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Devils GM wants to upgrade without mortgaging future

Shero focused on turning New Jersey into perennial Stanley Cup Playoff team

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The 2017-18 NHL season has passed its midway point and the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26 is less than three weeks away. With that in mind, NHL.com is sitting down with some of the biggest names in the game. Today, New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero, who won the Stanley Cup in 2009 during his eight-season tenure as executive vice president/GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, talks about what he might and might not do before the trade deadline.

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero has no interest in becoming a one-hit wonder.

When he was hired May 4, 2015, the Devils had missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three straight seasons. That drought has reached five, but the Devils have been near the top of the Metropolitan Division standings most of this season. However, Shero will not shift from his commitment to making the Devils a perennial playoff participant.

He wants to duplicate the blueprint created by his predecessor, Lou Lamoriello.

The Devils missed the playoffs their first five seasons in New Jersey prior to Lamoriello becoming GM on Sept. 10, 1987, but he built a contender that won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003 and made it to the Cup Final five times from 1995-2012.

Shero inherited a Devils team that was led in scoring in 2014-15 by Adam Henrique with 43 points, and the top prospects were forwards Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau, neither of whom remains with the organization.

Video: Devils edge Flyers in testy divisional clash

He hired coach John Hynes less than a month after taking over as GM, and has fortified the organization with cap space, draft picks and a pipeline of prospects now champing at the bit to steal a roster spot. The Devils have found an identity as an attacking group, and the youth movement is in full swing.

"It's about being a good team, but this isn't a short-term fix," Shero said. "I want to be a competitive team this year and a competitive team in the future."

After a 5-3 loss at the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, the Devils have 62 points. They're one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the division, but four points ahead of the sixth-place New York Islanders.

Shero is no stranger to trade deadline-day acquisitions, particularly in obtaining significant pieces for playoff runs with the Penguins.

He did it in 2008 when he acquired forwards Pascal Dupuis and Marian Hossa in a trade with the Atlanta Thrashers for forwards Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen and Angelo Esposito, and a first-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. The Penguins lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games in the Stanley Cup Final.

At the 2009 NHL Trade Deadline, Shero acquired forward Bill Guerin in a trade with the New York Islanders for a third-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, a move that came less than a week after forward Chris Kunitz came to the Penguins in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Ryan Whitney. Guerin and Kunitz played key roles in the Penguins' seven-game win against the Red Wings in the Final.

Video: Andy Greene talks Devils, Hockey is for Everyone

Now Shero will try to find a piece that could provide a similar result for the Devils while not sacrificing too much of the team's future.

"We have good depth coming up and that's something I don't want to lose and set us back," he said.

As the Devils prepare for the stretch run with hopes of qualifying for the playoffs, Shero took time to discuss some topics with NHL.com.

 

His assessment of the Devils through the first half of the season

"I think the team probably has surprised a lot of people. But at the same time it's probably hard for most people to understand or project, let alone us, how younger players are going to do -- whether it's a Will Butcher or Nico Hischier or Jesper Bratt. Some others have certainly made contributions, like Blake Coleman and Brian Gibbons, who weren't really on the radar. I think what's important to us, and what John Hynes likes to say, whether it's through draft or free agency or waiver guys like Stefan Noesen, I think it's not so much about playing to our system but playing to an identity that we've established and that's when we have a chance to have success. This is a real tough league and we've had good weeks and bad weeks, but I think the team has bought in, from the leadership group down to the younger players. There's a belief that there's some pretty good players here and that's what we needed. It's a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go. For now it's about getting to our identity in how we play. That's kind of the main thing and that's how we want to do it."

 

On the status of goaltender Cory Schneider, who has missed the past five games with a groin injury

"Cory is day to day right now. With these types of injuries it's better to be safe than sorry, so we'll kind of see where it goes. It was nice to see Keith Kinkaid doing a good job for us and we added more experience with the acquisition of Eddie Lack (from the Calgary Flames on Dec. 30). But I think we all know we're a better team with Cory, so we'll see where he is over the next few days. It shouldn't be too much longer."

 

On the NHL Trade Deadline with the Devils in the thick of the Stanley Cup Playoff race

"I'm not really deviating from the plan I set out to do when I took over here. I think we made our team better with some hockey deals, and whether it's some guys that came in identity-wise or for need … the Adam Henrique for Sami Vatanen deal with the Anaheim Ducks (Nov. 30) was made for certain reasons, and it helped both teams. I never say never to anything, but we'll get forwards Brian Gibbons (broken right thumb, seven games missed) and Marcus Johansson (concussion, five games missed) back at some point, and those are two key pieces for us. You're always looking to make a decent hockey deal, but if it's a rental, I don't see us getting into what those rentals might cost. Maybe it's a softer deal that solidifies a certain area or position, or maybe it's just another hockey deal that takes place. Whether it's team play or injuries, any GM will say that things can change. We'll keep our options open."

 
On if he's received any inquiries for his players from other general managers

"I have gotten some, for sure, over the last couple weeks. Some teams are deeper into something than other teams at this point, but conversations have begun. It might not even be about the deadline; it might be, 'Listen, I'm looking to move a guy because he needs waivers,' or, 'If you're not playing that guy, would you be interested in moving him?' And that's not just me, that's other teams talking. As a team we haven't talked about anything more than playing to our identity. From speaking with teams I have a decent idea of what might be available, but I'm not exactly sure the cost at this point. But, again, some teams are fishing in different water than I am, but we like the team we have here. We really do."

 

On whether he believes there comes a time when the expectation should be playoffs-or-bust

"I don't know; that's a good question. You can say it's going to be in your third year, fifth year or eighth year. The whole idea of a five-year plan was before the salary cap era. One of the best lines I ever heard from Lou Lamoriello was, 'I had a five-year plan and it's changed every day.' It seems things evolve quicker now, but the League is more competitive with parity. You could improve your team quicker because of the salary cap and if you have that cap space [as an asset]. There's a lot more parity and it isn't easy to win a championship. I don't have a clear answer. You can make plans, but I know at this time last year we weren't very good and Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt or Will Butcher weren't a blip on our radar. But things just happened quickly. We're good cap-wise right now, but one or two bad deals and that all goes away and it becomes hard to get out of. The best answer I have is, it's steady as she goes."

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