Peter DeBoer is a hypocrite; there, I'll come right out and say it. The head coach of our New Jersey Devils spoke with Tom Gulitti of Fire and Ice in early September and had this to say when asked about the possibility of players not on one way contracts making the team:
"So, if you're good enough to earn a job and you beat someone out, (Lamoriello will) find a way to make room."
I had remembered him saying something to this effect before training camp began, and I went back to find it after the way the Devils have started the season. While our record is a respectable enough start (3-2-1 at the time of this writing) for a team that many predict won't go anywhere this season, it concerns me (and many other fans) that the team is playing the same way that they did many times last year: the leads that get blown late in a game; poor passing and clearing attempts; the lack of accountability for certain personnel.
I wanted to write an article specifically about the poor penalty killing this season, but Mike beat me to it, and as I was reading it, I vaguely remembered DeBoer's quote from before the season began; to circle back for a moment, our coach is a hypocrite because his quote boils down to the fact that if one player is better than another, the best man for the job will be playing. While I realize that his quote was specifically about the 23 players that would be under his control as determined by Lou Lamoriello, I had to wonder why he doesn't take this advice when it comes to which 20 of those 23 he will send out for each game.
While our press box contains young, inexperienced players who are bound to make a few mistakes every so often, the team we ice every night seems to contain quite a few culprits this season who make the same mistakes and rarely pay a price for it. I don't even have to get into the advanced statistics of it (thought that would make for another fun article) as many of these mistakes are apparent just by watching a game. Who are those culprits you may ask? While I know every Devils fan who visits this site can name the first one without even bothering to scroll down, let's take a look at a few players who continue to get a pass.
You don't have to be a New Jersey Devils fan to come to the conclusion that Bryce Salvador has been (at least so far) flat out attrocious this season. Of the 20 goals the Devils have conceded this season, our captain has been on the ice for 12 of them; you can't possibly sit here and tell me that it's a coincidence that 60% of the opposition's goals have come with Salvador on the ice. Sal seems like a nice guy and like he's a team player, but his game has regressed and he has gotten so slow that between the two he's constantly out of position and/or being exploited by opposing offenses. He looked damn silly on Our Hated Rivals' second goal the other night; he hasn't been effective in any roll, as he has been on the ice for 7 of the 8 power play goals we have allowed.
At some point, someone needs to say, "Okay, our captain is being picked on by opposing teams, and frankly he's just not quick enough to keep up with these teams," and scratch him. I would rather see Eric Gelinas or Adam Larsson making the mistakes Bryce does because at least there's a chance that those 2 would be able to fix the mistake; at 39 years of age, what you see if what you get with Bryce.
Now I know everyone reading this is probably thinking, "Teams don't scratch their captains." While indeed rare, it has happened before; if you read that link, it speaks of how then-Sabres coach Lindy Ruff's idea was to play the best 18 skaters every night. I believe Peter DeBoer made a similar comment this offseason (separate from the one that I started the article with), and what better to way to have players be accountable for their actions than to show that now even your captain is safe if his play is dirt poor.
I was hesitant to include Zids on this list because he has played fairly well during this young season. He hasn't been stuck out of position very often, he hasn't taken any of his usual dumb penalties yet, and while he hasn't notched a goal yet, he still manages to help out on offense. However, I list his name because we're talking about accountability, and after the dumb play he made last game, someone needs to hold him responsible for basically giving New York a tying goal on a silver platter. He makes an almost blind pass towards Travis Zajac; the pass is both too hard and off target, resulting in a one-timer from one of OHR that Cory Schneider gets. The rebound was small, but just enough for Rick Nash to grab and finish.
When you're an 11 year NHL veteran (along with years of experience in other leagues and at the national level) there are some plays you just know not to make; this is one of them. The safe play was to punch the puck back up the boards and keep it out of harm's way; instead Marek tries to pass into the middle of the ice, misses, and gets burned for it.
We've seen people get scratched for less on this team (including having guys play a good, solid game and then getting scratched), but does anyone think Zidlicky will miss Friday's game for this play that he never should have attempted? I strongly doubt it.
"Baby Gio" has been the definition of average fourth liner for most of his tenure as a Devil. He brings energy, he hits and every now and again he chips in offensively. My problem with Gionta this season is mostly twofold, with a small criticism of coaching to boot. The first problem is how lowly faceoff percentage; while Gio has never been good at them, being tied for last on the team at 42.9% is not a good sign. Centers are supposed to win draws, especially when they are relied on to kill penalties; if Gionta isn't winning them, he either needs to be moved to the wing, or held accountable for his shortcomings and replaced in the lineup.
The other problem is that Gionta has contributed nothing offensively so far; he has even been moved up on lines for his defensive ability late in games (he still is a better defender than Michael Ryder) and has squat to show for it. The coaching criticism ties in with this and has lack of ability in the faceoff circle; you have a young center in Jacob Josefson (who has historically been better at draws than Stephen) who's ready to go. Why not give Gio a night off and see if the team improves with Josefson on the ice? We need some minor tweaks to our lineup; maybe this should be one of them.
Zubrusaurus (as he shall now be known) has been the definition of below-average this season. When I mentioned Gionta being tied for worst draw percentage, this is the guy he's tied with. With 1 goal and a -3 through 6 games, I expect better from someone being deployed as a second line winger. However it will not be Zubrus' stats that I hold against him.
No he's included on this list as an 18-year NHL veteran who made a rookie mistake on Tuesday night, and will not be held responsible for it. He lost Kevin Klein as the Devils retreated on defense, and could not recover as Klein ripped the overtime winner to complete New York's comeback. If that was Jacob Josefson or Damien Brunner, you can guarantee they'd be glued to a bench in the locker room before Friday's upcoming game. If Zubrus' skills as regressing (as last season would have us believe they are) then he needs to make up for it by playing a smart game and contributing where he can; he did neither against OHR.
When a coach speaks of icing the best team and players beating others out for jobs, at some point he needs to be held accountable for his own words. So far this season, there has not been one game in my opinion where DeBoer has iced the best possible roster. He has a player who should be no higher than the third line at this point in his career (Zubrus) up on the second line, while he has an offensive-minded player (Brunner) on the fourth line during even-strength scenarios. He has defensemen scratched that could skate circles around our captain; I'd also tolerate mistakes more from players who could benefit by learning from them over Old Yeller.
We've seen young players have decent to good games as well under DeBoer where they would immediately be scratched again the next game; it's just mind-boggling trying to understand how roster decisions are being made. It also seems that this regime doesn't care if veterans make mistakes; we've never really seen a veteran get scratched for a bad game/string of bad games. That, in my opinion, sends the wrong message to young players. Now you have young guys so worried about playing a mistake-free game, that they're not going to go out and play relaxed; as a result they're even more prone to error.
At some point Lou Lamoriello should step in here; we're talking about a man who used to fire coaches while this team was winning. If the team continues to be mishandled, Lou needs to remove DeBoer and insert someone who will play the 18 skaters who look the best in every game.
Just like the Devils' play from game to game, I'm driven crazy by the fact that in terms of accountability there's little to no consistency. You have players of different ages making the same mistakes, but only the younger ones seem to be made to pay for it. If Lars or Gelly had made the pass that Zidlicky made on Tuesday night, I can guarantee you that the offender would be the one in the press box for the next game.
I'm not writing this to inspire panic, or claim that the season is lost after 6 games; rather I'm just baffled that New Jersey has turned into Backwards World. Rookies (or players that are essentially rookies) that make rookie mistakes are punished, while veterans who make rookie mistakes (or just can't flat out keep up with the NHL pace anymore) are allowed to continue making these same boneheaded errors. Someone needs to wake up and have every player just as responsible as the next; the best 18 skaters should be playing every night.
What do you think about accountability for members of our team? Should certain players be held more accountable than others? Should Lou be holding Pete accountable for the personnel he deploys nightly? Do you think our younger players are yanked around too much compared to our vets? Leave any and all comments below and as always, thanks for reading!