New Jersey Devils: Ray Shero is Turning This Franchise Around


After being hired as New Jersey Devils General Manager in May of 2015, Ray Shero has turned things around and has this team headed in the right direction.

Ray Shero deserves a lot of credit for the Devils’ roster overhaul.  In fact, he deserves all the credit. His body of work so far is impressive, and he’s been very busy revitalizing a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in four straight years.

It’s still very early in Shero’s Devils career, and general managers shouldn’t be judged on just one or two seasons. We haven’t even dropped the puck on his second year, and Taylor Hall hasn’t played a shift in a Devils uniform yet. So, I’m not jumping to conclusions here and saying the Devils are going to win the Stanley Cup this year, next year or the year after that. But, he’s taken the bad team that he inherited from Lou Lamoriello and made it much younger and more competitive.  He’s putting a team on the ice that has a fighting chance, and making Devils hockey exciting again.

How did he do that?

It started with hiring John Hynes during his first month on the job in June of 2015. Hynes has brought a “fast and attacking” style to a team that prided itself on a defense-first, neutral zone trap approach for years. The Devils have long-needed an identity change that better suits the faster-pace NHL game, which they have had trouble embracing since Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk left. New Jersey put a borderline AHL team on the ice last season, complicated by injuries to guys like Mike Cammalleri, Patrik Elias and even Cory Schneider at the end of the season. Hynes’s new style may have taken time last season to gain traction, but with a more talented lineup this year, you can bet the Devils won’t finish last in scoring again.

Shero’s next move was trading for New Jersey native, Kyle Palmieri, at the 2015 NHL Draft.  It immediately paid off. Palmieri ended up exceeding expectations and had a breakout year.  With 30 goals and 27 assists, he was the leading scorer and played in all 82 games.  Palmieri became the Devils’ biggest priority this summer, and Shero locked him up on a 5-year deal.  At just 25 years old, the right winger is entering the prime of his career and will now be a cornerstone in New Jersey for years to come.

Besides adding assets to the team like Hynes and Palmieri, Shero has been smart in shedding bad contracts and not re-signing under-performing players as well. That trend began with buying out the contract of that bum Dainius Zubrus, who never lived up to his potential or earned the money he was making in his 8 years as a Devil.  Good riddance.  After that, he showed Bryce Salvador the door as well.  Yes, Salvador did end up retiring, but I think a big part of that was Shero telling him he no longer had a spot on the team.  The movement was continued this summer when perennial under-achievers Tuomo Ruutu, Jordin Tootoo and Stephen Gionta (sorry Gio).

Apr 9, 2016; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils center Pavel Zacha (37) skates with the puck during the second period of their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils center Pavel Zacha (37) skates with the puck during the second period of their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

Shero is treating the Devils franchise much more like a business than Lou did in his last couple years in office. He’s not staying loyal to players that Lou kept around far too long. The team is getting younger and faster, something that Lou hadn’t been embracing. While Lamoriello did not adjust well to the changes of the game, Shero does. He’s already drafting better too, as his first two picks from last year’s draft, Pavel Zacha and Mackenzie Blackwood, had breakout seasons in the OHL and should be able to contribute at the NHL level in the near future.

This isn’t me hating on Lou either, he built the Devils franchise up from nothing. Once called a Mickey Mouse organization by The Great One, he brought three Stanley Cup-winning cup teams to little old New Jersey. Only Detroit has more in that time span, and don’t forget the Devils went to two other Cups finals, but lost. It was just time for a change, and Ray Shero was the perfect guy to come in and rebuild.

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In addition to relieving the duties of over-the-hill veterans, Shero is not waiting on players who don’t fit in the system.  He’s not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  For example, two guys who weren’t clicking, Eric Gelinas and Stefan Matteau, were both dealt at the trade deadline this past season.  Who cares if they were high draft picks?  Both struggled to stick and neither player proved they deserved a spot on the NHL roster.  Shero got draft picks and Devante Smith-Pelly in return, who thrived for the Devils late last season and brings a much-needed physical presence to the team.  Speaking of draft picks, don’t forget that Shero turned Lee Stempniak, a player who wasn’t guaranteed a contract before last season, into a future second and fourth round pick at the same trade deadline.

Rebuilding a team also involves giving younger players a chance to play at the NHL level earlier in their careers.  Shero has embraced this, allowing players like Damon Severson, Reid Boucher and Joe Blandisi to go through growing pains in New Jersey rather than Albany.  If Lou was still in charge, you can bet that these guys wouldn’t be sniffing the lineup.  Expect this to continue this coming season. Pavel Zacha has a good chance of making the team, so does Steve Santini, and both of those guys have only ever played one career game in the NHL.  Don’t be surprised if other young players like Miles Wood, John Quenneville and even this year’s first round pick, Michael McLeod, get a lot of playing time in the preseason.

A big part of being a Devils fan right now is having realistic expectations. We aren’t there yet. There will be growing pains. The next two seasons will be the time to work out the kinks. These young guys need to learn the pace of the pro game first before they can to be winners. While there is still a ways to go, the Devils are headed in the right direction, and I couldn’t be happier with what Ray Shero has done so far.  The Taylor Hall deal was huge, and he’s going to be playing with a big chip on his shoulder trying to prove to Edmonton that they made a mistake.  The loss of Adam Larsson will be glaring, but you have to give something up to get something, and Taylor Hall is worth it.

“We have cap space, which is a great asset,” Shero said in April. “But once you start spending it, it goes pretty quickly, and then you realize a year or two later, ‘Oh boy.’ So it’s never been an issue of having the money to spend. From my standpoint, it’s spending it wisely and, more importantly, spending it at the right time.”

I’d say it’s been a successful summer for a team that’s in the midst of rebuilding.  Besides adding Hall, Shero brought in veterans Ben Lovejoy and Vern Fiddler, who will bring an important locker room presence to a young team.  He also traded for Beau Bennett, who will have a lot to prove on a one-year deal after having a mostly injury-plagued tenure with the Penguins.  Shero then resigned restricted free agents Smith-Pelly, Sergey Kalinin and Jacob Josefson.  I’m not sold yet on Kalinin or Josefson, who only have one year left to prove they belong in the NHL, but having depth never hurts.  Most importantly this offseason, Palmieri was signed to his long term deal.  We’re just waiting on Reid Boucher, and the roster will be set.

All this, and the Devils still have a ton of cap space for the future, third most in the league, in fact. Ray Shero has been smart and hasn’t forced anything, including overpaying any players.  And when you have the cap space like the Devils do, it can be tempting to do that.  He’s waiting for the right time to spend that money, and this summer was too soon to do it.

Remember, Shero has built a Stanley Cup winning team before in Pittsburgh, and it doesn’t happen overnight. He knows what he’s doing, and the process takes years. Yes, he hit the jackpot with Sydney Crosby, but you need luck on your side sometimes too. People forget that the Penguins were bad for years.  There’s a reason that they were able to get Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in consecutive drafts.  Similarly with New Jersey, he inherited a bad Devils team, and will need to utilize the draft to rebuild a winner.  In my opinion, he’s already righted the ship and has it headed in the right direction again.

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As a Devils fan, I’m more excited about this year than I have been in a long time.  They will have a counter punch for the first time in a long time, and the team has a legitimate shot to snag one of the wildcard spots if enough players stay healthy and the young guys are able step up.  It’s a big “if”, though certainly realistic. They aren’t going to contend for the Stanley Cup, but I think they are really going to surprise the rest of the league.  This is the beginning of restoring glory days in New Jersey.