Monday, 13 January 2020

Waving The White Flag

After last night's late news, I think it may be fair assessment to say that the New Jersey Devils are officially going to be sellers at the trade deadline this season after almost everything they've done has backfired on them. Between not addressing the goaltending situation for the Devils and the fiasco that the Taylor Hall trade became, it was a matter of "when" not "if" when it came to Ray Shero being fired as the general manager of the New Jersey Devils. Yesterday, the Devils pulled the trigger, ending Shero's four-plus seasons in the swamp as they appear to be headed for another spring without playoff hockey. After coming to the team with some impressive credentials on his resumé, Shero's time in Newark seemed to end with a whimper.

We'll start with the Taylor Hall trade because I believe this became worse than it was once it was clear that Hall was either looking for a better deal or a better situation than what he was being offered in New Jersey. Whatever happened behind the scenes between Shero and Hall's camp is likely something we'll read about in a book or two years from now, but it seemed pretty clear that whatever developed likely meant that Hall wasn't staying in Newark. In order to remedy the situation, Shero listened to offers for the former Hart Trophy winner, eventually settling on the package from Arizona.

Was it the right move? In retrospect, it likely was. At the time, I felt that the Devils got fleeced by not getting more for Hall, but the package of Nick Merkley, Kevin Bahl, Nate Schnarr, a 2020 conditional first-round draft pick, and a 2021 conditional third-round draft pick isn't all that bad when you consider that Shero opted for this one compared to others that were proposed. If the others were worse, Shero gets a little credit for not opting for a deal that would return even less. Where things got a little messy is that it seems like Shero always was set on moving Hall based on his statements after the trade.

"There was nothing for us to turn down either — we never engaged with each other, almost," Shero stated on December 17, 2019. "I can't speculate as to everybody saying the agent always likes to go to July 1. I have no clue. I just think his evaluation of the team instead of just jumping in there, that was the most important thing."

After that, Shero clarified everything in one statement, saying, "Taylor Hall never asked for a trade. Never. He's never turned anything down, I didn't turn anything down. I want to be clear about that."

If the first strike for ownership was not even trying to convince Hall to remain as a part of the Devils, I can see their frustration. Hall was a solid player for the Devils who basically carried them to their only playoff appearance in the last eight years on the strength of his MVP season, and Shero did virtually nothing by his own admission to try and persuade the superstar winger to remain with the team. As he said, "we never engaged with each other," so it's almost like Shero wasn't interested in even opening negotiations with Hall. That seems like a career-limiting move on its own.

Goaltending, which seems to be a common topic among those who have been fired this season, was another major problem for the Devils as they entered the season, and Shero had every chance to shore it up prior to the season starting. Mackenzie Blackwood has been the de facto starter for the Devils this season after Cory Schneider was mercifully put out to pasture. Blackwood has been serviceable, but nothing to write home about as he carries a 2.97 GAA and a .905 save percentage so far this season. That ranks him 39th in goals-against average and 43rd in save percentage. What should trouble the Devils, however, is that the team only scores 2.65 goals-per-game, you may have a bit of an issue when it comes to winning more than losing.

On top of that, the backup goaltender position has been a black hole for the Devils as Schneider seemed to be the guy before he was sent packing to Albany, opening the door for Louis Domingue... to fall flat on his face. In ten games with the Devils, Domingue has a 3.55 GAA and an .884 save percentage - 68th- and 69th-overall, respectively - as Blackwood has received little help. Clearly, not having a credible backup has hurt the Devils as well.

Combining these two instances are the work of the a power-play that is 30th-overall in its efficiency and a penalty kill that ranks 18th-overall. For a team that boasted Hall, Hischier, Hughes, Palmeiri, Simmons, and Subban, these numbers should be significantly better than what they are, yet the Devils seem to be stuck spinning their tires when one or more players is sitting in the sin bin. The power-play save percentages for Blackwood and Domingue are nothing to be thrilled about either with Blackwood sitting 54th-overall at .837 while Domingue is 49th-overall at .844. If the Devils wanted consistency from their goalies and special teams, this isn't quite the kind of consistency they were seeking.

Toss in the trade for New Jersey's most expensive player in PK Subban that has him on pace for scoring 20 points this season - by far, the worst of his career - in a season where his off-ice activities are more popular than his on-ice abilities, sprinkle with under-performing players such as Miles Woods, Travis Zajac, Pavel Dacha, and Will Butcher, and have a team that seemed in disarray under John Hynes - also dismissed - and the Devils were doomed this season. No one at the start of the season would have guessed so much could go wrong in so little time.

At some point, the man who is assembling players on the roster has to be accountable for the product on the ice. As of today, Ray Shero was held accountable as the Devils seem poised to miss the playoffs again with a shot at another lottery pick in their future. There's no fiddling contest for someone's soul nor is anyone going down to Georgia. No one pulled a greatest trick nor any other pop-culture reference that one can use for Shero's dismissal. In the end, it's just a pile of little things that went wrong that disrupted the whole production in New Jersey, and Shero ultimately paid the price for it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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