Ray Shero

Our Line Starts podcast: Tkachuk vs. Kassian; reacting to Shero’s firing

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Kathryn Tappen, Keith Jones and Anson Carter break down the incident between Matthew Tkachuk and Zack Kassian. They react to the firing of GM Ray Shero and discuss how the Devils can turn things around. Jones also tells a wild story about being his own agent, but explains how it didn’t work out as well as it did for Nicklas Backstrom. Plus, a conversation with Avs rookie Cale Makar.

0:00-1:25 Intros
1:21-11:25 Tkachuk vs. Kassian: Who was in the wrong?
11:25-22:30 Reaction to Devils firing GM Ray Shero
22:30-32:40 Interview with star Avs rookie Cale Makar
32:40-end Jones has a wild story about negotiating his own contract

Our Line Starts is part of NBC Sports’ growing roster of podcasts spanning the NFL, Premier League, NASCAR, and much more. The new weekly podcast, which will publish Wednesdays, will highlight the top stories of the league, including behind-the-scenes content and interviews conducted by NBC Sports’ NHL commentators.

Where you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

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.

Devils fire Ray Shero, make Tom Fitzgerald interim GM

Devils fire Ray Shero
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It turns out Cory Schneider getting recalled is far from the biggest New Jersey Devils news on Sunday. In a surprisingly timed move, the Devils decided to fire GM Ray Shero, instituting Tom Fitzgerald as interim GM.

Technically, the Devils stated that Shero and the team “agreed to part ways.” Read the full statement from Fitzgerald and team executive Josh Harris:

“The New Jersey Devils and General Manager Ray Shero have agreed to part ways, effective immediately.

“Ray is a talented hockey executive and I am confident he will have great success in the future. However, Ray and I are in agreement that the Devils need to move in a new direction and that this change is in the best interest of the team.

“In the coming weeks and months, we will be launching a formal search for a new General Manager.

“We are very optimistic about our future and have a lot of talent, both on and off the ice.

“Tom Fitzgerald will serve as interim General Manager and he will receive support from Martin Brodeur, who will serve as an advisor to and on hockey operations.

“Our organization remains deeply committed to creating a sustainably winning franchise. Our fans deserve nothing but the best hockey. We thank them for their continued support as we work toward our goals.”

As you can see from the statement, Martin Brodeur will serve in the role as advisor to hockey operations.

The Devils face the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning not very long from now on Sunday. The timing is curious, opening the door for hypotheses. Did Shero and the Devils disagree on how to approach the trade deadline? Maybe the two sides even couldn’t hash it out on a specific player? Did something else happen?

Either way, the 2019-20 season has been a big letdown for a Devils team that made large investments (P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev trades, lucking into Jack Hughes) without much in the way of improvements. If the Devils are going to get things together, it won’t be with Shero at the controls.

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.

Shero: Hall trade ‘the right time and the right move for us’

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NEWARK, N.J. — Trading Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes roughly 18 months after the forward won the NHL MVP award for leading the Devils back to the playoffs was a simple hockey decision based on the team’s poor start and the strong likelihood the player was going to test the free-agent market next summer.

Devils general manager Ray Shero said Tuesday the trade of Hall to the Coyotes 24 hours earlier for two draft picks and three prospects was a hard day for him because of his feelings for the player. It was not a hard decision, he added.

Shero said numerous teams had called to inquire about acquiring the 28-year-old left wing, and the lines of communication remained opened with several of them until the deal with Arizona was finalized Monday.

Shero said trading Hall had nothing to do with the Devils realizing they would not be able to sign the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft before July 1. He also insisted Hall neither asked to be traded or nor said he wanted out of New Jersey, where he played the past three-plus seasons.

”From our standpoint, it was the right time and the right move for us and certainly for Taylor,” said Shero, noting Hall is going to a playoff contender.

Much was expected of the Devils this season. They drafted Jack Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick in June and he joined a lineup that included Hall and Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. New Jersey also acquired Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban from Nashville and signed Wayne Simmonds as a free agent.

Things went south quickly. The Devils lost their first six games (0-4-2) and won two of their first 11 (2-5-4). Coach John Hynes was fired earlier this month and Hall was traded Monday. New Jersey has a 10-17-5 record, second worst in the league.

”This was a decision we made that what’s best for us as to where we are,” Shero said. ”It may have been a harder decision if we were five or three points out of a playoff spot or at the (trading) deadline; then what do you do? I don’t think that was that hard a decision based on where we want to go and making sure we have assets coming to us that we like.”

In return for Hall and forward Blake Speers, the Devils got Arizona’s first-round pick in the 2020 draft (top-three protected), Arizona’s third-round selection (conditional) in 2021, defenseman Kevin Bahl and forwards Nick Merkley and Nate Schnarr.

The deal has been anticipated for days. Hall was held out of the Devils’ games at Colorado and Arizona on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Shero said he spoke to Hall about a possible deal early last week.

Hall was leading the Devils in scoring with six goals and 19 assists for 25 points. He was limited to 33 games by a knee injury last season, finishing with 11 goals and 26 assists. His career year was in 2017-18 when he had 39 goals and 54 assists in getting New Jersey back to the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012.

”Taylor Hall never asked for a trade. Never,” Shero said. ”He has never turned anything down. I didn’t turn anything down. I want to be clear about that. His legacy here in New Jersey is important and important to me. He was all-in with this team.”

Teammates knew a trade was imminent when Hall was scratched those two games last week.

Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood was shopping for Christmas gifts Monday and he didn’t find out about the deal until four hours after it was announced.

”He knew it was coming. We knew it was coming,” Blackwood said. ”It was just a matter of time before it came together.”’

Veteran defenseman Andy Greene said Hall was popular and is going to be missed, but this is the business side of the game when a team struggles.

”Those things happen because of us in this locker room and how we played dictated that,” Greene said. ”’We still have what, 50 games left. We can’t sit there and say let’s play the rest of the year out. There’s way too much time.”

Kyle Palmieri, who was the right wing on the line with Hall, said the trade was a shock even though he knew it was coming.

”He was guy who was looked to as a leader and that was how he played and carried himself,” Palmieri said. ”It’s tough to see any teammate go but a guy who has been here for a while, and obviously one who had such a big impact on and off the ice.”

Coyotes acquiring Hall shifts balance of power in West

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John Chayka looked at the Arizona Coyotes roster and their spot atop the Pacific Division and wondered.

The Coyotes haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, and 2018 NHL MVP Taylor Hall was available. The cost was two draft picks and three prospects but no players from the current roster, so he went for it.

After acquiring Hall from New Jersey, Arizona is a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

”We want to take a run at things here,” Chayka said. ”We ask our questions here internally like, ‘Why not us?’ We’ve got a good group. We’ve got a chance to contend. You can always look to future years and say, ‘What if?’ But when we’ve got a chance right now, we wanted to take our shot.”

The Coyotes haven’t had this good a shot at contending in almost a decade. They prevented West rivals like the Colorado Avalanche and defending champion St. Louis from getting Hall, and bolstered a blue-collar roster by adding a 28-year-old wing in his prime.

Hall is a free agent after this season. That doesn’t matter. Arizona is in it to win it now.

”Our team’s played hard,” said Chayka, who’s in his fourth season as Coyotes general manager. ”I think we’ve got a great group of veteran guys here that I would’ve regretted not giving them the opportunity to hopefully realize a chance to contend for a Stanley Cup.”

The closest the Coyotes have come to the Cup is a five-game Western Conference final loss to Los Angeles in 2012. Adding Hall to a core including young leading scorers Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, wing Phil Kessel, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and goaltenders Darcy Keumper and Antti Raanta should ratchet up the expectations in the desert.

”I’m joining a team with some young studs, a lot of really good defensemen and obviously two goalies that have played amazing this year, you mention those things and that’s really what you need in a contender and that’s what it looks like the Coyotes are,” Hall said. ”I’m not here to guarantee any playoff predictions or anything like that. But you look at the standings, they’re in first place in the division and really I’m coming in to help with that.”

Hall has only made the playoffs once in nine NHL seasons with Edmonton and New Jersey, so it’s understandable that he doesn’t want to jump to conclusions. He wants to take some time to adjust to expectations before setting them too high but is excited about the prospect of returning to the postseason.

”Not every day as a player can you jump that many spots in the standings and come to a team that’s in first place in their division,” Hall said. ”I’m really just looking forward to winning games.”

The Coyotes traded for Hall to win games now and in the spring. The opportunity to add him before the holiday roster freeze maximizes the benefit and gives them a better opportunity to shift the balance of power in the West for real.

”We felt like if there was an opportunity to improve the group, it was something we were going to look into, and when this opportunity came along, it was something where we wanted to really bolster the group, hopefully give them a shot in the arm,” Chayka said. ”We feel like adding guys like Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, they’re players that we haven’t seen the likes of these guys in Arizona in terms of their offensive mindset in a long, long time, and we couldn’t pass up any opportunity.”