Give credit where credit is due: since taking over as New Jersey Devils general manager in May of 2015, Ray Shero has done an impressive job turning the team around. When Shero assumed the helm, the Devils had spent the last few seasons falling from grace while attempting to replace departed star players with aging veterans removed from their glory days (exception: Jaromir Jagr) in the NHL. Shero would either not renew bad contracts that were expiring or would find a way to remove the player from the team and that has impressively led to New Jersey being younger, faster, and full of potential.
Shero has made tough decisions, such as trading Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall, with the full belief that the team will be better as a result. He also has ensured to this point that the contracts he has signed are not anchoring the team down, in terms of both salary cap and on ice performance. Additionally, he has steered clear of “loyalty contracts” that under the previous regime would sometimes be given to long-tenured players of the organization that just didn’t have what it took to cut the mustard anymore. Ray Shero did an excellent job this summer of continuing that trend and not signing a contract with a player just due to them having been a Devil for one or several years.
Addition By Subtraction
Of players who saw at least 20 games of NHL action with New Jersey last season, the following players did not have their contract renewed:
Stephen Gionta - Current UFA
Tyler Kennedy - Current UFA
Tuomo Ruutu - Current UFA
Jiri Tlusty - Current UFA
Brian O’Neill - Jokerit (KHL)
Jordin Tootoo - Chicago Blackhawks
Bobby Farnham - Montreal Canadiens
At this point in the summer, most teams are ready to go into training camp with the players and prospects they have available to them; the only exception to this is players signing Professional Try-Outs or PTOs, but even then there’s no guarantee they will have an NHL or even AHL job for the season. There are 7 players who played in at least a quarter of the Devils’ games last season that are no longer on the roster; based on the names on this list, it’s safe to say they were not retained due to under-performing.
Breaking down this list even further, 4 of the 7 players apparently aren’t good enough to be signed by any NHL team, with another choosing to continue his career in the KHL. Stephen Gionta in particular appeared in all 82 games last season and mustered a 1 measly goal; even for a bottom-6 forward, that simply isn’t good enough production. Jordin Tootoo was a case where I was happy to see the man get a contract; as someone who has read his autobiography with everything he has gone through, Toots is someone you want to root for. He did underachieve in New Jersey last season though so perhaps a change of scenery is good for both parties.
Bobby Farnham is an interesting case, as I and some other fans felt that he could be retained on the fourth line. He provided great energy and some timely goals last season, but it seemingly just wasn’t in the cards for “Wild Thing” to return to New Jersey; best of luck to him in Montreal.
I was worried going into this offseason that one if not multiple names from that list (excluding Farnham who I would have been alright with) would be back in New Jersey for 2016-17; while I guess the possibility still exists of say Gionta coming back in some capacity, it is seeming more and more unlikely with each passing day. Shero needed to move on from players who did not contribute to the team and he has admirably done so.
In an offseason that was chock full of regrettable free agent signings, either now or in the near future for many teams in the NHL, I’m glad that Ray Shero stayed his course for building the team and didn’t sign any players (be they new or returning) to regrettable contracts. Additionally, he broke away from a number of players who did not meet expectations last season (and in some cases for multiple seasons) and opted to try some low budget solutions/prospects for next season in an attempt to bolster depth scoring.
I again must take a moment to admire what Shero has done so far in his tenure with New Jersey; while he may not have household names like Crosby here in New Jersey as he did during his tenure in Pittsburgh, he certainly has 2 NHL stars to build around in Hall and Cory Schneider. If he continues to make smart moves, continues to give the Devils cap flexibility, and fleeces at least 1 team per year as he has done so far, New Jersey will be in good hands and on their way back to the playoffs before we know it.
Now I’d like to hear what you think about Ray Shero’s tenure in New Jersey so far; do you like the roster he has produced to this point? Are there any subtractions that you thought he should have made that he hasn’t? Any additions you would like to see him make before the season gets underway? Leave any and all comments below and as always thank you for reading!