Devils Must Take a Step Back in Order to Move Forward


A lot of things separated the Devils from the Penguins in Tuesday night’s pre-Halloween massacre. The most prominent being a superstar presence. Season after season, no matter what kind of team Pittsburgh rolls out on the ice, they will always be represented at the top by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It’s one of the big reasons why the Penguins will be contenders each year until they decide to hang the skates up.

If you look at the current Devils roster, you’d be hard pressed to find any forward who would warrant all-star consideration.

Sure, it’s been tough since the Stanley Cup run and everybody knows that. Zach Parise left in free agency and is currently leading one of the top teams out West. Ilya Kovalchuk left the Devils hanging and forced GM Lou Lamoriello to pick up the pieces. Instead of looking at the situation in the present, Lou stuck to his old school mentality and decided a handful of free agent signings would ultimately put New Jersey back in contention for the short term.

It was a foolish decision on his part.

If you look at some of the most successful teams over the past few seasons you’ll see that most of them were god awful in the early to mid 2000s. Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Boston all had to take a big step backwards in order to move forward as a franchise.

I understand that the Devils and Lou Lamoriello have always been able to sustain success through defense-first hockey and rock solid goaltending, but unfortunately those days have passed. It’s time to adapt to how the game is being played now, as opposed to being stubborn and believing that the system can survive the test of time.

It’s time to tank.

If there was any year for the Devils to throw in the proverbial towel, it would be this year. The top of the 2015 draft will provide the two teams that pick first and second generational talents in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. These aren’t prospects that will need time in the AHL for seasoning. These aren’t prospects who will have to go through any growing pains in their first few seasons at the NHL level. These are players who can come in and immediately make a significant impact on a franchise.

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If you look at the Devils current roster, the defense, while young, is extremely promising. Damon Severson has shown through nine games that he has what it takes to be a hall of fame defenseman. Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson are all under 23 years old. On top of the guys on the roster, New Jersey has quite a few blue liners in the pipeline. Steve Santini, Josh Jacobs and Seth Helgeson should be ready to make an impact in 2-3 years.

Goaltending won’t be a problem either, as Cory Schneider is in the prime of his career and signed to a long-term contract. Not to mention the emergence of Keith Kinkaid, who has been lights out for Albany early in the season.

The big issue is at forward, where the Devils top scoring options down the road appear to be Adam Henrique. And that’s it. If there were an expansion draft and the Devils were forced to protect players, would you protect anyone other than Henrique? Maybe Travis Zajac, but with his contract and play of late, even he seems expendable.

You can say what you want about the Devils forward prospects, but none of them jump out at you and scream top 25 player in the league, let alone first line talent. If the Devils fail to improve their drafting in the first round, they will be forced to the free agent market, where things are pretty barren over the next few summer’s.

Even if a guy like Steven Stamkos hits free agency, the odds he would pick New Jersey over returning to Tampa Bay or going home to Toronto are almost none-existent. This leaves the Devils in desperate need of an elite forward, but with almost zero options to find one.

That is, unless they decide to make the plunge and go after McDavid or Eichel.

I know it’s still early and it would be foolish to think the Devils season is completely over after just nine games, but when you look at this team, what would suggest to you that they are a playoff team? Even if they were to make the postseason, what good would come from it?

People are still under the assumption that once you make the playoffs, anything can happen, and for the most part this is true. But even that 2012 Stanley Cup team managed to “come out of nowhere” and look at the players on that roster. Parise and Kovalchuk at the top made Henrique and Zajac infinitely better. David Clarkson was scoring 30 goals and Patrik Elias had just come off a 78-point season. Everything came together perfectly for that Devils team to make a Stanley Cup run.

The odds of something like that happening this season are very low.

So instead of embracing a rebuild after the departure of Parise and Kovalchuk, the Devils have instead missed the playoffs the past two seasons, sacrificed a top 10 pick and appear poised to finish right outside the playoff picture again or barely inside of it.

I know it’s hard for fans and players so used to winning to embrace losing, but in this day in age, in all professional sports, sometimes the best way to move forward is to take a few steps back.