It was the morning of Dec. 27, 2014, and the New Jersey Devils were the talk of the NHL.For all the wrong reasons.
Not 24 hours earlier, President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello dropped a bombshell by firing head coach Pete DeBoer. Now, on this day, Lamoriello was expected to announce DeBoer’s successor.Instead, Lamoriello outlined a three-headed coaching staff that was comprised of himself, Scott Stevens and Adam Oates. The plan left observers scratching their heads.
“I tried to come up with what was in my opinion the best way of getting our team to do certain things and getting the most out of the personnel we have,” Lamoriello told the assembled media at the Prudential Center, hours before the Devils dropped a 3-1 decision to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. “We’re going to have a unique situation here.”
Undoubtedly. But it hasn’t been a winning one. The Devils are 4-5-1 since the coaching change, and only Arizona (36), Carolina (35), Buffalo and Edmonton (31 each) have fewer points than the 40 earned by New Jersey.
It’s late January and a franchise, for whom winning is essentially a birthright, has been relegated to playing out the string. How did it go so wrong, so fast?
Jaromir Jagr leads nine forwards in double-figure point production. That’s the good news. The bad news is (A) he only has 25 points in 43 games, (B) he’s 42-years-old, and (C) Jagr personifies the Devils’ startling lack of team speed. Free agent signing Mike Cammalleri leads the team with 14 goals, but he is better suited to being a secondary scorer instead of franchise cornerstone. Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac are good two-way, third-line centers on playoff teams. With the Devils they are top-six forwards. Patrik Elias went over the 1,000 point mark for his career, and is one goal away from 400. The necessary signings of Scott Gomez and Martin Havlat highlight the organizational failure in drafting and developing top-six forwards.
If you’re looking for positives, the triumvirate of Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson and Seth Helgeson have received ample opportunity to showcase their skill sets. Adam Larsson has received more than 20 minutes a game of ice time since DeBoer’s firing. Veterans Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene have been good; both could fetch something usefu l– prospect or draft pick — from a playoff contender at the trade deadline. Captain Bryce Salvador has been limited to 15 games due to an euphemistic lower body injury.
The first season without Martin Brodeur has seen Cory Schneider play at a Brodeurian pace. Schneider set a franchise record by starting the first 20 games of the season, and has started 40 of the Devils 46 games this season. He’s compiled a 15-19-4 record with 2.42 goals against average and .919 save percentage, while his 2,277:25 of ice team leads all NHL goaltenders. The lack of a quality No. 2 has been a season long issue. Keith Kinkaid is 1-3-3 with a 2.54 GAA and .913 save percentage in nine starts, while Scott Clemmensen was 0-0-1 in three games with a 4.71 GAA and .852 save percentage.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
A mixed bag. The power play ranks ninth in the NHL with a 20.6 percent success rate, but the penalty kill’s 79 percent success rate is 24th in the league.
It’s difficult to grade the Lamoriello-Stevens-Oates trio after 10 games, while DeBoer, whose name was booed by Devils fans when he was announced as coach prior to home games, did not have enough talent to effectively implement his style of hockey.