Is Lamoriello to Blame for Devils Demise?
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Posted 11 April 2011 - 08:47 PM
Lou Ponders Future
For the first time since the New Jersey Devils moved into their new state of the art facility, the Prudential Center will not host a Stanley Cup Playoff game. There will be no Playoff logo stenciled onto the ice. There will be no dramatic video created to pump up crazed towel waving fans. There will be no dramatic overtime wins. There will be no chance to add to the three Stanley Cup banners hanging from it’s rafters.
The playoffs have been a annual right for the Devils since 1996, but not this year. Instead, there are players cleaning out their lockers and packing up their belongs to head home to waiting families.
The Devils ended their roller coaster season by defeating the Boston Bruins, 3-2 in front of the home town fans. Ironically, during the organizations incredible run of success, the only other times the season ended with a win were the three years they hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Alas that was not the case this time. Sunday’s win came with little fan fair. There was no center ice presentation and no champagne waiting to drench them in the locker room. Instead waiting was a season full of “what if’s.”
What if Jacques Lemaire hadn’t retired the first time? What is John Maclean hadn’t been Lemaire’s replacement? What if Zach Parise hadn’t been injured? What if Maclean had been fired sooner? The list of “what if’s” is longer then it’s ever been for a general manager and team so glorified for consistency and accomplishments.
Now the Devils prepare for a long layoff that many off them have never experienced. Some players will play in the upcoming World Championships. Others, will just go home and think about what could of and should’ve been.
The Devils owned the NHL’s worst record in December, nose diving to a 10-29-2 record and sinking to a 27 points out of a playoff spot. Mercifully for fans, rookie head coach John MacLean was fired and replaced by the now un-retired and re-retired legend Jacques Lemaire. The Devils came together as a team and put together a 23-3-2 record to climb within six points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
However, the Devils momentum fizzled and the stress of playing every game like it was their last caught up to the players and staff. The team went 5-7-1 the rest of the way and faded from playoff contention.
Now the Devils and GM Lou Lamoriello sit in an unfamiliar position on the outside looking in. The extended summer staring Lamoriello coldly in the face. Could this be the end of an era in New Jersey? Another coaching search begins the same way it ended last season. Once again Jacques Lemaire called it quits and this time he won’t be there to bail out the embattled GM.
Whomever Lamoriello finds to fill the coaching vacancy will become the Devils tenth coach since 2005, including two tours of duty for Lemaire and Lamoriello each. Which leads to the hauntingly relevant question, “Has Lamoriello lost his golden touch?”
Lamoriello has a reputation for building winners year in and year out. He took over as GM of the Devils in 1987 and produced the first winning season in franchise history. He has served longer than any current general manager in the league with a single franchise and for good reason. Under his leadership the organization has won three Stanley Cups, four conference championships and nine division titles. In fact, this season is just the third time in his 24 years as GM that his team will miss the post season. His resume is impressive but recently the God Father of Jersey hockey has lost some of his luster. His recent inability to keep key free agents, coupled with a series of head scratching free-agent signings have many wondering if the collapse of the Devils is really that big of a surprise.
Could it be Lamoriello is actually to blame for the Devils shortcomings this past season?
With an entire year of adversity behind him and an endless numbers of question marks to address, will the Hall of Fame GM have the resources to fix the team he broke?
Among one of the most pressing issues concerning Lamoriello is locking up soon to be restricted free-agent Zach Parise. Anything less then a long term deal would be a disaster for the organization. The team already has very limited cap room with nearly 52 million tied up in 17 players. In order to retain arguably the most important player in franchise history not named Martin Brodeur or Scott Stevens, Lamoriello may have to find a way to bury some contracts or trade away players to shed some salary.
Another concern is the weakness of the team at the blueline. The Devils success always started and ended with a solid defense but Lamoriello’s inability to retain the services of Brian Rafalski and Paul Martin have significantly hurt them. His attempt to address those concerns by adding free agents Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder before this season began failed miserably. Both players were not enough to make up for the Devils lack of a steady puck moving defenseman. It will be up to Lamoriello to ensure he plugs that hole with the right player or players this time around.
The offense didn’t fair much better. The team struggled to score with any kind of consistency for much of the year. But, young stars Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby and Nick Palmieri did show flashes of what could be a very bright offensive future in the Garden State. Also, Ilya Kovalchuk finally started to look comfortable in New Jersey and really stepped into a true leadership role, at times carrying the entire offense on his back. With a full season of Parise, the offense would improve dramatically. The Devils will need to acquire a number one center but it would more than likely have to be via trade.
Last but certainly not least, Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur has entered the twilight of his career. Brodeur will be 39 next season and is not expected to play beyond the expiration of his current contract. It would be in the best interest of Lamoriello to find a predecessor to play behind Marty until he hangs up his glove and blocker.
While 16 other NHL cities get busy planning their post season parties, the Rock will sit silent. Silence so deafening its almost unbearable for Lamoriello. If he is going to make sure this doesn’t happen for another 15 years he had better get to work now. Because if he doesn’t, he and the Devils can expect more silence this time next year and more fans asking, “what if?”
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