Ray has an incredible opportunity this offseason to make a quantum leap forward. He's got more assets than he'll ever have. He has an expansion draft where teams are absolutely going to be squeezed. He's got more cap room than anyone and an offseason that's going to see the cap stay relatively flat.
There's the fear that you go "Buffalo shortcuts." That didn't work out for them this year but you can "shortcut" the right way and dramatically improve. I don't believe in the need to be a "cup contender." If you get into the playoffs, you have a chance. And if the Devils get into the playoffs, a big part of it will by Cory. And a great Cory is the great equalizer.
The Devils attendance has dropped every year for the last 4 or 5 years and it's going to drop again next year. They are down on season ticket renewals. They cannot afford a consistent down turn. They've missed the playoffs in the past. They were never laughingstock bad. They were this year.
So what can Ray do this offseason?
Ray should make it clear that his offseason mission is to make this team a playoff team next year. Whether he truly believes it or not isn't important - he needs to say it and he needs to make moves like it.
I think Hynes stays but his staff does not. The Devils were bottom 3rd in the league in PP and PK. Their defense was consistently out of position and set offenses never really materialized. This shows there's accountability for the outcome of this season. I also think one of the guys that has to come in has to be more of a veteran presence. Hynes and his crew were all AHL guys. There's gotta be some experience back there with him - hopefully with some pedigree that puts confidence into the boys.
We'll see where we end up in the draft, but Ray needs to make hay with this first pick.
As for the expansion draft, Ray needs to have one of Cammy or Lovejoy (somehow both would be the best) head to Vegas. And he needs to come out of the expansion draft with a defenseman (Anaheim, Nashville, Minnesota). He has too many assets, cap room, expansion eligible players, etc to not be successful here.
He needs another forward in trade. Think Tiffoli, Huala, Palat or the like. Someone that a cap strap team is going to have to get rid of.
He needs to outbid the market for Shattenkirk. Is this gonna look ugly at the end? Yup. Is this going to look like an overpay when he signs it? Yup. But it still has to happen. If it means you trade a 4th to Washington to get his rights because he wants the 8th year so it's 8/64 - then that's what you do. The only reason that Kevin Shattenkirk isn't a NJ Devil next year is because he didn't want to be - not because they didn't make every attempt to land him. Shattenkirk is a no doubt about it 1st pair D, PP D and offense creator. This is not asking the Devils to go out and make this year's Kyle Okposo UFA signing (hello TJ Oshie). Shattenkirk can be a D foundation guy for 4 years.
Everyone else on this team wants to think that the future isn't so far off in the distance. Are they pros? Of course. But come on. Hall has known nothing but losing. And his teams haven't really tried all that hard to win. He needs to be in a winning environment soon. He was so beaten mentally this year. And so was Cory. Now from Cory's perspective, he had the worst year of his career and he was most certainly to blame for a lot of it. Missing the playoffs a lot of years is one thing. Being hopeless is quite another. That's Buffalo and Carolina purgatory. You can't have that. So you have to make moves to get better sooner rather than later.
So to recap - what do the Devils need right now to be a playoff team next year?
They need two top 6 forwards. Trade for one and hope that one of Zacha, McLeod, Speers, Wood becomes the other. Or if you get lucky and get one of the top 2 picks, perhaps one of those guys is a top 6 next year. You can put them with Hall, Palmieri, Zajac, and Henrique.
They need a complete top pair of defensemen. Shattenkirk is one. The D you acquire around the expansion draft is the other. And of course, you'll need some addition by subtraction - namely Ben Lovejoy. There have been articles written and plenty of keyboard ink spilled on message boards but LJ was essentially giving the other team an extra player just about every time he was on the ice. I understood the idea of the signing - but it has been disastrous.
The flotsam and jetsam from this year can mix with perhaps a Fiddler type UFA signing for the bottom 6 forwards and the Devils could get by.
Then of course, you'll need Cory to be last year's Cory. But having better players and a better coaching staff should help that department.
In closing - this year was awful to go through. I am a STH and I went to about 30 of the games this year so I saw it first hand a lot. But I'm willing to do it to get back to where I want the team to be. And we don't have to go through a Sixers level process to get there. Ray has already taken the first two steps. Palmieri was step 1. Hall was step 2. We need steps 3-8 to happen this offseason.