Few NHL executives have enjoyed more success than Lou Lamoriello. The veteran general manager has built three Stanley Cup champions, is universally respected and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame back in 2009. You can’t take any of that away from him.
However, you can certainly argue that he’s been bad at his job for quite some time.
Lamoriello fired Devils head coach Pete DeBoer the day after Christmas, after New Jersey limped to a 12-17-7 record. It was probably the right choice to part ways, but even so, a new coach isn’t going to flourish with the roster at hand.
Neither will two new coaches.
The decision to bring in Scott Stevens and Adam Oates is perplexing, to say the least. The plan, according to Lamoriello, is for him to briefly work behind the bench to gauge his personnel, then let Stevens and Oates take over.
It could work out. But even if this unconventional triumvirate doesn’t backfire, it’s hard to see New Jersey competing any time soon.
For starters, the Devils’ salary cap situation is a mess, the drafting has been atrocious and the team has failed to fill voids left by players like Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, among others.
What’s more, the prospect pool is mostly barren.
Indeed, Lamoriello hasn’t done many things right since the Devils won the Eastern Conference in 2012. In the time since he’s made New Jersey the oldest team in the league by a significant margin, fallen short of the postseason twice and given fans little reason to be optimistic.
Not all of this is Lamoriello’s fault, of course. It’s not like another GM would have persuaded Kovalchuk to stay in North America or kept Parise from Minnesota. Regardless, he deserves most of the blame for New Jersey’s failures.
It’s hard to imagine ownership firing Lamoriello after all he’s done for the franchise, but it may be time for him to step down — otherwise, New Jersey’s recent struggles may turn into a lengthy, drawn out nightmare.
There’s simply no good way to frame the Devils’ state of affairs. As of Wednesday morning, New Jersey sits two points ahead of Buffalo. The Sabres have a game in hand.
The Devils’ offense is particularly bad: 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr is their leading scorer despite being on pace for fewer than 50 points. We’re almost halfway through 2014-15, and only two New Jersey skaters have double-digit goals.
Defense has long been a strength in New Jersey, and this hasn’t changed. But without elite netminding — a luxury they enjoyed for most of this century — there’s no way they can right the ship in 2015.
Cory Schneider has been good between the pipes, but not great. DeBoer received a lot of criticism for the lack of rest he gave his starting goalie, and maybe that hefty workload has affected Schneider’s numbers: A .918 save percentage isn’t good enough when the guys in front of you are 28th in the league in offense.
Odds are Lamoriello will sell at the trade deadline, which may be the only logical direction. Jagr and other aging players could garner solid returns, ones that could help New Jersey get younger and faster.
Jagr said he would be happy to stay in NJ but wouldn’t have a problem being traded. “It’s up to Lou, whatever he wants.”
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) December 29, 2014
When Parise left the Devils for the Wild, surely he thought Minnesota would be a contender by now. That has yet to happen, and based on its recent performance, the Wild look more like an average group than a good one.
Mike Yeo’s club dropped five straight before beating Winnipeg on Monday (three of those losses came in overtime).
In terms of possession, the Wild are stellar. Its Score Adjusted Corsi is up there with some of the best, and its suppressing shots extremely well. Yet, these traits alone cannot make up for other glaring deficiencies.
Clearly, goaltending is holding the Wild back. Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom have .903 and .901 save percentages, respectively, a far cry from the netminding Minnesota received last year. Kuemper has taken a big step backwards, and the Josh Harding of old is surely missed.
The Central Division is brutal, and Minnesota is clearly less talented than Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis. Even Winnipeg has seven more points in the standings. The Wild could sneak into the playoffs, but there isn’t much evidence to suggest that this team can make noise come April.
Unlike New Jersey, Florida seems to be an organization set up for long-term success. At 16-9-9, they’re just one point out of a playoff spot — a stark contrast from last year’s mark, which resulted in the NHL’s second-worst record.
Roberto Luongo has quietly returned to form and has been one of the chief reasons for Florida’s turnaround. No longer subjected to the harsh spotlight in Vancouver, the veteran goalie has settled in nicely with his former club with a .923 save percentage, good for ninth in the league.
It’s also encouraging how quickly some of the Panthers’ younger players have evolved. While Aleksander Barkov has hit a rut, Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson (to an extent) have all stepped up and been productive for Gerald Gallant.
This is a franchise that still has a long way to go, but it’s also self-aware. In the past, many teams in similar situations have paid hefty prices for taking costly, myopic shortcuts. This doesn’t appear to be an issue in Sunrise. Florida understands it will take time to build a winner under its unique, less-than-ideal circumstances.
From their reformed ticket sales strategy to GM Dale Tallon’s blueprint, the Panthers are exhibiting the patience and acumen necessary to thrive in a small market. And it’s refreshing to see.
While few expected the Panthers to do so well, perhaps even fewer expected the Stars to do so poorly.
At first blush, it felt like Dallas had the potential to become a genuine contender this year. The Stars are nowhere close to this label, but some recent improvements have them trending upwards, albeit slightly.
The Stars have won seven of nine since Dec. 6 and are no longer at the bottom of the Central Division. A playoff berth is unlikely, but this uptick is promising.
Tyler Seguin has emerged as one of the league’s best scorers, and now leads the NHL in goals with 25. There’s a legitimate chance he hits 50 by the end of the regular season and wins a Hart Trophy. Linemate Jamie Benn (10 goals, 20 assists) has been good, as well.
Defense was a major concern over the first few months, as the Stars allowed exactly one shot attempt per minute during even strength action. That rate has dropped to 51.3 since their hot streak began. Whether or not this improvement is sustainable remains to be seen.
Dallas is now six points shy of eighth place in the West with a few games in hand.