Today was a monumental day in the history of the New Jersey Devils franchise. Between around 3:30 to 4 PM EST, many were wondering and/or snarking why Lou would call a press conference. At 4:01 PM EST, it was clear: Lou has stepped down as GM of the team and named Ray Shero general manager. It's all true; here's Tom Gulitti's post about it at Fire & Ice. The one general manager (and CEO and President) who turned the organization into one that commands respect and competitive hockey (until recent seasons) has stepped down as general manager. To say I was shocked would be putting it lightly. However, this post isn't about how I react or feel about it. This post is about what happens next for the New Jersey Devils. More specifically, what can change for the Devils.
I wrote about what Shero did in Pittsburgh. A closer look revealed he's a flawed GM, but as I closed the post, pretty much every GM who is available to being hired is going to have a flaw or two. Since he'll be in charge, I think it will be more constructive to consider what happens next for the Devils. Shero is going to be very busy and not just from getting set up in his new position with the Devils.
At a minimum, the Devils will need a new head coach and several players to fill out the roster. Let's focus on the head coach. It wasn't long after Shero's name was announced for Dan Bylsma to be mentioned as a potential Devils head coach. Shero brought in to replace Michel Therrien in February 2009, named him as full time head coach in April, and Bylsma and his team delivered the franchise their first Stanley Cup since 1992. However, while Byslma's teams were successful in the regular season, they were less so in the postseason. Shero stuck with him until the bitter end and both were gone in 2014. It may be familiar for Shero, but it really wouldn't be that bad of an idea, as I argued a few weeks ago.
Shero is free to pick someone else. If not Bylsma, there will be other candidates. Provided he does not pick someone who was legitimately horrid at puck possession like Randy Carlyle or picks one of the team's co-coaches (whom he will speak to before and after he goes to the World Championships per Gulitti), I will probably be fine with it. Either way, the head coach should be one of the first major decisions he will make as general manager. As he has a team beginning the process of a re-build, he should give whoever is hired quite bit of leeway from a results perspective.
Now let's consider the roster. Based on NHL Numbers, Shero will have a lot of flexibility in shaping the roster for the next few years. Only seven Devils are signed beyond the 2015-16 season: Cory Schneider, Andy Greene, Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, Damon Severson (on an entry level contract, Keith Kinkaid, and Ryane Clowe. That means Shero will have a lot of work to do to fill in the roster; re-build or not, the Devils still need bodies to play games. But he is not bound by too many significant deals. If Clowe is not medically cleared to play, then Shero will even have more to work with. As I wrote a few weeks ago, there will be many decisions to be made from restricted free agents like Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas getting new deals to who to get to play right wing to even who in Albany deserves another NHL contract to prospects who will need deals to stay in the system (e.g. Ryan Kujawinski, Blake Coleman). From the comments of that post, I think FrankG929 has the right idea. The team would be well suited to get one or two players in for the long haul of the re-build and fill-ins elsewhere as it will take more than one summer to get the Devils back to where they want to be. We'll see whether Shero does this or not.
Of course, there's also the matter of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The event where the Devils have the sixth overall pick, an important pick that must turn into a NHL player. I don't know how much control Shero wants to impose on the team's long-time Director of Scouting, David Conte. On the one hand, the Penguins did not draft well, especially at forward, under Shero. On the other, the Devils have not drafted well in years, especially at forward. According to Gulitti on Twitter, there will be no changes to the team's scouting staff at this time. With the Draft a little under two months away, it would be silly and counter-productive to make a grand upheaval now. It would be better to use the information gathered, make the selections for 2015, and then clean house afterwards. This way a new staff can come in and have all of the time to prepare for the next draft instead of cramming a lot of work to be done. Of course, it'll be on Shero to not play his hand so openly lest he have a disgruntled scouting department before a very important draft for the team's re-building efforts.
There's also the matter of the Albany Devils. Chris Lamoriello has been the GM for the Devils' AHL affiliate for quite some time now. Does he still keep that job with Lou no longer in a GM position? Maybe, considering Lou is the team's president and I'd say Albany is more competitive than years past. But Albany still has some of the same issues New Jersey has from an offensive standpoint and they're still not a successful team. It's unknown whether Shero wants a successful minor league organization in addition to one that develops players. For Lou, the development was good enough. Perhaps not any more and that could lead to changes up in New York's capital.
While that covers what's next from an events standpoints, I anticipate other changes to the Devils with Shero now as general manager. For example, the team may be more "open," for better or worse. Lou has been absolutely excellent at keeping a tight lid on everything that goes on. There are no rumors or sources from New Jersey to let things leak out. This very announcement was an absolute surprise; no one even reported that Shero was in discussion with the Devils much less he would become the new GM. It all came from one source: Lou. Lou had full control over the message. This allowed an exceptional level of trust with the players, coaches, and management of other teams. It was bad for the media, but that isn't the job of any general manager - no matter which reporter or wannabe reporter whines about it. Lou was such a master at this aspect, I cannot foresee Shero following suit. He can say "status quo" but there will be more out there than Lou would've allowed in the past.
As Lou is still team president, the many rules he has imposed on the team may still not change. But there's an opportunity for some of them. They don't have a lot to do with the on-ice aspect, so I could go either way about edicts like "no facial hair outside of the playoffs" or "helmets must be worn during warm-ups." I really don't want to start seeing players on social media. I mainly only use Twitter and I think it's a net-negative. You'll either get players being entirely banal to the point one wonders why they're there. Or they'll type or post something that 99% of the population won't care about but the other 1% will rage on seemingly forever and ever to the point one wonders why even bother. But that's me. Personally, I liked seeing tidbits like that as it established a level of professionalism and respect for Lou's way in the organization. Lou is still in the organization, but with Shero as boss and relatively new owners, there could be some changes in those respects. They're immaterial to the on-ice product, but material to how business looks in New Jersey.
In a way, that's one of the sources of why this was such a stunning move. As the Devils have missed the playoffs in recent seasons, I've been asked more and more about Lou's future. I've maintained that Lou would leave on his own terms and I'm frightened at who would replace him. Per Gulitti, while the owners possibly encouraged a change at the position, Lou named his own successor and controlled when and how that would be announced. As worrisome as Shero's history as Penguins GM may be, I'm worried about what the Devils will be under Shero. Under Lou, you know it's his way and given the past success, it was a rather good way. Can Shero command that level of respect? Can anyone? Should they? I don't know, but that piece of the franchise will change. I'll have more to say about that in another post, though.
Lastly, the expectations should change. Shero is the new boss, he's inheriting a bad hockey team with not much in the prospect pool. There is no Crosby or Malkin unless Malkin or Crosby themselves are coming to New Jersey. He does have an ace goaltender in Schneider, a top pairing defenseman in Greene, two burgeoning young defenders in Larsson and Severson, and maybe three top-six forwards. There's a bunch of unknowns among prospects and whatever Steve Santini and John Quenneville will be at the next level. This is not an organization that will suddenly turn into contenders in a summer. It will take multiple seasons. Combine with whatever changes Shero does at the organizational level in addition to the coaches, staff, and players, and I think it's fair to say it'll take a little longer. Mike asked a few weeks ago how far away the Devils are from the playoffs. I think the team is at least three years away, longer depending on what breaks right in addition to what decisions Shero makes. At a maximum, the team should be built to play beyond early April within the next five years. Although I don't know if Shero even has five years to do that, but I think that should be more than enough time to remake a roster and fill the prospect pool with more than just hopeful role players. That's where I'm thinking given today's news.
More than a general manager position was changed. The direction of the team and arguably the holder of it's identify was changed today. Lou's not gone, but Shero will be in charge. That will lead to many more changes to how business is done in New Jersey, for better or worse. I'll put the questions to you and get your take: Do you have confidence in Shero's decision making to pick a new head coach? To fill out the roster? What do you think he should do with the scouting staff? Will much else change about the Devils other than that? Lastly, and most importantly, have your expectations about the re-build the Devils will have to undergo change now that Shero is the GM? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about these changes in the comments.
Thanks to Gerard for getting something up about the monumental change at GM during the day. SBNation, too.Thank you for reading. One more post is to come.