General manager Lou Lamoriello knew swift and definitive action was necessary as the New Jersey Devils struggled to keep pace in the Metropolitan Division and saw their hopes for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs recede each day.
Lamoriello’s response came Friday with the firing of coach Peter DeBoer, who was in his fourth season in New Jersey. No replacement was named and Lamoriello said he will not comment further until he addresses the players Saturday morning.
The Devils have not made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2012, when DeBoer, in his first season in New Jersey, led them to the Final. New Jersey is on the verge of missing the playoffs for the third straight season. Prior to 2013-14, the Devils had not missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1985-87.
DeBoer's replacement will inherit a team that's seventh in the Metropolitan Division with 31 points, nine points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, despite playing the most games in the conference.
The new coach will also inherit a team that lacks a true No. 1 center and a No. 1 defenseman. He'll take over a team that is 28th in the NHL in offense and features a 42-year-old, Jaromir Jagr, tied for its lead in scoring.
How is it that a team two victories from winning the Stanley Cup less than three years ago could fall so far in such a short period of time with the same coach and general manager?
1. Scorers gone, nothing gained
The Devils went to the Final with Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and David Clarkson as their three leading goal-scorers, all with 30 or more goals in the 2011-12 season. They lost all three players for nothing during the next two summers.
To the Devils, this was the equivalent of the Pittsburgh Penguins losing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz for nothing.
Lamoriello couldn't get Parise signed before he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2012. Parise signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild on July 4.
Kovalchuk played 37 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. But in July 2013, with 12 years remaining on his contract, he announced his retirement from the NHL so he could sign a four-year contract to play for SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League.
The Devils had already paid a stiff cap-circumvention penalty for attempting to sign Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $102 million contract in the summer of 2010. The NHL fined New Jersey $3 million and made it forfeit two draft picks, including a first-round pick; however, as relief for Kovalchuk's departure, the NHL forgave a portion of the $3 million fine and awarded the Devils the No. 30 pick in the 2014 draft.
The Devils still have to pay the cap-recapture penalty on Kovalchuk ($250,000 through 2025), and they would have had the No. 11 pick this past June had Lamoriello surrendered their first-round pick after they went to the Cup Final in 2012, which was the No. 29 pick. Instead, Lamoriello kept the pick and selected Stefan Matteau, who is playing in the American Hockey League and has appeared in 17 games with the Devils.
Clarkson signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2013.
2. Shooting blanks
Losing Parise and Kovalchuk meant DeBoer lost his two best options in the shootout. The results in the past two-plus seasons are staggering for all the wrong reasons.
The Devils are 4-26 in the shootout since the start of the 2012-13 season, including 0-13 last season.
That's 26 available points left on the table in two-plus seasons that the Devils were not able to get because of problems with the shootout. They would have made the playoffs last season had they went even 5-8 in the shootout. They are 2-6 so far this season.
3. Contracts gone bad
Since the summer of 2012 the Devils have made several somewhat significant free-agent signings. So far only Jagr has panned out to be as good as or even better than expected. To be fair, the verdict is still out on forwards Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat.
Two other forwards, Damien Brunner and Rostislav Olesz, did not play to the completion of their contract in New Jersey. Olesz played 10 games before he was demoted and eventually had his contract terminated. Brunner had the remainder of his two-year contract terminated this season.
Forward Ryane Clowe signed a five-year, $24.25 million contract on July 1, 2013. It was a questionable contract at the time considering Clowe was coming off a season when he experienced multiple concussions; he has since had further concussion problems and is out of the lineup. He has played in 56 of a possible 118 games to date.
Forward Michael Ryder signed a two-year, $7 million contract on July 1, 2013, so he could come to New Jersey and give the Devils a scoring threat they were missing with Kovalchuk gone. He has 22 goals in 116 games, including none in his past 21. He's been a healthy scratch twice already this season.
Havlat, out ill, could be a one-and-done player for the Devils after signing a one-year, $1.5 million contract last summer. He has eight points in 22 games.
Cammalleri appears in it for the long haul after signing a five-year, $25 million contract. He has 11 goals and 15 points in 24 games and has missed 12 games with injuries.
4. Underperforming, underdeveloped
Center Adam Henrique broke out with 51 points in 2011-12, DeBoer's first season. He was a Calder Trophy finalist. He is the only forward drafted by the Devils to develop under DeBoer's watch.
There have been a number of forwards who have gotten a chance here and there, including first-round picks Mattias Tedenby (2008), Jacob Josefson (2009) and Matteau (2012), but none have been able to produce consistently at the NHL level.
That's as much on DeBoer as it is on Lamoriello and Devils chief amateur scout David Conte. It's also a big reason Lamoriello has been trying to plug holes with Havlat, Scott Gomez and Jordin Tootoo, each of whom was issued a compliance buyout by another team before coming to New Jersey.
DeBoer had more success with New Jersey's healthy stable of young defensemen, including Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, Eric Gelinas and Seth Helgeson. But Adam Larsson, the fourth player taken in the 2011 NHL Draft, has not developed and his future in New Jersey is murky at best.
5. Scoring woes
The Devils have not been able to score at a consistently average rate since going to the Final in 2012.
New Jersey is 28th in the NHL with 383 goals scored since the start of the 2012-13 season. Only the Florida Panthers (365) and Buffalo Sabres (332) are worse.
The Devils were No. 15 in the NHL with 216 goals (2.63 per game) in 2011-12; they fell to No. 28 in 2012-13 (2.29 per game), No. 27 last season (2.40) and are currently No. 28 (2.11).