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The Lou Files Part 1: The Not So Good

14 May 2015 - 11:09 PM

Going to try and recap everything about Lou's tenure as GM. Yes, I'm starting with some negatives, but the good will follow soon. I only became a Devils fan in 96, so there's only so much I feel confident writing about. If you have some input from way back in the day, feel free to add them. I made an effort to include only things that Lou had full control of. For now, here are 3 times when Lou was at his worst.


Malakhov, Mogilny, and McGillis

Lou sat, waited and did little as Scott Niedermayer pondered where he'd play hockey next. I'll never fault him for that, but once Scott chose his brother (or was it the SoCal life), Lou grabbed anything in sight and ran. Within hours of the Niedermayer signing, the Devils had announced deals for Brian Rafalski, Vladimir Malakhov, and Dan McGillis. As fans were trying to process life without both Stevens and Niedermayer, the contracts information starting coming in: a staggering 2 years and $7.2 million for Malakhov -- a player that seemed disinterested and contemplating retirement; 2 years and $4.4 million for Dan McGillis. Then two weeks later, Lamoriello had the Devils way over the cap by bringing back another ex-Devil, Mogilny for 2 years and $7 million. This was 36-year-old Alex Mogilny was coming off an 8-goal season with the Leafs (in 37 games) and two hip-surgeries with whispers of his possible retirement.


Looking back on these deals, it was pretty funny/sad how hard Lamoriello was selling these moves. He was in serious used-car salesman mode for a team looking like they'd be starting the "New NHL" without two franchise pillars. First it was stating that the Devils defense was stronger then when the season ended in '04, or letting everyone know that he hadn't seen Larry Robinson this excited before and that Malakhov was back where he thrived. As for Mogilny, it was raving about his game-breaking goalscoring ability and exceptional speed.


You can debate how bad each contract was (I'd say two were horrendous), but when all three of your new free agent signings are off the team and NHL careers over by January, something went seriously wrong. Two year contracts shouldn't be cap killers, but when you are unable to sign your team's leading scorer, your best defenseman and a backup goalie as the calendar flips to October because of two 35+ year players combined $7.1m cap hit, something went drastically wrong. When you get relief because one of the "game-breaking scorer"s who had two hip surgeries previously to signing with the Devils...ends up having chronic hip failure, something went very....well actually that turned out really well. And when you are forced to flip a 1st round pick for cap relief, I mean you get it by now. That's all sorts of awful.

August '06 to opening day of the 06-07 season was an unmitigated disaster (one with a divison title and a 15-game win streak!), but thanks to Lou using every CBA loophole, the residual damage was the loss of a 1st round pick, and ill will that carried over up until punishment time for the Kovalchuk contract. Cap mismanagement and the preference to go after ex-Devils, even if it meant overpaying past their prime players...this was Lou truly at his very worst.


Martin out, Volchenkov in

I don't know what it was about Paul Martin. Perhaps Devils fans were just spoiled from watching incredible defenseman for over a decade and expectations were out of whack, but Martin never seemed to get the respect he deserved say like Andy Greene gets today from fans. He was just a really good defenseman for a number of years in New Jersey.


That lack of respect may have extended to the GM chair because when Martin was set to become a free agent after the 09-10 season, the Devils interest seemed lukewarm. Paul said it was tough to leave New Jersey, but in the end the Devils had not made an offer until he had was ready to accept the Penguins offer. The then 29-year-old accepted their 5-year $25 million contract.


Why did the Devils not even offer Martin a deal before free agency? Well with limited cap space, and the need to leave some room for Ilya Kovalchuk, Lamoriello probably had the Flyers series a little too fresh in his mind with Chris Pronger completely eliminating the Devils best forwards. Lou's off-season priority was that the Devils become "harder to play against in our own zone, and make it more difficult on opposing forwards." It sure seemed like Lou had Anton Volchenkov in mind, and probably knew that signing both would be impossible unless Martin took a significant discount to stay in NJ.  The Devils also seemed a little too high on prospects Alex Urbom or Matt Taormina at this point.


As the first day of free agency played out, the Devils let Martin walk, signed Henri Tallinder as a cheaper replacement to a 4-year $13.4 million deal, and then went all in on Anton Volchenkov. If this switch took place a few years later, the hockey world would have gone mad. The Devils blew away all other teams with a 6yr $24.5 million contract that Volchenkov reluctantly took at the urging of the Senators management. 


While most Devils fans expected that either Salvador or White would be bought out, Lamoriello said that Volchenkov would actually complement the two of them. There was no way of seeing around the number of years of the deal. When asked about the length of contract and playing that style, Lamoriello quipped, "that's what they said about Scott Stevens." Sadly, from the first few games, it was clear Volchenkov was no longer the destructive force that shutdown the Devils top line 3 years prior in the '07 playoffs. While there were a few glimpses here and there, they weren't getting what they had hoped for in year one of a very long contract.


Regardless if Volchenkov played better as a Devil, the sad part was their was a clear disconnect between Lou's thoughts on what the team needed, and what the actual team needed from watching the playoffs vs the Flyers. The Devils needed to get more mobile on the back end. The priority should have been Martin, especially after just trading away Oduya. Rather Lou was doubling down on a big immobile group that already included Salvador, White and Fraser. Lamoriello was chasing a Scott Stevens type that wasn't out there when the Devils really could have used another Paul Martin.


Brian Rolston x2
This is a two-parts: We'll start with the obvious one: The Brian Rolston signing in the 2008 off-season was all sorts of terrible. The ex-Devil had Lamoriello chomping at the bit for free agency to begin. With a reported 17 teams after him, it was Lamoriello that gave him the extra year that few teams would give a 35-year-old, along with the dollars, and NTC.  Brian Rolston was back with the Devils for 4 years and $20 million. While the "Cowboys" in Tampa Bay were doing all sorts of crazy things, even they stopped short of giving Rolston 4yrs or even $5 million on a 3-yr deal when they traded for his rights just before free agency began. Never a good sign...

Even though Lamoriello declared that age was of no concern when it came to Rolston, the contract was doomed from the start as expectations were never going to be met. Unfortunately age looked to be a concern from day 1, and pretty much anything and everything  went wrong from weird power play configuration and personnel with him on it, having him play at center, a position that he hadn't played the previous 3 seasons, and then suffering a high ankle sprain that took him out of action for a few months.

But those were just minor details. Rolston didn't look like a player struggling or just wasn't getting the bounces. He simply looked disinterested most of the time in New Jersey, devoid of any effort. Not even being reunited with his coach during his best years changed much for him. It took Rolston being embarrassed as he passed through re-entry waivers for him to show a pulse. That was after he, laughably, called himself the scapegoat for the team's troubles. Some of this is unfair to Lou, but when you sign 35-year-old forwards to big 4yr deals, not a lot of good will come. For the Devils, there was no good.
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The second part is the trade that ended Brian Rolston's career as a Devil initially. I'm predicting this one will have people disagreeing with me, but dealing Brian Rolston for Claude Lemieux a month into the 99-00 season was Lou once again looking to the past. Yes, the Devils won the Cup, but I'm not ready to credit an early November trade for Claude Lemieux as a stroke of genius or a key factor in their Cup run.  If you feel your team is missing a certain something to go deep in the playoffs, why make a deal like this just a month into the season. And why deal a 26-year-old forward almost straight up for a 34-year-old.


Rolston would go onto to play 8 productive seasons before the Devils came back calling with a huge 4-yr contract. Claude Lemieux's useful days were pretty much over by the end of the 2000 season. The Devils sold too low on Rolston the first time, and then bought way too high afterwards. They ended up for paying for all the years that they missed out on.


Honourable Mention: The Ryane Clowe contract, The signing of both Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg to 2-yr deals at ages 40 and 39 respectively, almost everything to with allowing Brent Sutter did him around for a few years.

What if Parise and Kovalchuk Were Still Devils

12 May 2015 - 12:30 AM

A lot of talk with the Devils struggles over the last few years always goes back to the loss of Parise and Kovalchuk. There's certainly a truth to any statement that says the Devils have suffered because of the loss of these two players, but how different would things be?  Would the Devils have returned to the Stanley Cup Finals? Been a perennial top team in the East? Would everything by perfect in Devils land? The same as it is now, or could it possibly be even worse than is today? One thing is for sure, plotting where this incarnation of the Devils could be with Parise and Kovalchuk is simply impossible to do.
For this bit of fan fiction, I went back in time to early July, where somehow the broke Devils are able to give an almost $100 million contract to Zach Parise.




The Devils didn't make any roster moves heading into the season after losing Parise, and they'd have no cap space to do anything if Parise ended up signing. They still sign Salvador to a brutal contract, and gamble with Brodeur and Hedberg at 40 and 39 respectively for the next 2 seasons. With the addition of the Parise signing, the Devils payroll rises, and if anything, the team needs to shed some salary to get under a team internal cap. In this case, the Devils are able to trade Tallinder before the season begins.

Opening Night Roster











What Happens?


The Devils goaltending duo of Brodeur and Hedberg still struggle. With Brodeur hurt, Hedberg is still forced to play 19 of the 48 games, and the team save percentage is still 28th in the league at .894.

Even with Parise, the Devils shootout record decreases significantly, from 12-4 to not as bad as 2-7, but still under .500


The Loktionov trade still happens. Tedenby spends most of the season in the AHL, and Josefson struggles mightily at the NHL level

The main change comes when Kovalchuk misses 11 games with a broken arm. They are better equipped to handle the loss of a top line player, and the Devils don’t lose anything close to 10 games in a row


End Result: The injuries to Kovalchuk, atrocious goaltending and lack of defensive depth probably do not make up for a healthy Parise. The Devils potentially finish 8th in the East, where they play the Pittsburgh Penguins.




The 13-14 off-season is a tough one, but since a big chunk of the this exercise is guessing, guess we shall. We’ll start at the draft where the Devils no longer have the 9th pick, but rather a pick in the 14-17 range. With a pick outside the top 10, the Devils simply do not have enough for the Canucks to pass on a division rivals offer from Edmonton for a 7th overall pick and prospect for Schneider.


The Devils are still determined to find a goalie for the future and to stop a repeat performance from that position the previous season. Unable to find an NHL goalie close to being ready in the draft pool, the Devils look to make a draft day trade. After competition from the Leafs, the Devils trade their 15th-17th pick to the Kings along with Keith Kinkaid for Jonathan Bernier, and the Kings 1st round draft pick in 2014.


At the draft, the Devils are not able to reach an agreement with Clarkson, who is expected to be the top free agent target throughout the league, but lock up Elias and Zubrus shortly before free agency to very similar contracts that were actually signed in real life.


When Free agency begins, Lamoriello believes the most important piece to find is a big body to replace Clarkson. That man is Ryane Clowe, who signs a 5yr $22.5M deal. Shortly after, the Devils re-sign Marek Zidlicky. Johan Hedberg is bought out. Lastly, Tedenby bids farewell.
Opening Night Roster:

Fayne (in honour of how the 13-14 started)

What Happens?
Bernier is seen as the future but not exactly the present that say Schneider might have been. Lou and Deboer declare Brodeur the starter going into the year, and 41-year-old Brodeur struggles throughout the season playing about 50 games. Bernier shows a lot of promise playing 32 games leaving many fans wishing he would have played more. As Bernier does not get an extended run before the trade deadline, there is never talk about Brodeur being traded. 
The signing of Clowe is a disaster as he suffers two more concussions, and is limited to only half the games.
In addition to Clowe being out, injuries to Kovalchuk, Parise, and Elias throughout the season leave the Devils extremely thin offensively. The Devils have trouble scoring because of this as players like Bernier and rookie Reid Boucher add little offense when called upon.
The Devils trade a 4th round pick to the Ducks at the deadline for Dustin Penner
Injuries to Larsson, Salvador and Volchenkov allow John Merrill and Eric Gelinas to play 50+ games.
End Result: Lack of depth, and poor goaltending (for the majority of the games), leave the Devils stunned as they finish 9th in the Eastern Conference Standings. After missing the playoffs, Pete Deboer is fired as head coach of the Devils.

Because Ilya Kovalchuk never leaves the Devils, the league doesn't feel as sympathetic to the new owners plea to have their 1st round draft pick. The Devils are forced to give up the 15th pick in the draft, but because of the Bernier deal, they have the Kings 1st round pick -- which happens to be the 30th pick after the Kings win the Cup. With the 30th pick, the Devils select John Quenneville.
Andrei Loktionov separates his shoulder during the World Championships and is not given a qualifying offer. He becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The Devils use their final compliance buyout on Anton Volchenkov and re-sign Mark Fayne. In a tough decision, Marek Zidlicky is not re-signed, as the Devils feel extremely high on Eric Gelinas, and believe Damon Severson could make the team out of camp.
As free agency opens, Lamoriello's main goal is to add scoring depth. He signs Mike Cammalleri to a 5yr $25m contract. Martin Havlat is also signed to a 1yr deal, and lastly, Scott Gomez is given a tryout and told to wait for an opening spot. The Devils sign Scott Clemmensen to a two-way deal, and Andy Greene is locked up to a 5-year $25m extension
Guy Boucher is named head coach
As for Brodeur, Lamoriello gives Marty time to mull his future, but saves a spot for him with the signing of Clemmensen. Unlike, the actual situation with Schneider, Bernier is not as old, not as advanced, and is not an upcoming UFA. There is no pressure or feel to for Marty to give way for Bernier just yet or for the organization to show Bernier that it's his net right now. In addition, with Parise and Kovalchuk still here, the Devils are seen as a much stronger team for him to still compete. Ultimately, after feeling the market, and seeing the Devils UFA signing, Brodeur signs a 1yr $2M contract to return as the Devils goalie with a promise that he'll have a chance at the starting job.
Opening Night Roster:
What Happens?
Clowe is concussed and misses most of the year. Add that with Havlat's usual injuries and Gomez and Bernier make their way onto the roster.
The Devils improve offensively, but not even close to the level that they hoped, and find themselves middle of the pack. Kovalchuk's level continues to dip finishing with just 27 goals in 74 games. In his 14th NHL season, his best days look well behind him.
Goaltending continues to become a major issue for the Devils. With Bernier taking a step back in his 1st year as a starter, Brodeur is given plenty of opportunities to take the starting job (think 12-13 with Schneider and Brodeur), but can't seize it.. A groin injury forces Marty to miss some extended time in the second half of the year leaving Bernier to start the majority of the last 30 games, as Boucher having little trust in Clemmensen.
End Result: A nice run at the end of the year just gets the Devils back in the playoffs where they face the President's Trophy winners, the Rangers. A tired Bernier puts the Devils in a hole, and a desperate Boucher calls upon the winningst goalie in NHL history, which sets up an incredible scene at the Rock for Game 3. The Devils find a way to win 4-3, but the special moment for the team and Brodeur is short-lived as the Devils lose 4-1 in game 4. Boucher goes back to Bernier in game 5 where the Rangers finish off the series. 
So where does this leave this version of the Devils right now?
Going into the 2015-2016 off-season:
- The Devils have the 16th pick in the 2015 NHL draft.
- Ilya Kovalchuk is entering his 15th NHL season with 10 more years left on his 15-year-contract.
- Zach Parise is still playing at a very high level, but is 31 having finished just finished his 3rd year of a 12-year contract.
- Patrik Elias is 39
- Mike Cammalleri is 33 with 4 more years on his contract
- Dainius Zubrus is 37 with a year left on his contract
- The cupboard of forward prospects is pretty much empty with Boucher and Matteau leading the way
- The depth at center is paper thin
- The defense is probably ever bit as great, good, bad or whatever you feel about it today.
- Jonathan Bernier is an RFA, and the Devils are unsure what they have in him after an up and down season. There's no backup and no goalie prospects in the system. The Devils are likely competing for Matt O'Connor.

Lamoriello Contnues to do Things His Own Way

05 May 2015 - 01:31 AM

Damien Cox is a controversial writer and personality, but has always been in the Devils corner with Lamoriello and Brodeur.





He was actually first hired as team president to work with McNab, but quickly took over the GM job as well. He was there for Donut-gate, there when the NHL began expanding from 21 teams, there when it looked like the Devils might pick up and move to Nashville. He was there through a referees strike and three lockouts. He drafted Brodeur, traded for the rights to draft Scott Niedermayer, captured Scott Stevens as compensation for Brendan Shanahan.


He hired and fired coach after coach, including Claude Julien with three games left in one season and Peter DeBoer earlier this season, but kept goalie coach Jacques Caron around for years, coming to Caron’s aid when his wife grew seriously ill. He inherited Ken Daneyko and helped him fight through the scourge of alcoholism. He ignored the meagre crowds that followed the Devils through the years, unwilling to veer even a single degree from his focus on winning, and pursuing success in a very specific manner.


He wanted the office phones answered, not directed to voice mail, and resisted getting a cell phone for years.

"I got my first text from him last year," chuckled Brodeur.


Finally, just as many seemed to wonder if Lamoriello wasn’t quite as sharp as he had been, he guided the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup final against Los Angeles, losing in six games. He then lost Zach Parise as a free agent that summer, a crushing loss for the franchise and something he later said privately wouldn’t have happened if the team’s ownership under Jeff Vanderbeek hadn’t been dealing with intense financial stress.