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Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle

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1Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle Empty Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle on Sat May 02, 2009 10:51 am

davetherave

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Picked by many in the latter part of the season to be a legitimate Stanley Cup Finalist, backed by the record-setting Martin Brodeur, the New Jersey Devils are now trying to cope with the shock of being upset by the Carolina Hurricanes.
The New York Post's Mark Everson takes a look, and drops some hints about the future:


MISSING PIECES IN DEVILS' PUZZLE
By MARK EVERSON, New York Post

April 30, 2009

THE difference is heartbreak rather than humiliation. Otherwise, the Devils are exactly where they were when last season ended, still lacking exactly the same pieces that weren't obtained all season.

Doubts about Martin Brodeur, 37 next week, have rekindled, despite his 1-0, 44-save Game 5 shutout, despite his victory record. Eric Staal and his goal, a real goal, and Jussi Jokinen's goal, a real goal, are the new supposed exposers, much as Sean Avery was last season.

Goaltending was the least of their worries then, and still. They needed a No. 1 defenseman then, and they still do. Colin White was heroic, yes, heroic, manfully attempting, and early on winning a job against Staal that was poorly conceived, and should have been the duty of Paul Martin, except that Martin was ailing from a back injury that hindered him all season. But that's a quibble. Either way would have been a risk, and were the only alternatives.

The lack of a (start with one, anyway) right-handed defenseman, so often and boringly nagged about here, came glaringly home to roost in Game 4. They needed a clearance up the right-wing boards and, lo and behold, a lefty had to use his backhand, and it's doubtful that anyone else would have had better luck than Martin did, unable to clear past Joni Pitkanen for the relay to Dennis Seidenberg and Jokinen's winning deflection with 0.2 seconds left.

Coach Brent Sutter's hindsight that Martin should have eaten the puck, the way the Hurricanes had performed end-boards theft, was a bad option, a smokescreen for the righty void.

The other screaming need last summer was for a No. 1 center, a playmaker or a scorer. Travis Zajac developed nicely this season and he may become a point-per-gamer, but he isn't yet. He would have been a perfect No. 2 center this season, but lacking a No. 1, he remained up there, and Dainius Zubrus took the No. 2 spot.

That's because Brian Rolston, who had his Minnesota success on wing, didn't rebound from an ankle sprain sufficiently to hold that spot, another dubious summer-time remedy.

With Zajac between Zach Parise and heroic captain Jamie Langenbrunner, that line was superb. But the second line, often detailed checking duty, did not make the most of Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta on the wings.

At the beginning of the season, a mammoth line of Zubrus, Bobby Holik and Mike Rupp was envisioned, but never materialized.

So they're back where they were last year after Tuesday's shocking 4-3 loss to Carolina in Game 7, when victory and series triumph turned into defeat and elimination in the unbelievable final 1:20.

Theirs was a special season that deserved a better ending, or at least, a longer life. Sutter almost always made the correct decisions, adhering to Rule 1 of the NHL Coaching Handbook: "Don't do anything stupid."

But his failure to refute rumbles that he might not return next season, missing Alberta, may have been one leak in the team's well of internal good feeling.

Lamoriello indicated he has no issue with Sutter's coaching, or Sutter's failure to guarantee a return next season. The GM was just trying to get through today's breakup meeting in Newark.

"I'm just taking a step back," Lamoriello said. "You don't look left, you don't look right. You absorb everything and get focused on what you have to do."

mark.everson@nypost.com

2Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle Empty Re: Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle on Sat May 02, 2009 12:07 pm

Mojo

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I don't think I will ever get this team. On paper, year after year, they don't strike me as a good team, but they always seem to have such strong finishes. I do think Brodeur's best days are now far behind him. He no longer has that unshakable focus and concentration that used to dominate game after game. I am not implying that he is their greatest weakness but I don't think he will win any more cups in his career.

3Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle Empty Re: Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle on Sat May 02, 2009 12:21 pm

asq2

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They need a #1 defenceman IMO. Paul Martin is an incredibly under-rated guy, but he certainly doesn't bring back memories of Rafalski, Niedermayer, Stevens and co.

4Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle Empty Re: Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle on Sat May 23, 2009 7:09 pm

davetherave

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Lyle Richardson (Fox Sports, Spectors Hockey) reports on Bobby Holik's decision to retire and provides his perspective on Holik's career.

Holik To Retire

Lyle Richardson/Fox Sports, May 23, 2009

The New York Post reported today New Jersey Devils center Bobby Holik intends to retire and spend more time with his family.

Holik, 38, played 18 seasons in the National Hockey League, eleven of those with the New Jersey Devils where he had his best seasons.

Originally drafted 10th overall by the Hartford Whalers in 1989, Holik made his NHL debut in the 1990-91 season with the Whalers, but in the summer of 1992 was dealt to the Devils, along with a 1993 second round pick which became long time Devils forward Jay Pandolfo.

At 6’4 and 230 lbs Holik was used primarily as a checking line center in his early seasons with the Devils but it was in the late-1990s that he established a reputation as one of the top two-way centers in the league.

From 1996-97 to 2003-04 Holik had six seasons of more than twenty goals and 50 points, including a career-best 29 goals and 65 points in 1997-98. He led the Devils in scoring both that season and in 1996-97 and would take on a role as one of the Devils on-ice leaders.

He was an integral part of the Devils first two Stanley Cup championships, and posted his career- best playoff numbers during the club’s run to the 2001 Stanley Cup Final, with 16 points in 25 games. Had the Devils successfully defended their title against the Colorado Avalanche it’s believed Holik would’ve won the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs most valuable player.

Holik enjoyed playing for the Devils but contentious contract negotiations between his camp and general manager Lou Lamoriello resulted in his departure via unrestricted free agency in 2002, signing with the Devils arch-rivals, the New York Rangers.

The details of Holik’s contract negotiations with the Devils can be found in Bruce Dowbiggin’s book “Money Players”, which covered the evolution of the business of hockey, particularly during the years from 1994 to 2003.

Holik struggled in his first season with the Rangers, who at the time tended to rely heavily on free agency to stock their roster. He had a much better performance in 2003-04, with 56 points, but he was unable to help the Rangers make the playoffs during those two seasons. He never appeared comfortable playing for the Blueshirts.

Following the lockout the Rangers bought out the remainder of his contract, making him an unrestricted free agent. He signed with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2005 for three seasons but it was clear that age and his physical playing style took its toll on him, as he managed three seasons of 30+ points and was used more in a checking role.

Lamoriello brought Holik back to New Jersey last summer by signing him to a one-year contract but injuries limited him to only 64 regular season games, where he managed a career-worst 9 points, and saw limited action in three playoff games.

Holik probably won’t be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame but it could be said that his physical two-way game epitomized the Devils style of play from 1995 to 2002, and he’ll always be remembered as one of the best players in Devils history.

5Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle Empty Re: Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle on Sun May 24, 2009 4:01 am

davetherave

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With Holik retiring, and the recent announcement of the salary cap going down, this gives rise to the questions about what Lou Lamoriello can/will do to improve his club for next year...


  1. What players do they need to get beyond the first round--that loss surely being unacceptable to Lou?
  2. Will Brodeur return to form, or was this season's injury more serious than thought? Are there long term repercussions?
  3. Will Scott Clemmensen return?
  4. Are the Devils getting too old?
  5. Will they lose forwards like John Madden and Brian Gionta to free agency?
  6. They've already lost Niclas Havelid on D; will they lose UFA Johnny Oduya, and who replaces them?
  7. Will they add scoring? How?
  8. What is Brendan Shanahan's future?
  9. And will Brent Sutter return? If not, who coaches them?

The esteemed Stan Fischler of MSG.com's GAME ON! offers this take on that question:

Brent Sutter remains mum as to his coaching future in New Jersey. However, it would surprise no one who knows the Devils mentor if he nixed a return for a third NHL year. He told the Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti that he still needs more time at his Red Deer, Alberta farm before making a decision. “I’m going to think this through properly and I’ll make a decision here at a later point in time,” Sutter told Gulitti.

Brent significantly noted that his second season
with the Devils was more trying than his rookie run. As he put it, “it was tough on the personal side of it and the family side of it.” Perhaps most meaningful is the fact that Sutter seems to be marshalling more reasons not to come back and to leave the New Jersey organization.

“I own two businesses in Red Deer. Between both businesses I have over 25 employees. That has some impact on it, too. That’s where I have to think this all through and sit down with people and go through things because Red Deer is home for me. I want to make sure whatever decision I make is the right one moving forward and whatever one I make I’m going to be fully committed to doing it. I was fully committed for two years for doing what I did but by me doing so it’s had an impact on things back here.”

6Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle Empty Re: Missing Pieces in the Devils Puzzle on Sun May 24, 2009 10:21 am

davetherave

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The New York Post's irrepressible Larry Brooks weighs in on the Brent Sutter situation, and makes his suggestions for the future:

LAMORIELLO SHOULD LET DEVILS COACH OUT OF HIS CONTRACT
LARRY BROOKS/THE NEW YORK POST, May 24, 2009

Brent Sutter sure sounds like a man whose heart is in Red Deer, whose life is in Alberta and whose head couldn't be farther from Newark. Fair enough.

But now it's time for general manager Lou Lamoriello to make it easy for Sutter to follow his heart by relieving the Devils' head coach of the obligation to fulfill the third and final year of his contract.

It's time for the general manager to get on with the business of finding a coach who wants to be in New Jersey for the long-term rather than continuing with one who would operate as a lame duck only out of a sense of responsibility.

There's no need for Sutter to continue to agonize over his decision. Lamoriello should make it for him and make it for him now, even if that would allow Sutter to immediately slide into the head coach's position in Calgary that became vacant on Friday when GM Darryl Sutter fired Mike Keenan.

There is no point in holding him hostage to a contract. There is no point in holding the Devils hostage to a lame duck whose authority over the team would invariably be compromised. There is no point to having a short-timer in control of the operation.

It's unclear whether the Devils are entitled to negotiate compensation for Brent Sutter. Previous NHL rulings on such matters wouldn't seem to apply in this unique case. In any event, Brent's time has come and gone in New Jersey, regardless of whether Lamoriello can wrangle a draft pick from the Flames for the right to hire their GM's younger brother.

Sutter did an outstanding job in his two seasons behind the bench, notably this year in guiding the Devils to the Atlantic championship despite the injury to Martin Brodeur. His absence from the list of nominees for the Adams Trophy as coach of the year is indefensible.

Indeed, following a stretch in which the Devils chewed up eight coaches in seven seasons (including Larry Robinson twice and Lamoriello himself twice) that featured two Stanley Cup championships and one other appearance in the Final, it appeared that the team had found its man. Now, not, for if Sutter's return is not quite implausible, it is unworkable, and Lamoriello must know that.

So who's next? Well, Peter Laviolette, whose name is in the mix in Montreal, certainly would be a viable candidate. Knowing Lamoriello's penchant for hiring former Canadiens, Guy Carbonneau probably would be on the list. Todd Richards, the San Jose assistant, is the hot candidate around the league.

Then there's Jacques Lemaire, free after stepping down in Minnesota to return to the organization he put on the NHL map in 1993-94. It is almost inconceivable that Lamoriello would hire a coach who is wedded to the trap, but there is a history between the men; a bond and a trust. That's why it's essential to include "almost" as a qualifier.

There is, however, no need to qualify the Devils' need to move past Sutter, and to do it now, even if it's a shame. Sutter was a great fit for the Devils. But that's in past tense. It's time to move on.

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