FEATURE: Future is bright as Devils look to "build edges"
"We've always said when there's a time, there's a time. We're getting close to that. We're moving forward finally. ... It's a different feeling to me. There's an optimism that I have," said Devils general manager Ray Shero
NEWARK, NJ - From the outside looking in, the result appears the same. In 2016-17, the Devils finished the year with 70 points and this past year they had 72. The result both times was a season without a playoff berth. But there was something different this time around. Call it a quiet optimism.
Unlike the team in 16-17, this year's club was ravaged by injuries. Key players missed multiple games. Sami Vatanen, Stefan Noesen, Cory Schneider, Jesper Bratt, Marcus Johansson and countless others all missed games in the double digits. And that's without talking about the team's offensive leader, Taylor Hall. The MVP of the entire League last season only played in 33 contests.
But through it all, it's not lost on anyone that this was the second-youngest team in the NHL this past year who were forced to be even younger at times due to injury.
That's certainly one reason for optimism.
Another is the upcoming NHL Draft. The Devils have 10 draft choices including six in the first three rounds. A skeptical onlooker might say that a draft choice can be a lottery ticket but in today's NHL, a draft choice is currency. You can select a top prospect or you can move a pick for immediate help. General Manager Ray Shero has options. A lot of them.
"We've always said when there's a time, there's a time. We're getting close to that. We're moving forward finally and it's hard to say that when you're third last but it's a different feeling to me. There's an optimism that I have," said Shero. "We do need more talent. We're well positioned to take advantage of that."
Shero was given the ultimate show of support on Monday when Managing Partner Josh Harris announced that his contract has been extended. That was on top of the extension for head coach John Hynes which came in January.
"We extended Ray and as you know we extended John. We have a good young core with Nico and Jesper. There are no shortcuts to the top, there are only shortcuts to the middle. Ultimately, we're going to get where we need to be which is an elite team who can compete for the Stanley Cup," Harris stated. "We're going into this draft with 10 picks. We've told Ray that he has our support if and when you need great players."
Harris talked about the organization's finances and how that's changed since he's come on as part of the ownership group.
"When we took over the team in 2013 there was a lot of financial problems. The team had a long and storied history but with one season excepted had been struggling a bit. There's been enormous progress since then. Whether it's the new scoreboard, the arena.
"On the hockey side, Lou (Lamoriello) and Ray are very different. His style was different than Ray's. The size of the organization (has increased)," Harris continued, talking more about the organization's strategy.
"We're looking to build edges. Sometimes it's scouting, analytics, getting a player healthy. We're developing a system. The reality is we didn't have the money to do that (in the past). It's a much younger team. There are a lot of different roads to Rome. I'm not disparaging someone who won three Cups, but we're doing it differently than we were than."
Harris went on to talk about Prudential Center becoming a concert destination and the overall entertainment of Devils hockey growing substantially as the character of the organization has changed in spades.
"The driveway to driveway experience across the board has changed here."
Talking further about Shero, Harris said he knows that in him he has someone special heading up the hockey department. Shero is a blend of old style hockey and the new age. His father, Fred Shero, was a legendary head coach for the Philadelphia Flyers but he was also innovative being the first NHL head coach to have an assistant. Ray has continued in that innovation, growing the organization's influence beyond the traditional and into analytics, sport science and other ways.
"It's an easy decision when you have leadership like this to support them. The best way to do that is take away the personal issues and let them know that they're secured financial and supported for awhile. So that's what we did."
That support from above is felt strongly by Shero and Hynes.
"I want to thank Josh Harris and David Blitzer for their support and their believe in John Hynes and myself and what we set out to do," Shero began.
"Belief in coming here, I came because spending so much time with Josh and David before I was hired. That is what we sell and that's my belief in Josh and David. I share the disappointment in the season. They're fans first and love how the team did last year but they also like helping build this. A foundation to become a long-term team with the potential and vision."
Shero didn't exactly preach patience but he did talk about the importance of sticking to a plan.
"When things don't go as well as planned, when you deviate from a plan and react to what people might say then I don't believe you had a plan in the first place. The disappointment's real. The disapointment from the fans' standpoint not just because of the record but because of how things went last year (with a playoff berth)."
Ray Shero is one of the 'edges' that Josh Harris speaks of. So is the business half of the organization.
"We're looked up to on the business side. On the sports side, it's harder. Everyone is competitive. People are much more loathe to tell you how to win because you do battle on the ice.
"We're on the right track. It's about having the best people, committing to those people, spending money which we get if they're the right players and right opportunities and creating those edges."
That was the thinking when John Hynes was extended back in January. Shero gushed about his head coach on Monday, speaking about one of the benefits of starting the season in Sweden with the Global Series was the additional coverage, particularly behind the scenes, would show Hynes in his element.
"We had talked in the summer to Josh and David, we said we should get going on this thing. John's going to come off really well as he does. Does a coach teach, inspire and discipline. It was a good look at how John coaches. There's an accountability which is important.
"Taylor Hall won the MVP one time, it was last year coached by John Hynes," Shero said, continuing to rattle off the accolades of his bench boss. "Assistant coach of the World Championship team, head coach there before and assistant of the World Cup team.
"John knows what it's like to have the support of the managing partners."