All of the biggest days of the offseason are over. The expansion and entry drafts as well as free agency have completed and while the Devils and other teams may not be done tinkering, the BIG news days are behind us. With the dust settled, I’d like to take a minute to review the offseason events, and talk about the status of the rebuild.
The Offseason Events
Let’s start with recaping the big events of the offseason. Then we’ll move on to where we are on the rebuild clock and an analysis of how well Shero has done in getting us there.
I should preface this by saying I don’t think the ramifications from the expansion draft are that big. The player the Devils lost based on the options we had established before the draft would likely only be worth a few standings points over the next few years — if that. So there was a narrow spectrum as far as impact is concerned, but on that spectrum, the Devils landed about as far to the “poor” side as possible. First of all, we protected John Moore who as I wrote, was one of the worst skaters on the team last year — I personally would have ranked him over only Devante Smith-Pelly. We ended up losing Jon Merrill who I think will be a either a below average second-pairing defender or a good third pairing defender for Vegas. As I said earlier, not that important, but considering what was to come in the rest of the summer, the loss of a viable defender was not ideal and also avoidable.
Furthermore, the Devils were in a unique position to either take on or shed contracts with some creativity due to the protection process. It seemed the only benefit of Dalton Prout was that he was an exposable defender that we could trade to a team that wanted to keep all their eligible defenders. We had protection slots open and so some also speculated we could take on a player that a team was afraid of losing for nothing. However, as Mike wrote, these seemingly inevitable trades became not-so-inevitable. It’s likely partially due to how creative Vegas was in making deals with other teams that replaced potential deals we could have made. Nonetheless, something we managed to scrape together a loss for this process despite being in one of the best positions heading in.
This was a win on just about any count. Last Word on Sports, ESPN, CSN, Bleacher Report, McCagg, and just about every other rating I saw assigned the Devils an A for their drafting. Once again, the Devils were set up to make some trades early on. That was somewhat diminished by the fact that they killed a pick and downgraded another to get Mirco Mueller. I personally thought they should have moved up to grab either Timmins or Hague. Retrospect, I definitely think Shero got great value everywhere he did, but I think most of that value could have been retained and he could still move up a few picks. But I don’t know what the GMs in front of him wanted so I can’t blame him for not doing something that may have been impossible.
I’ve said a few bad things, but that’s only because I think the good are clear and have been pointed out. The Devils had a draft that should produce several NHL players. Every one of our top 5 picks has a chance and I’m sure one of the bottom 6 will overachieve as well. I loved picking up an extra pick that late in the game too. Overall in the draft, not much creativity, but there’s a lot to be said for finding as much value as possible in the picks we had.
First off, let’s discuss what didn’t happen. We let Beau Bennett walk, despite him being an RFA and despite having some of the best analytics on the team. I was rather upset that we didn’t protect him in the expansion draft, let alone not qualify him. We also bought out Devante Smith-Pelly and Mike Cammalleri. All three were signed to deals with other teams and Cam and Beau signed on absolute bargains. It’s illegal to buyout a player and then re-sign him so I don’t blame anyone for Cammalleri because his contract wasn’t good — though I may argue that $1.67 million for four years is not much preferable to $5 million for two years considering the current fiscal landscape. But not giving Beau basically league minimum is a big mistake, especially considering the fact that Ray Shero later admitted that we still need a right wing. Shame he “didn’t see a fit” for the second best possession player on the team, because he was a right wing.
What we did do was sign Brian Boyle to a two-year contract that probably slightly overvalues him, but I think Shero and Hynes thought that he’d be a hugely important role model for this young team as well as a physical presence on a team that really got beat up last year, finishing 22nd in hit ratio, and a replacement for Fiddler as a good faceoff, bottom six centerman.
We lost out on Shattenkirk to Our Hated Rivals. I would have offered more than Shero seemed inclined to but I don’t know whether more money and term would have been enough so I won’t pretend to.
Then, in true Shero fashion, out of nowhere he lands a legit top 6 winger in Marcus Johannson from the cap-strapped Capitals team in exchange for just a 2nd and a 3rd round selection in 2018. I love this deal because 2nd and 3rd round picks are far from guarantees to even become NHLers at all, let alone good ones. Furthermore, I tweeted that he is already the 3rd best in the team in Goals Above Replacement, and he is probably the second best playmaker on the team beside Taylor Hall. The sum total of Shero’s big offseason moves has been a 2015 2nd rounder (Ryan Gropp), 2016 3rd rounder (Rem Pitlick), a 2018 2nd rounder, 2018 3rd rounder, and Adam Larsson ... all for Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall, and Marcus Johansson. I’ve been ragging on Shero a bit this offseason, but that’s how you build a franchise. Now, Shero sounds like he’s using him in his natural spot on the left. So while I love the trade from a value standpoint, I can’t help but notice that we are back at square one with draft picks (we only have our original 7 every year), and yet we still haven’t solved either of our roster deficiencies (RW or D).
The Kovy Affair
Where Is the Rebuild Clock
This is my idea of the teardown clock.
12 AM: Metaphor Man is sleeping — blissfully ignorant of the work to be done. Roster is full with aging and/or overpaid players and the prospect pool is barren.
6 AM: Metaphor Man wakes up ... now aware of his situation. Having recognized reality, we begin the teardown, buys out bad contracts, sell any rental players for draft picks and/or young talent.
9 AM: Metaphor Man arrives at work. The things that you actually need skill for begin. A draft class or two of prospects is added and current prospects start to get evaluated. tear down of old players continues.
Noon: Metaphor Man is in the meat of his day, maybe sitting down to lunch to celebrate the halfway point. Old roster and bad contracts are now completely torn down, some evaluation of existing and new young talent has taken place and we have officially know our direction.
3 PM: Metaphor Man is winding down his work day. We are carrying out the view of the team we want to become by finally adding one or two core members of the team and cementing those already present. We have little to no evaluation of existing players left and the prospect pool is filling back up — probably back to league average.
6 PM: Metaphor Man is done at work, and is settling into his dinner where he gets his meat and potatoes (I’m mixing idioms with metaphors). Some top end talent has been acquired, a competent NHL team can be put on the ice and we are back to respectability. Prospect pool was replenished, they just need time to develop. There are still some roster deficiencies though that need to be addressed long term.
9 PM: Metaphor Man has finished all professional and leisurely activity and has just his nightly ablutions to complete. Systemic roster holes are plugged up via either development or transaction, prospects are flush, and only complementary pieces for contention need to be added.
12 AM: Metaphor Man is back to sleep, and in his dreams he hears “We Want the Cup! We Want the Cup!”
I would say that the Devils’ Metaphor Man is putting the finishing touches on at work. The dregs of the rebuild are mostly complete. Bleacher Report ranked us as the 3rd best prospect pool in the league, the core members for the future of our forward crop seem to be established, we have cap space for days, we still have all our draft picks (though no extra ones anymore). We now just need to figure out how to get core top 4 defenders out of that. And so for that reason, I put the Devils at 4 PM on the rebuild clock.
Commentary on Shero’s Management
There are a few things that I’ve noticed myself saying a lot over this offseason. One of them is “I like the value, but ...” This applied to the draft mostly to the draft and the Mojo trade. We are getting good value considering the assets, but that value is all focused on forwards, mostly enters. The other thing I find myself saying is something along the lines of “it sucks, but I’m not sure it’s Shero’s fault.” This applies to the lack of moves in the expansion and entry drafts, to Shattenkirk, and to the Kovy Affair. Shero couldn’t know that Vegas would make trades with a third of the league and every potential trade partner. But it’s possibly he could have been more aggressive, creative. Shero couldn’t change the hometown discount Shattenkirk gave the Rags, but he probably could have offered more. Shero seemed to have some trades in place for Kovy, but he couldn’t make Kovy take them and he shouldn’t give him to a rival for cents on the dollar if that’s what was available.
So the “good value, but ... “ and “it sucks, but it’s not Shero’s fault” add together to me to unveil a very important truth about rebuilding the Devils that Shero has known the entire time. UFAs will seldom if ever pick the Devils. We have to create our core by drafting well, trading for talent, and re-signing when possible. The moves that some teams can afford to do in UFA periods, we will need to replicate with extra trades (See: Mojo, Palms, Hall). The necessity for additional flexibility in this trade-dependent rebuild is why Shero is getting the best possible value rather than plugging holes and it is why he’s keeping cap space open even though he isn’t signing big UFAs. This vision for the rebuild was supported to me by Shero telling Gross that he may use forwards to acquire D-men. Much like the other Harris and Blitzer franchise (the 76ers) this rebuild is using asset management. And so, while I’ve been hot and cold on individual moves from Shero this offseason, they seem mostly, if not completely, justifiable through the lens of this method of rebuild.
And so, dare I say it, #TrustTheProcess.
Where do you think we are on the rebuild clock? Do you #TrustTheProcess? What have you liked and disliked about this offseason so far? Is there anything you still expect to happen before the season starts? Do you think my take on any of these events was wrong?