Your team falls two wins shy of a Stanley Cup title.
Then it all goes downhill.
That’s what Lou Lamoriello has been faced with this offseason. As the team tries to get past the loss of not only their best player, but their captain in Zach Parise, the ownership debacle hasn’t helped. With the money situation surrounding Jeff Vanderbeek looking grimmer by the day, the idea of Gary Bettman and the NHL taking over the Devils for the time being is a frightening reality.
Do we really want the man who has already lost one season to a lockout and is currently embroiled in another labor dispute to take over this team?
All that aside, the one constant has been the leadership and vision of Lou Lamoriello. Liken Lou to someone sitting in a rocking chair reading a book while there’s a tornado raging on outside. He was calm even in the wake of losing Parise to Minnesota and because of that, the Devils are set up for future success.
Many called for the Devils to make an offer to a player like Alexander Semin. The same Alexander Semin that has garnered a reputation for not putting in maximum effort and being mainly a one-way offensive player. It took two seasons to break Ilya Kovalchuk and turn him into a two way player, why would the Devils be interested in going through that process again?
The deal that Semin signed for 1 year and 7.5 million dollars with Carolina says it all. The Canes are paying him a lot of money for basically a one year tryout; to see if he’ll actually play up to his potential.
Then there was the option of trying some retreads or older players out to fill the void left by Zach. The Devils went out and got Bobby Butler from Ottawa and it was a smart move. Before you say who the heck is Bobby Butler? Realize that he was signed to a two way contract for almost no money and he has shown signs of promise. He had 21 points in 36 games two seasons ago.
It is a no risk, high reward type of move. If it works and he even scores 15 goals next year, great. If he doesn’t it’s no big deal. Look how well prior moves like Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier (minus SCF game 6 of course) worked out.
The most important thing to do was to keep the core of this team together. They grew throughout the season and with another training camp under their belts with Pete DeBoer’s system, you can expect the team to play better out of the gate this time around.
Does losing Zach hurt? Of course it does. Losing your best player is never going to make your team better. The fact of the matter is, the day that the Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a long-term deal, #9 was gone. If the Devils had the cap space to offer Parise the kind of money he wanted, he would have never even made it to free agency. The fact is, the Devils never had the ability to offer him a monster deal that would have satisfied him, before it got to free agency and his impending marriage to a woman from Minnesota became a major factor.
Enough about Parise though, it’s water under the bridge at this point.
There is one thing that the Devils have this year that puts them in a better position than they have been in a long time and that is cap space. As of today, the Devils have 14.1 million dollars in cap space. This can be used to make a possible trade once the labor dispute gets settled and also finish out the roster once the season begins.
The labor dispute is an issue too. Contract parameters may change and the salary cap may even shrink. The money the Devils have in the coffer can allow Lou to do what he does best and that is make this team better. If the Devils are in the middle of a playoff push, which they are certainly expected to do, they can trade for a player and eat an unfavorable contract if needed, they’ll have the room to do so. Think Martin St. Louis as a pipe dream.
The Devils are a better team for the future because they did not make a quick fix move after Parise left. Lou is staying the course with this team. They finally have a coach for the future in DeBoer and with a lot of veteran contracts up next season, this team may go through a major youth movement in the next few seasons.
Lamoriello played it safe, but you know he always has a plan. You can almost be certain that the roster you see now, during the off-season, will be different than the one the Devils enter the playoffs or finish the regular season with this coming season.
If you’re worried about the Devils chances of competing next year, take a breath and sit back. If there is anyone who knows how to weather this storm and right the ship, it is the former Providence athletic director turned Devils GM. There will be moves coming and the Devils will be ready to defend their Eastern Conference title whenever the 2012-2013 season actually starts.