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Melrose Minute: Restructured Devils at a crossroads

by Barry Melrose

After a 3-1 win Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, I suppose you could say the New Jersey Devils' latest coaching experiment is off to a 1-1-0 start. It will be interesting to see what happens with the arrangement set up by general manager Lou Lamoriello, who brought on Scott Stevens and Adam Oates as defensive and offensive assistants, respectively, after firing coach Peter DeBoer on Friday. I've never really seen anything like this before, but I think if you look at the history of Lou, a guy who hasn't been afraid to make bold or unorthodox news, it's not that crazy.

Obviously, with Lamoriello himself on the bench, it's clear he's the ultimate authority now, and on some level that makes sense. The Devils are not a good team right now and they're at an organizational crossroads. Lamoriello needs to know which players to keep in the fold and build around and which ones should be sent off for draft picks at the trade deadline, and as he's said, there's no better place to find out about a player than on the bench. He's right on that point. You can't as easily learn about your player from the press box. You can't see what he's saying or how he responds in good times and bad times.

In many ways, this has Lou written all over it. DeBoer was an unusual hire in that he wasn't a regular part of the Devils family beforehand. Lamoriello hires guys he knows. Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson, John MacLean, Scott Stevens, Adam Oates, all of these guys have left the Devils and been brought back in. That should make Lou's job a little easier because at least in some terms, he knows the guys he's dealing with. What he has to decide now is where to take the team. Can they rebound and challenge for a playoff spot next season -- or even this season? Or with names like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel floating around in the draft pool is it time for a full-on rebuild? Do the Devils want Kirk Muller? Or do they want Mario Lemieux?


Speaking of McDavid and Eichel, if you haven't been watching the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, you ought to do yourself a favor and tune in. Not only have Eichel and McDavid looked like everything we've heard so far, the games have just been awesome. The United States and Canada are each undefeated through three games, and with their impending showdown Wednesday (4 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, to determine the top team in Group A, this tournament will only get more interesting.

Obviously, junior hockey is much bigger in Canada than in the United States. The World Juniors is a major event north of the border every winter, but I always tell people the bang for the buck in junior hockey is unbelievable. In the NHL you're seeing the best players in the world, but if you don't live near a team or only have so much to spend, the juniors are great entertainment, and you're seeing players that are only a year or two away from the big time.

These really are the future Sidney Crosbys and Vladimir Tarasenkos of the world, and if you look at past World Junior rosters they're dotted with solid NHL players and major superstars. I remember the first World Junior tournament and how Canada got a lot of ink because of some kid on the team named Gretzky. It's a treat to see the stars before they're stars, and the action is unbelievable.


I know I've talked about the Dallas Stars a lot this year, about how great Tyler Seguin has been and about how the team has generally been a disappointment. If I'm going to heap criticism on them, though, I can't short-change them when times are good, and right now we're not giving enough love to the team in Texas. The Stars are finally becoming the team we envisioned at the start of the year.

Obviously, Seguin is still great, but now they're getting great goaltending, the defense has cut opponent scoring down and they're still very exciting to watch. On Saturday they really took it to a very good St. Louis Blues team. Two nights later all they did was defeat the New York Rangers, who were the hottest team in the League on an eight-game winning streak. Overall Dallas is 7-2-0 in its past nine games.

The one drawback is Dallas' poor start may already have doomed it. The Stars dropped a lot of important points in the standings in the first third of the season, and that could come back to bite them. This is a team that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and looked good doing it. Then they added a player like Jason Spezza. I think many of us expected a little more than we've gotten, and that may mean in the tough Western Conference Dallas won't get enough struggling teams above it to crack the top eight. All the Stars can do right now, though, is win, and that's what they're doing. I think this team is finally showing us who they really are. We'll just have to see if there's any time left in the hourglass.

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