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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.

PHT Decade in Review: Most significant trades in hockey

As 2019 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at the past decade. We’ll remember the best players and teams, most significant goals, and biggest transactions that have happened since 2010. Let us know your memories in the comments.

Best Hockey Trades

Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen

The Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets each had a glaring need and were able to help each other when Seth Jones and Ryan Johansen were traded for one another. From Columbus’ perspective, Johansen was not a favorite of coach John Tortorella and already had a lengthy contract dispute. Nashville had an abundance of talent on the blueline and needed to find a top line centerman. When a trade of this magnitude happens, one team usually regrets the move but, in this situation, both teams were left quite pleased.

Martin St. Louis for Ryan Callahan

It takes a lot of extenuating circumstances for two teams in the thick of a playoff race to trade their captains, but in 2014, the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning completed the transaction. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman created a dispute with Martin St. Louis when he left the future Hall-Of-Famer off Team Canada’s original roster for the Sochi Olympics. In return, St. Louis requested a trade and the Lightning ended up honoring the request. On the other side, Glen Sather wrapped up contract extensions with Henrik Lundqvist and Dan Girardi but struggled to find common ground with Callahan. Even though the Lightning had very little leverage in the negotiations, Yzerman still found a way to pry two first-round picks from New York in the process. The Rangers went on to lose in the 2014 Cup Final and fell in the 2015 Conference Finals to the Lightning in a seven-game series. Neither team won a championship because of this move, but both clubs settled a problem with this transaction.

Mike Richards and Jeff Carter end up in Los Angeles, Flyers acquire Wayne Simmonds, Bradyen Schenn and Jakub Voracek

A few maneuvers were significant when Los Angeles won two Stanley Cups early in the decade, but the Kings paid a steep price to acquire Mike Richards in June 2011. Coincidentally, another big piece, Jeff Carter, was traded that day to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was eventually sent to Los Angeles at the 2012 trade deadline where he became a key cog for the Kings. Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown were already in place, but the acquisition of Richards and Carter were a huge reason why Los Angeles was very successful in the first half of the decade.

On the flip side, the Flyers were looking to change the culture around the club that offseason and landed Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn in the Richards deal, while acquiring Jakub Voracek in the Carter trade. Philadelphia did not win a Stanley Cup, but they were not ripped off in either deal when trading legitimate NHL stars.

Flames send Dougie Hamilton to the Hurricanes in five-player trade

It was a blockbuster trade in June of 2018 that helped both the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames. Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox were sent to Carolina in exchange for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. If one was to define a hockey trade, this would be a great place to start.

One sided trades

Bruins ship Tyler Seguin to Dallas

There are always overreactions after losing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but the way the Boston Bruins reacted to losing the 2013 Stanley Cup Final was clearly a mistake. The Bruins front office decided to trade Tyler Seguin, a star in the making, to the Dallas Stars for Loui Eriksson and several other pieces. The Bruins did not make matters worse by handing Eriksson a lucrative contract extension in the summer of 2016, but they did lose a player that averaged 77 points per season since the trade.

Capitals send Filip Forsberg to Nashville for Martin Erat

George McPhee is most likely still having nightmares about this transaction.

Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher

This deal is easy to judge knowing how each player performed since the trade. However, in April of 2013 the move did make some sense for both teams. The Ottawa Senators had a crowded crease with Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner and Bishop while Conacher was off to a strong start with the Tampa Bay Lightning, recording 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in the first 35 games of the season. The undersized forward instantly became the Senators’ leading scorer upon his arrival but would never become the lethal scorer Ottawa hoped for. On the other hand, Bishop has become a well-rounded NHL goaltender.

Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton

There probably could be a category for several of the moves Peter Chiarelli made but trading two premium draft picks for Griffin Reinhart is at the top of the list. It doesn’t help when one of those picks turned into Mathew Barzal, but the Oilers general manager hoped Reinhart would solve Edmonton’s defensive issues. Former Islanders general manager Garth Snow is probably still confused how he pulled this one off.

Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson

Hall helped the New Jersey Devils return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and captured the 2018 Hart trophy, while Edmonton picked up a middle-pairing defenseman.

Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard

Why the Ottawa Senators were interested in trading a young center with Zibanejad’s potential is still a bit mind-boggling. The Swedish forward has turned into one of the more underrated centers in the NHL while Brassard has bounced around the NHL the past couple of seasons.

Brent Burns to the Sharks

The Minnesota Wild received Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round draft pick, but Burns has been one of the most dynamic defensemen in the entire NHL throughout the decade. There are very few assets that could have lived up to the value Burns has provided on the ice.

Franchise Altering Maneuvers

P.K. Subban for Shea Weber

For those who understand the salary cap recapture penalties, the Nashville Predators took a significant gamble when sending Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban. If Weber were to retire before his deal runs out, they will be forced to operate with a lot of dead money on their books.

Subban did help the Predators reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 but has since been shipped off to the New Jersey Devils.

Blues acquire Ryan O'Reilly

The 2019 Conn Smythe winner was an integral member of the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup run last season. Doug Armstrong gave up a lot at the time including a top prospect, two premium picks and two roster players, but the Buffalo Sabres miscalculated in their evaluation. Without the the O’Reilly acquisition, the song ‘Gloria’ is probably not a huge hit in the St. Louis area.

Penguins acquire Phil Kessel

It wasn’t always a smooth ride in Pittsburgh, but Kessel averaged 75 points per season and played a major part in back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships.

TJ Oshie to the Capitals

The Washington Capitals have been one of the most successful teams over the last decade but didn’t get over the hump until the spring of 2018. T.J. Oshie was not the main piece during the championship run, but he has provided secondary scoring and strong two-way play since his acquisition in the summer of 2015.

MORE PHT DECADE IN REVIEW FUN:
• Top NHL players in fantasy hockey
• Most significant goals
• Best players of the decade
• Favorite goals, best/worst jerseys
Best NHL teams of the decade

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

Stunning numbers from first month of NHL season

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Here is what stood out to us throughout the month of October. 

Carrying the offense, Edmonton edition: Let’s start with Edmonton’s insanely dominant duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl because right now there is nobody — NOBODY — in the NHL better than them.

Not only are they both among the top-five point producers in the league individually (again), they have (again) completely driven almost all of the offense for the Oilers. And when I say “all” that is not meant to be an exaggeration. There is almost no offense in Edmonton when these players are not on the ice. So far this season the Oilers have scored 42 goals. At least one of McDavid or Draisaitl has been on the ice for 33 of those goals, while they have both been on the ice for 31 of them. That means one of them has been on the ice for 79 percent of the team’s goals, while at least one of them has scored or assisted on every one of those goals they have been on the ice for. This is somehow even more top-heavy than last year’s team.

On this same date last year One of McDavid or Draisaitl was on the ice for 75 percent of the team’s goals, while one of them scored or assisted on “only” 68 percent of them.

Carrying the offense, Boston edition: The Bruins have their own dominant top line with David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron carrying their offense. The Pastrnak-Marchand duo is the big one here, having been on the ice for 28 of Boston’s 42 goals (66 percent) while at least one of them has scored or assisted on every goal with them on the ice.

Carlson’s start among the all-time best: With 23 points in the Capitals’ first 14 games John Carlson is off to one of the best offensive starts we have ever seen from a defensemen. Since the start of the 1979-80 season the only defenders with more points through their team’s first 14 games are Al MacInnis (27 in 1990-91) and Paul Coffey (24 in 1988-89). He is one of just 12 player to have at least 20 points through their team’s first 14 games, with the other 11 all doing it between 1980 and 1991 when the league was a goal-scorer’s dream.

No puck luck for Simmonds, Barrie: Toronto’s Tyson Barrie and New Jersey’s Wayne Simmonds currently hold the league for “most shots without scoring a goal.” Entering play on Friday Barrie has put 36 shots on goal without scoring, while Simmonds is still searching for his first goal after 34 shots for the Devils. No other player in the league has more than 28 shots without a goal, while Simmonds is the only forward with more than 25 without a goal.

Jonathan Quick‘s struggles are concerning: He is tied for the league lead in goals against with 36 entering Friday alongside Sergei Bobrovsky and David Rittich. For as much as the other two have struggled they have played in 11 and 12 games respectively. Quick has given up his 36 goals in only eight games. He has played 100 fewer minutes than Bobrovsky and more than 250 fewer minutes than Rittich.

Still the power play specialist: Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson still has one of the league’s most bizarre stat lines through the early part of his career, having scored eight goals in the first 19 games of his career (including six in 13 games this season). Every single one of those goals has come on the power play. Zero even-strength goals.

A very one-sided trade: Let’s check in on that James Neal for Milan Lucic swap. Neal has scored 12 goals in 14 games for the  Oilers. Lucic has zero goals and 18 shots on goal in 15 games for the Flames.

No lead is safe in New Jersey: Expectations were high for the Devils after a massive offseason, but with just two wins in their first 10 games they have been a pretty big disappointment. Things might be different if they could actually finish a game. Four of their losses this season have come in games where they held a two-goal lead at some point in the game, including a couple of third period leads. They can start the game, they just can not finish it.

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.

 

A night of ‘finally’ for Devils in win vs. Rangers

It wasn’t always pretty for the New Jersey Devils against the New York Rangers on Thursday night.

The Devils’ first win of 2019-20 wasn’t a work of art. Jack Hughes‘ first NHL point wasn’t all that aesthetically pleasing, either. But the Devils will take it. And being that this came against the Rangers, the sweet will outweigh the bitter even more.

After falling behind 1-0 early, New Jersey fired off three consecutive goals to eventually secure a 5-2 win in front of a mixture of Rangers and Devils fans in Newark. The “workmanlike” nature of the victory really could be summarized by Hughes’ first point not exactly coming as you’d draw it up: an assist that deflected off of Miles Wood‘s backside, essentially.

Let’s work through some of the storylines in this one.

Breaking some droughts, but still some work to do.

Again, the Devils really needed this win, as they came into Thursday at 0-4-2 (now 1-4-2). The Rangers likely felt a little rusty, as they last played on Saturday, and have only appeared in four games, slipping to 2-2-0.

Along with finally getting that first win, and Hughes getting his first point, the Devils finally scored on the power play. New Jersey went 0-for-18 through their first six games, so Kyle Palmieri‘s power-play marker is another source of relief.

Heck, with a long-distance empty-net goal, P.K. Subban also scored his first goal with the Devils.

A pessimist would argue that an empty-net goal only counts for so much, and that Hughes’ assist wasn’t impressive, but those also mean fewer annoying questions during interviews. Like Victor Mete after scoring his first NHL goal, the Devils can just play.

But, yeah, they need to be better. Sure, they finally scored on the power play, but they only went 1-for-7 on Thursday, so they still need to find some answers.

(I hate to say it, but they really need to explore the question of whether Wayne Simmonds is still a top power-play unit guy. He’s struggled in recent years, and while the effort still seems to be there, the “finish” might not be. He has zero goals and one assist through seven games. Maybe it would be better to replace him with Nikita Gusev, who didn’t need much space to score after Artemi Panarin broke a stick on Thursday? A group including Gusev, Hughes, Subban, Palmieri, and Taylor Hall could be lethal.)

An answer in net?

It’s nice to see Cory Schneider possibly being healthy, or healthier, as his free-fall from elite to poor goalie is likely due in part to injuries. The bottom line is that Schneider might just be a backup (or worse) at this point in his career, though. Schneider’s 0-3-0 record and putrid .876 save percentage provide little hope that he’s just going to turn back the clock.

So the Devils really don’t have much of a choice: they need to see how far Mackenzie Blackwood can bring them.

The 22-year-old was off to a rocky start of his own this season, but was sharp on Thursday, stopping 29 out of 31 shots, including six SOG from a Rangers PP that went 0-for-6. After one great stop via the scary one-timer combination of Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, Subban gave Blackwood a tap on the head in appreciation. Rightfully so, I’d say.

Last season, Blackwood generated a .918 save percentage over 23 games (21 of which were starts). That’s not a huge sample size, but being that he was a second-rounder (42nd overall in 2015) and Schneider looks shaky-at-best, the Devils have every incentive to send him out there and see if he can give them at least league-average goaltending.

No.1 vs. No. 2 isn’t there yet

There are moments where it’s already captivating to watch Hughes, right down to nerding out when he does some simple-but-impressive skating, such as using his edges or accelerating with impressive speed.

But if we want Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko to become a rivalry worth watching, we will have to lean on stronger sequels.

Both the Rangers and Devils seem like works in progress, yet with all of the talent they’ve added, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more fireworks in future meetings.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Devils lose again, remain winless: 3 takeaways on slow start

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The New Jersey Devils were one of the biggest stories of the offseason thanks to some aggressive roster moves by general manager Ray Shero.

Along with the return of a healthy Taylor Hall, the Devils won the NHL’s draft lottery and selected Jack Hughes No. 1 overall to add to a young core that already included the No. 1 overall pick from the 2017 class (Nico Hischier). They surrounded their newly formed core with the big summer acquisitions of P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds.

Expectations immediately skyrocketed and there was a ton of optimism around the team.

That optimism might be starting to quickly disappear.

Following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Devils remain winless (0-3-2) through the first five games of the season and you have to wonder how much longer it is going to be until head coach John Hynes’ seat starts to get a little warmer.

What has gone wrong for the Devils so far? Here are three key factors.

1. It has been a slow start for the new faces

Out of all the big offseason acquisitions, Gusev is the only that has found the back of the net through the first five games (he has two goals). Other than that, it has been a giant goose egg for everyone else that was expected to make a difference.  Simmonds and Subban have combined for just two assists, while Hughes is going through some early growing pains with zero points and only 10 shots on goal through the first five games.

When it comes to Hughes you had to expect some struggles at times. He is 18 years old and making a massive jump to the NHL. Not everyone is going to step in and immediately be Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or Connor McDavid. And while Subban is off to a slow start and might be starting to slow down a little, he has enough of a track record and is still good enough that you have to think he is going to shake off this slow start.

Adding to the problems offensively is that Hall, Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri have combined for just two goals so far (both belonging to Palmieri). If you wanted to put a positive spin on this for the Devils it’s that their best players haven’t yet played anything close to their best hockey. They are not going to struggle this much forever.

But as long as they do, goals — and wins — are going to be few and far between.

2. The power play has been awful

Calling it awful might actually be an understatement. After their 0-for-4 performance against Boston on Saturday night the Devils are now 0-for-15 on the season. That is zero goals in 30 minutes of power play time, and it is not like they have been unlucky. Entering play on Sunday their power play unit was one of the worst in the league when it comes to generating shot attempts and getting shots on goal.

3. Goaltending is still an issue 

It is not the biggest issue, but it is still an issue and it was the single biggest question mark the team had entering the season. Through five games the Devils have allowed at least three goals in every game, with Saturday’s game in Boston being the first one where they did not allow at least four. While the team in front of them has not been particularly good on any given night, the duo of Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood has an .863 save percentage after Saturday. No matter what is happening around them, your team has no chance with that sort of production from your goalies.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.