Before anything else, I'd like to apologize to the readers if I am redundant at any point. When Shero was hired, John was all over it. When yesterday's new came in, Mike was on top of it and Gerard adjusted on-the-fly. Those who read religiously know that I was Joe Schmoe Devils fan just over a year ago before ILWT picked me up, and I couldn't let this story pass without giving my thoughts on it at least once. With that in mind, if you have not yet read it, check out John's article on Lamoriello making the Devils who they are, and his article on Lou: The Greatest Devil. John has been doing this way longer than I have and his commentary on the story is some of the best out there. So now, here's my 1 year of blog experience take on the same issue. I hope you enjoy it.
Dwindling Devils Dynasty
When Martin Brodeur left last year, I was beginning to recognize that the Devils I had grown up with were going to be different than the Devils I'd now root for. He was the final remaining member of all 3 Cup teams to leave. But, we got an elite goalie in Cory Schneider and a young group of extremely encouraging defenders anchored by a continually underrated veteran in Andy Greene. Due to this I was inclined to believe through the evidence, or possibly faith, or maybe even denial, that the Devils ideals would continue in a new form, still quarterbacked by one of the greatest GMs in NHL history, Lou Lamoriello.
In 2014, the Devils were not the team we all hoped they would be, and Pete DeBoer became the latest in a long line of short-tenured Devils coaches. Lou took over in the interim, possibly to see what it was that this team needed to turn things around. The Devils clearly did not improve, and by most people's assessment worsened. As 2014 came to a merciful end, some wondered if this would be the beginning of the end for Lou.
Then on May 4th we got our answer -- the Devils hired Ray Shero to GM the Devils team through this transition phase with Lou staying on as team President. I, like many, noted that Lou would probably have final word on any moves Shero made. The scout on board for the 2015 draft was David Conte, we still had Lou with the team, we still had encouraging goalie and blueliners, so who's to say we could keep the legacy rolling.
Then on July 9th, two weeks ago, the Devils said goodbye to Conte. Reality had started settling in for me at this point. Lou was not GM, but until then his guys were still running things and the Director of Scouting since 1993 and through all 3 Cup wins was still on board. This move was a sign that Shero was going to use his guys. He hired one of his coaches in John Hynes, and he let go one of the longest-tenured and well-respected scouts in the game. So now Lou was merely overseeing our transition into a new team, in a new era of the NHL, that he maybe wasn't fit to orchestrate us through.
Then yesterday happened. Dagger. Was Lou edged out by new ownership? It's possible, but there's no proof of that? (EDIT: Not necessarily edged out, but he was not happy with his new role.) Was he tired? Doubtful, since he's GMing an NHL team in transition -- it's just not the Devils. But, the Devils we knew are gone. The Devils he built are gone. After all, none of the players on this team know what it's like to hoist the cup in a Devils jersey. Well ... almost none of them. After that last bit of debris is cleared from ground zero, we will be completely reborn. So what do we say to Lou leaving?
The New Devils
What do you think of when you think of the Devils? Great goaltending? Strong two-way hockey? The trap (...get out)? Lack of media transparency? Frequent coaching changes? Forget all of it. None of that is the Devils identity anymore. Scrap your notes, and start a new page.
So what is our identity? Well according to new GM, we are to be fast, attacking, and supportive. Fair enough, that sounds like something I can get behind. Now Shero has yes to see a regular season game as GM. Nor has Hynes. So it remains to be seen if this is a vision that can be realized, or if the Devils, like many teams, will struggle before finding an identity that can flourish in today's NHL. But it is clear that these are not your father's Devils. It's time to redefine what it means to play "Devils hockey." And based on the last few years, maybe that isn't such a bad thing. There's a narrative to be spun that says Lou getting out now could still be best for the Devils. So what do we say to Lou leaving?
What About Lou?
Lou will be part of a dream team in management of Shanahan, Babcock, and himself. This is a team admittedly in transition, so getting a group of all-stars like this running the show should be good for a franchise that has struggled through most of its existence to put a consistently formidable product on the ice. It will be interesting to see how Lou adjusts to an entirely new environment -- one in which is word is not necessarily the law, and with a franchise fully entrenched in the stats revolution with hires like Extra Skater's Darryl Metcalfe, and assistant GM, Kyle Dubas. The Dubas-Lamoriello relationship will be one to watch in particular.
So with this massive undertaking, Lou's clearly got the will to keep going. So, why not continue the rebuild with the team of which he has molded the franchise history, and with which he had changed the NHL? And what do we say to Lou leaving?
Well the Devils franchise started out as the Kansas City Scouts in 1974. For the next 13 years, the franchise would flounder at the NHL floor in obscurity, coming up for air once in 1977-1978 where the 19-40-21 team made the playoffs and was swept in 2 games. Some of you may need to look up more than one thing about that sentence to verify its authenticity, but I assure you it's true. The franchise would be 253-638-149 for a point percentage of an abysmal 0.315. Then they hired a college hockey Conference Commissioner and Athletic Director named Lou Lamoriello to GM the team in 1987.
Out of nowhere, New Jersey had themselves a hockey team. They immediately made the playoffs for the first legitimate time in team history and after one more year of struggle in '98 we would go on a historic run of 20 playoffs in 22 years including a 13-year-streak, 5 Conference Championships, and 3 Stanley Cups. So what did Lou mean to the Devils? He turned a franchise from the worst team in the league to the best team in the league. Lou was the Devils. So what do we say to Lou leaving?
You may have noticed I keep saying that last sentence. That is because I have struggled with this since I heard the news. I am 23 years old so I only know the Devils who are great. Lou patted my head in Continental Airlines Arena when I was 7 and I wish I had known then what an honor that was. I live in New Jersey where our football teams refuse to be honest about what state they play in, our basketball teams ditch us for Brooklyn, and we wouldn't dare start a baseball team. This is my team. And my team has been changed forever. So what do I say to Lou leaving? What is there to say, but "Thank you."
Thank you for bringing us from Micky Mouse to Mighty Mouse. Thank you for redefining the game and letting us join the ride. Thank you for giving us a periodic escape from our ordinary lives to taste greatness and, in doing so, feel great ourselves. Thank you for helping set us up for the future one last time. And thank you for getting out when your heart was no longer in it.
Thank you, Lou, and good luck in Toronto ... you're going to need it.