many teams would have been willing to take that on, especially not knowing the 2019-20 salary upper and lower limits. Poile said he was in discussions with four teams, some of which involved salary retention. Ultimately, the Devils had the cap space and Shero used it to his advantage by being able to take on the entire salary.

Taylor Hall’s future

The update on extension talks with Hall is that there is no update. Shero said he told Hall’s agent that he wanted to get through the draft and free agency before they sit down and talk about the forward’s future. 

Neither side is in a rush with Hall under contract through the 2019-20 season. The decision is a big one for both sides and it will require a significant financial commitment from the Devils.

“There’s no promises. But we’re on the same page because I really think it’s important for both us and Taylor,” said Shero. “It’s a huge decision on his part and for the franchise as well. It’s important to me to be able to sit down with Taylor and go over with where we are as a franchise.”

The relationship between Shero and Hall is in a good place. They’re open with one another and the franchise is going to do everything it can to retain him. Shero did speak with Hall before making the Subban trade and the forward was very supportive of the move. Adding Hughes and Subban to the roster will go a long way to helping the Devils bounce back after a playoff-less 2018-19 season.

Of course, Shero likely isn’t done for the off-season. Next up is free agency on July 1, another opportunity to add to a winning weekend.

“We want to improve the franchise,” Shero said. “Of course we want Taylor to stay. He’s under contract for another year. … I think we’re making steps in the right direction. We got really lucky to win the lottery twice now, so we want to take advantage of it. It’s great for New Jersey and our franchise.”

MORE 2019 NHL DRAFT COVERAGE:
Devils take Jack Hughes with No. 1 overall pick
Devils-Rangers rivalry gets boost thanks to Hughes, Kakko
Round 1 draft tracker
Rounds 2-7 draft tracker

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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.