Josh Harris and David Blitzer are introduced as Devils co-owners in 2013. (Photo: Getty Images)NEWARK, N.J. –
When Joshua Harris was announced as co-owner and chairman of the New Jersey Devils in August 2013, he was adamant about being in it to win it.
The past two seasons, the Devils have failed to meet his expectations. In addition to not qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past three seasons, New Jersey has reached the postseason once in the past five and have finished no higher than fourth in its division during that span.
Harris, a self-proclaimed impatient individual driven to succeed in whatever he does, is confident that the recent addition of Ray Shero as general manager is the first step in rectifying the current state of the franchise.
Shero was hired on May 5 at the recommendation of former GM Lou Lamoriello, who will now serve as president of hockey operations. Harris took some time to speak with the media on Saturday at Prudential Center during a round table discussion regarding the recent changes and the outlook moving forward.
"We have two of the most experienced, top people on the hockey side in sync [in Shero and Lamoriello]," Harris said. "Our goals haven't changed. We bought the team with the intention of winning and obviously the last two seasons have been disappointing to us. But there are no shortcuts and it starts with putting the right leadership in place and we've done that; we want to set the organization up now for the future. I think the most important job you have as an owner is putting the GM in place so I feel really good about where we are."
Harris said the first order of business for Shero might be hiring a new coach.
"We didn't do this to be second best," Harris said. "We want to build an elite organization and what that means is we're consistently in the mix and deep in the playoffs for a Stanley Cup and ultimately we'll deliver a Stanley Cup. But that's not easy to do. There are no shortcuts here so we're going to really put in place plans that allow us to do that. Every decision will be made around that philosophy."
The Devils are one of six teams in the market for a new coach for 2015-16. The list also includes the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I think in terms of the coach, [Lamoriello and Shero] are focused on that and we're focused on it but you really want to get the right coach," Harris said. "You don't want to take the quickest person available. But I can tell you the coach is a high priority right now. We have the existing people and outside people."
One potential candidate currently making headlines is Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. The Red Wings granted Babcock permission to talk to other NHL teams on Friday. Shero will ultimately determine the next coach of the Devils and Harris said money is no object if the decision is something in line with their commitment to winning.
"We're not afraid to spend if it makes sense for the franchise," Harris said. "We're committed to winning in New Jersey and building something here that Newark and the state of New Jersey can be proud of."
Harris is co-founder of Apollo Global Management and David Blitzer is a senior managing director of Blackstone Group. They completed the purchase of the Devils from the former ownership group headed by Jeffrey Vanderbeek on Aug. 15, 2013. The transaction includes the team’s long-term operating interest in the Prudential Center and related assets.
Harris and Blitzer are also the managing owner and co-managing owner, respectively, of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, a franchise they purchased for $280 million in 2011. They purchased the Devils for a reported $320 million.
Harris discussed his philosophy on building a winning team.
"There are three ways to improve our team; through the draft, free agency and trades," Harris said. "Everything is on the table so I think the way you set yourself up to win is being very opportunistic in picking up those players and those people that make themselves available."
Harris said he likes the foundation in goal with Cory Schneider and on defense.
"I feel like we have our long term goaltending situation in place and I'm excited about that with Cory and that was a great signing," Harris said. "I think we have a young defense that's been quite good and will continue to improve led by Andy Greene and people in position to get better."
The young defense that Harris mentioned includes Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill, Damon Severson and Seth Helgeson.
"What we lack is scoring so we need to improve our offensive game; I don't think any of that is a mystery," Harris said. "When you do that and how long it takes is unclear right now but you need to put it on the table and make intelligent decisions and [Lamoriello and Shero] will do that."
Harris went on to say that he and the managerial team were going to put "our life forces and our wallets if needed" into creating a winning product on the ice. He is looking for long-term success and not short-term awards.
"We're going to make decisions that allow us to be an elite team and that doesn't mean being one and done in the Stanley Cup Playoffs," Harris said. "Being one and done is not really interesting from my point of view."
Would he be disappointed if the team did not qualify for the playoffs a fourth straight season in 2015-16?
"Not being in the playoffs would be disappointing but I want to set the team up to be competing for the Stanley Cup over a long period of time," he said. "Therefore there are decisions you make that may produce short-term results and sacrifice the long run; we'll make decisions that are consistent with being a long run winner. A lot of times those decisions are similar but sometimes they're not."
Harris said the one thing that is certain is that the organization needs to improve the people on the ice. The Devils had one 20-plus goal-scorer (Mike Cammalleri, 27 goals) and two 40-point producers (Cammalleri, 42 points; Adam Henrique, 43) on the roster in 2014-15.
"We're going to work hard to do that and clearly we have to up our game," Harris said.