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The New Jersey Devils Will Remain Shorthanded for the Time Being

Some in the media would have you believe that there being only 17 Devils in Monday's game is a crisis. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Some in the media would have you believe that there being only 17 Devils in Monday's game is a crisis. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
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I've raised the possibility of the Devils playing with a short roster last week; and as seen on Monday, it became reality. The Devils played the Pittsburgh Penguins with only 15 skaters: 9 forwards and 6 defensemen - and the fanbase knew full well why.  In that game's recap, I said the short roster certainly contributed to the loss, and the issue needs to be resolved as soon as possible.  With Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond sent down to Albany and Adam Mair signed (confirmed here by Tom Gulitti), the Devils now have 16 skaters who can play hockey.   So they're still short two forwards of your standard 12-forward, 6-defenseman lineup, and will be for at least tomorrow's game.

Given that news came out that Brian Rolston possibly has a sports hernia, as reported here by Tom Gulitti, Lou's holding off on making a move until he gets further information on the status of Anton Volchenkov and Rolston.  I believe this is to see how serious these injuries are.  Per Gulitti's post, Rolston's going to get a second opinion, and Volchenkov is definitely out this week - who knows for future weeks.  As much as I want to see a permanent move made to clear cap space, I think this is the right course of action.  Should they be out for a significant amount of time, they can be put on long term injured reserve retroactively and while that would only further delay the inevitable, it would give the team space to call up additional players.  For now, it's 16 skaters along with Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg.

I want to highlight a comment by user triumph44 in the news update Kevin posted up earlier:

there are teams, including the devils, who play their 4th line between 3 and 5 minutes. it’s really not a big deal, temporarily.

This is true for the most part.  I looked at the average time on ice of the Devils who played on the fourth line last season and posted the results in this comment.  To summarize: the only ones who had more than 10 minutes per game throughout their season were Dean McAmmond and Vladimir Zharkov, who both played on higher lines in some games.  Those who stayed on that fourth line - Rod Pelley, Ilkka Pikkarainen, Leblond, and Andrew Peters - all averaged between 5 and 8 minutes.   In the first game of the season, Pelley and Leblond got 5:18 and 3:27, respectively.  Those are the kind players that are missing on the shortened roster; not important players.

When a team "shortens the bench" as the game goes on, which is common in the NHL, that usually means the fourth line isn't getting regular shifts.  I would also like to add that some teams do use 7 defensemen in some games, meaning they don't have a full fourth line of forwards from the start of the game.  Some teams rest players in games that are of little consequence, usually by the end of the season when their fate is decided.   The larger point is that the Devils aren't undercut by missing some big minute players. They're undercut by not having a group of depth forwards spell the others.   And some teams do that anyway depending on situation with little fanfare.

Which makes me a bit amazed (and not a good amazed) at some of the developments from some the hockey world at large.  It's as if this is a crisis or something.  Keep triumph44's point in mind as you read on.

The first comes by way of Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.  The NHLPA apparenly isn't happy about the Devils having played with 15 skaters.  He tweeted the following this afternoon:

Donald Fehr and #NHLPA to conduct an internal review to see if the CBA was violated when #Devils decided to only dress 15 skaters.

Thanks to user DevsFan520, who put this up in this FanShot.  This is ridiculous by the PA (not Kypreos, he's just the messenger here) because last night wasn't the first time a team played with less than 18 skaters in a game due to a combination of injuries, a suspension, and a lack of salary cap space.  It wasn't even the first time the Devils had to do that.  As Tom Gulitti tweeted, the Devils had to endure for 6 games with less than 18 skaters in 2006-07 (and impressively won all 6 of those games).  If precedent means anything, then this review will go nowhere.

In addition to precedent, what can the PA actually do?  Not have the power to force New Jersey to send a player/NHLPA member to the minors just to make space for injury replacements?  Claim that the Devils could have listed Volchenkov and Rolston as active and simply not play them?  Talk a whole lot with no action?  This review will probably go nowhere, if only because of their great work in arguing for Ilya Kovalchuk in the arbitration hearing.  Basically, I have the same takes as Larry Brooks on the PA's sudden questioning into the Devils.

But the PA investigating this pales in comparison of Derian Hatcher and his shortsightedness.  Here's his quote to the Courier Post by way of the Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski.

"It's a joke," Hatcher said during the Flyers' season opener against the Colorado Avalanche at the Wells Fargo Center. "I've never seen that happen in my career. In my opinion, he's mocking the league. It's embarrassing."


"I would think the players' association will step in and do something about it," Hatcher said. "You can't let that happen."

Derian Hatcher was in the league in 2006-07, playing for Philadelphia. You know, when the Devils played short for 6 games.  I wish I knew what those 6 games were, because it'd be hilarious if Hatcher actually was on the ice for any of them. (Check the update in...5 sentences)   Anyway, presuming he paid attention in recent seasons, he'd have known Calgary went short too - something Wyshynski even cites.  Had he remembered either situation, he'd also know that the PA and the NHL did absolutely nothing about it; and to do so now would be rank hypocrisy.

Maybe he just forgot.  Maybe he never noticed.  Maybe he just got it wrong.  UPDATE: IILWT user acasser did the legwork and found out that Hatcher actually played in one of those 6 games where the Devils played with a short roster.  Thank you to acasser, and now I further scoff at Mr. Hatcher.   Heh.

At least Hatcher didn't beclown himself with down-right laughable claims by some of the media.  Get this, the Devils icing 15 skaters in Monday's game was bad...for the fans.    Here's Wyshynski getting all populist near the end of his own post today on the matter:

A few games of leniency from the NHL is understandable, because injuries happen; but if the Devils are allowed to compete with 16 or 15 skaters on multiple occasions this season in an effort to avoid making more difficult decisions with regard to the cap, then they should suffer consequences, either financially through fines or in the loss of (even more) draft picks.

Because it's no different than demanding a team have a payroll that reaches a salary "floor" in order to ice a competitive product. 

Because the Devils will never reduce their ticket prices even if the fans are paying to see 3/4 of the lines they should be seeing. 

Because it's not the salary cap's fault Lou Lamoriello doesn't know how to correctly manage it. 

Aside: From the first two sentences, I see Wyshynski is an adherent of the "spirit of the CBA" school of thought. Also known as the, "There's no rule, there's precedent, but I don't like it so let's make up a punishment" school of thought.

It's not just the Puck Daddy crying crocodile tears.  Here's Alan Adams of NHL FanHouse, who wrote an entirely terrible article surrounding his concern for the fans.  Here's a snippet:

But his decision raises a lot of questions.

Aren't clubs supposed to dress their best teams?

Aren't fans doling out their hard-earned cash expecting to see the best possible product on the ice?

Doesn't this speak to the integrity of the product, the credibility of the collective agreement?

In the end, it's the fans who end up losing the most.

As a third example, because three seems to be a magic number, here's Nick Kypreos' tweeting his initial reaction to the team playing 15 skaters that's in line with this eye-roll inducing point

Injuries/susp' aren't acceptable reasons to ice inferior line-up to paying NJ tix holders. Can't ever imagine NFL, MLB NBA doing the same.

As a season ticket holder and a Devils supporter who was at the game, their "concern" is garbage.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm quite offended by others claiming I've been wronged somehow.  Let me get this straight:  Are Wyshynski, Adams, Kypreos, et al actually arguing that I was cheated out of the money because they don't have a complete fourth line?  A fourth line that sees limited minutes on most nights, as triumph44 pointed out?  A fourth line that is usually subjected to the bench when coaches shorten it in a game?  A fourth line that would feature, who exactly?  Pelley and 2 call ups from Albany?   The argument is that missing that completed fourth line made the Devils that much inferior to Pittsburgh, a game that ended 3-1 with an empty net goal by the Penguins, and so the fans lost out.  They cannot be so serious to say such shortsighted foolishness; yet that's apparently what I'm reading, in the typed word.

I understand hyperbole is big in the media.  Would it be hyperbole to claim such points as hysterical?

I did say that the short roster contributed to the loss in that it put the Devils in a difficult situation to start.  But in the recap I wrote, I went to great lengths to explain that the Devils' performance had more to do with the loss than the number of players available. The game was close on the scoreboard and that the Devils sprung some hope late in the game. No, they didn't get the equalizer, but the Devils definitely didn't ice an inferior roster or give a wasted effort like the third period against the Capitals.  The Devils had their best players on the ice: the watchable Ilya Kovalchuk, the dynamic Zach Parise, the rising star of Travis Zajac, the smooth skills of Patrik Elias, etc.  They started Martin Brodeur in net.  They didn't sit anyone down unless they couldn't play.

A full fourth line would have been nice, but let's not pretend that alone would have led to a Devils victory. John MacLean said it best after the game, reported here by Rich Chere, the roster size was not an excuse for the loss.  He's absolutely right, if only because it wasn't a blow out.  It's not like they were the Anaheim Ducks out there.

Moreover, since when did the media ever give a damn about the fan other then when to create their own point?  If you want to blame Lou Lamoriello for the Devils getting into this mess on the cap and/or not making a permanent move to make space, then you'll get no argument out of me.  After all, I said this was a real possibility and it came true.  The site is called In Lou We Trust - not Lou Is Infallible. 

But I, for one, refuse to be your rhetorical prop.   To suggest that I and the 12,879* at the game were somehow wronged in all of this, that we wasted our money and time to go to the game, because the Devils weren't able to get two more forwards to create a 10-minutes-at-the-very-most line of forwards is simply ludicrous.  Maybe I'm the fool and someone feels otherwise, but I doubt that the Devils missing two fourth liners on Monday would be so offensive to anyone at that game.  As noted earlier, this wasn't the first time it happened and it probably won't be the last given the future.

If they or anyone else in the media are that concerned about the fans about this issue, then I would suggest asking a few before assuming they're losers in all of this.

Anyway, the situation is what it is now.  The Devils will have 16 skaters tomorrow unless some move is made prior to the game in Buffalo against the Sabres.  There may or may not be more moronic commentary about it.  Feel free to discuss this issue however you wish.  Thanks for reading.  *(Pro-tip to the schedule makers: Don't schedule afternoon games on days that most people don't get off. It's bad for attendance.)