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A Decade of Necessary Changes Part 6: The 2014-15 New Jersey Devils

The 2010s are ending and so will end a decade of New Jersey Devils hockey where past glories ended and difficult necessary changes were to be made. This part summarizes the 2014-15 season: where the team bottomed out and the biggest offseason of the decade took place that required many of the necessary changes made in the 2010s.

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
Left: The Legend, who would be gone in a little less than a month from this photo. Right: The one to follow the Legend and would have to rebuild the team after him.
Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2010s will end on January 1, 2020. It was a tumultuous ten years for the New Jersey Devils franchise. Big trades, a player controversy, and massive changes in ownership, management, coaches, and players surround seasons where the Devils fell from past glories. It is not a decade that will be fondly remembered with some exceptions. It is a decade that forced the Devils to make some difficult, messy, and necessary changes. And as this decade closes, we can only hope that the changes that continue to be made will lead the Devils back to making the playoffs regularly, challenging for Stanley Cups, and perhaps being the model franchise for others once again. Before it ends, let us look back one more time at the 2010s with a now daily series of posts summarizing each of the previous ten seasons up to New Year’s Day.

In the sixth part of this series, this post will summarize the 2014-15 season. This would be the end of the most successful and meaningful era of the New Jersey Devils franchise. After many playoff appearances, several division titles, five Stanley Cup Finals appearances, plenty of legendary players, and three Stanley Cups, this would be the final season for General Manager Lou Lamoriello. It would also be the final season for Peter DeBoer and the start of a re-build that is arguably still a work in process today.

This is meant to be an overview of that season and the resulting offseason. I hope to capture all of the major events. And if you feel there were things I missed or there was someone or something that you really liked (or disliked) that should have been highlighted, then feel free to share it in the comments.


The 2014-15 Season

The Record: 32-36-14, 78 points, Seventh in the Metropolitan Division (Source: Hockey-Reference)

The Head Coach: Peter DeBoer until December 26, 2014; Adam Oates, and Scott Stevens as interim co-head coaches for the remainder of the season.

The Team Captain: Bryce Salvador

The Top Scorer: Adam Henrique - 16 goals, 27 assists, 127 shots, 43 points

The ILWT Season Preview: This was the first season where we expanded the season preview to a 7-part series with separate posts for the power play and penalty kill as well as a new post about the coaches and their tactics. Also, some further changes behind the scenes at SB Nation allowed me to put multiple people on a byline (and included Mike twice) so that was a first too. Here is the link to our predictions before the 2014-15 season which included links to the other six parts.

The Biggest In-Season Moves: Firing Peter DeBoer after Christmas and replacing him with Oates and Stevens as co-coaches was big. It was also met with some derision as Oates was let go from Washington back in April 2014 and Stevens stepped away from the bench due in part because did not want to travel. Also: who has co-coaches instead of a single head coach - even on an interim basis? DeBoer was the boss behind the bench for the team’s last major success - the 2012 Stanley Cup run - but with two straight playoff misses and the season all but lost by December (DeBoer went 12-17-7 in the season), a change was necessary. His continuation of the Lemaire-style of hockey where the Devils were awesome in terms of allowing attempts, shots, and so forth and would just edge them in offense was not effective. The defensive rates did not become bad but they were not excellent to make up for terribly ineffective offensive rates. The game was changing and the Devils did not adjust in the right way. It is something to think about today if/when you look back at the first half of this decade and wonder why the Devils cannot maintain rates like those.

In terms of players (and to match what was picked in the site’s 2014-15 awards, Jaromir Jagr being dealt away ahead of the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline would be the biggest among player-related moves. The Devils sent Jagr to Florida for their second round pick in 2015 and a conditional third round pick in 2016. Not only was it the better return out of the two in-season trades the Devils made (the other was Marek Zidlicky for a pick), these picks would be valuable for an important offseason deal made later 2015. A close runner-up would be the Devils signing Scott Gomez in December. Gomez played in 58 games for the Devils, put up 34 points, and received cheers from the Devils fans. Not bad for his penultimate NHL season; a career that went full circle. He was a pleasant surprise in a dismal season.

Playoffs?: No. The Devils were much further away from the wild card spots than they were last season. New Jersey missed the playoffs by twenty points. Yes, twenty. 20. That is more points than how many points they missed by in the past two seasons combined. Amazingly, there was a Carolina team that finished below them in the East. With the big deficit in points, the Devils would be heading back to a top ten pick in the draft.

The Months in Review: Here is a link to each of the Months in Review for the season - which includes the Devil of the Month (DotM).

As with 2013-14, I removed the honorable mentions as I thought it took away some of the shine from the Devil of the Month. I changed my mind later. It was less clear as who would be a runner-up to Devil of the Month, so these just list who won the actual Devil of the Month.

The Player Awards by the Blog: We were still ILWT back then - In Lou We Trust - and it was a group effort between all of the writers put together before the very end of the season. It was a bad season to the point where Lou said there were no team awards internally for 2014-15. I understood, but we did it for the site anyway. Here were our choices for the player awards for this season:

  • MVP: Cory Schneider
  • Best Defenseman: Andy Greene
  • Best Goaltender: Cory Schneider
  • Best Rookie: N/A (We didn’t officially name one but this should have been Damon Severson in retrospect. Gerard mentioned it as a superlative. Oops.)
  • Best Defensive Forward: Travis Zajac
  • Best Offensive Forward: Mike Cammalleri
  • The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Adam Henrique

The 2014-15 Season Stats: This is similar to the charts in the By the Numbers sections in the current month in reviews. For this series, I put 5-on-5 stats, expected goals for 5-on-5 and all situations, power play, and penalty kill stats all in one chart. Rankings in green were top ten in the league in 2010-11; red is for stats in the bottom ten. The stats mainly come from Natural Stat Trick with special teams stats being pulled from NHL.com.

2014-15 New Jersey Devils Stats and NHL Ranks
2014-15 New Jersey Devils Stats and NHL Ranks
Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

2019 Thoughts About the 2014-15 Season: In writing the previous two parts of this series, I started to realize how the Devils’ fall in 2014-15 to have a truly lost season for the first time since 2011-12 was not so sudden. The Devils did not miss the playoffs by a lot but there were some key similarities. The Devils’ offense was still weak relative to the rest of the league in terms of generating anything. Even when the power play looked good, it was a function of shooting the puck well and having plenty of opportunities as opposed to generating a lot of shots or scoring chances or even attempts. suffered. For the Devils to make this work, they needed an awesome defensive effort and good enough goaltending. The goaltending in 2014-15 was great. Lou saw the goaltending issues in 2013 and obtained Schneider. With Brodeur gone after 2013-14, Schneider became the undisputed #1 and showed why he should have been right away in 2013-14. While that was solved, the defensive effort was no longer awesome to make up for the offense. No longer did the Devils allow fewer than what little they created and it hurt them over the course of the season. As a result, despite the goaltending being quite good, the Devils ended up with their worst record than even the 2010-11 campaign. Even today, I wish #Goals4Cory actually came true to support his great season.

What was a surprise was some other aspects of the season. This was two seasons after Kovalchuk quit and three seasons after Parise walked. Yet, the production levels dropped big-time to a point where Henrique led the team with just 43 points. Jagr was wonderful in 2013-14 but relying on a man in his 40s to repeat it turned out to not be a good bet - and it was not. Getting 34 points out of both a 38-year old Elias and a returning 35-year old Gomez, who was signed in December, were pleasant surprises. But it was not enough. The Devils were severely lacking in scoring talent. They certainly did not have it in their prospect pipeline either. Even the penalty kill was not as strong as with past seasons; the underlying numbers were more mediocre instead of astounding. For as much stick that Schneider gets from some fans for being too good, he was one of the few on the team that actually was. The Devils’ offensive woes were in place at the beginning of the season but they stood out more and more since 2011-12. Looking back now, it is a big reason why they missed the postseason by 20 points.

Of course, the bench cannot be ignored. Peter DeBoer’s ways were not working anymore and with all of the losses, few were unhappy to see him go on Boxing Day in 2014. The announcement of Oates and Stevens as co-coaches were head scratchers. Stevens was an assistant who walked away becuase he did not want to travel but now he is here. Oates was hired to be Washington’s head coach and was let go in April so he was available for this experiment. While the team put up a better record under them, the 5-on-5 and special teams stats were still quite underwhelming. They were interim head coaches for a team that need more significant changes.

This was not a fun season to watch at the time. I do not disagree with that assertion. Sure, being able to see Gomez get some redemption (forgiveness?) from the fans and be properly appreciated once again was a good touch. Seeing Elias and Jagr in the twilight of their career was a bonus of sorts. Seeing Schneider be stupendous was fun of itself. But it made me sad to see him not get the support he deserved. The 2013-14 team was frustrating because they lost so many winnable games and shootouts. The 2014-15 team was bad. Bad enough that, in retrospect, a more significant change was justified than just changing coaches.

The 2015 Offseason

In my opinion, this was the biggest offseason of the decade for the Devils. 2013’s offseason comes pretty close, but the events of this one were gigantic in its magnitude.

Woah. I thought 2013 was a lot. I thought recapping Kovalchuk Drama Part 1 was a lot. While owners control everything, Lou stepping back and then leaving led to a lot of change. This offseason may as well represent what this decade is about for this franchise. Dan Rozel suggested the name of this series to be A Decade of Necessary Changes prior to recording an episode of Garden State of Hockey. This offseason alone justifies it. A new GM was named by Lou and he left months later. Shero named a new head coach, two new assistants, a new assistant GM, new Director of Amateur Scouting, a new development coach, new scouts, and oversaw a lot player changes including two retirements. Zacha received an ELC with bonuses. Shero sought out free agents from Europe and tryouts to find players to fill in spots while rebuilding the team. A new captain had to be named and it was done right before the season. What is almost as suprising is that so many of these people are still in the organization today. Other than Hynes and Ward, of course.

The odd thing is what unlike Kovalchuk’s retirement, I felt no ill will for Lou going to Toronto. Based on the direction of the team in the first half of this decade, I cannot say it was not a justifiable decision. I do not think it would be controversial to type that Lou’s time has passed as did some other longtime members. Changes were, well, necessary. They were made. So am I salty about it? No. Why? Maybe the fact that Shero was made GM a couple of months before Lou left made it so. Maybe the fact that Lou gave me and thousands of Devils fans all over the world a Devils team to be fans of and proud of their individual and team successes for over two decades - a couple of bad years and a poor end does not erase that. Maybe I just have a lot of respect for a man who built an organization and gave it its own identity, even if it was out of step with the world it was its own identity. I could go on but instead I’ll continue with this post. The fall of a longtime leader is rarely smooth. And Shero was left with little in the pipeline and a lot to replace. But, again, I do not begrudge Lou. Maybe someone who was a fan before 1987 or became a fan after 2012 would not feel so strongly. I still want a statue of Lamoriello to be put up outside the arena.

The 2015 NHL Draft: The first day of the draft had two actions made by the Devils. The first was the Devils selecting Pavel Zacha at sixth overall. While Shero was new, David Conte was still a major part of the team’s scouting and drafting. Zacha was projected to be a top-ten pick player by many. However, it is hard to look at this pick and not cringe knowing that Zach Werenski, Ivan Provorov, Timo Meier, and Mikko Ratanen went right after him. And that Mat Barzal was available and slipped all the way to 16th. The harsher reality is that Zacha would be one of the team’s better picks of the last ten seasons. Only Adam Larsson turned out to be a better player among past first rounders. That says more about the Devils’ drafting up to and including 2015 than the Zacha pick itself. Zacha is at least still in the NHL, he’s been more useful this season, and he could still develop a bit more (please learn to be more aggressive and take more initiative on the puck).

The second action was a major trade that more fans liked. The Devils gave Anaheim what was original Florida’s second round pick in 2015 and a conditional third round pick in 2016 for Kyle Palmieri. The picks the Devils acquired in the Jagr trade were used to acquire The Pride of Montvale, New Jersey. Anaheim was unsure if they could keep him long term and the Devils were able to pick up the scoring right winger. This would be Shero’s first trade as Devils GM and it would be a successful one.

With those two actions out of the way, the second day was more about the picks. There was another trade: New Jersey sending their second rounder to Ottawa for Dallas’ second rounder in 2015 and a fourth rounder in 2016. This second round pick would be used on goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. The Devils only had three more picks on the second day: Blake Speers, Colton White, and Brett Seney. In my initial review, I thought it was a decent class overshadowed by a goaltender selected in the second round. I am currently being proven wrong by Blackwood’s performance this season. He may end up being the leader of the class along with Zacha. Seney got a long look in 2018-19 and could still be a NHL-caliber fourth liner either with New Jersey or elsewhere. Plus, the Devils did get Palmieri that weekend, which made it a more successful venture and he has been and continues to be a core part of the team’s offense and their best right winger. While it was a small class, it is already better than 2014’s draft class and others before then.

Site Notes and Etc.

With Lou announcing Shero as GM, the question was asked: Would the site’s name change. My answer on May 8: Status quo. Or, no, it was not going to change. On July 23, Lou’s sudden announcement of resigning as President of the Devils and becoming GM of Toronto blew up my phone, emails, and messages all stating the site’s name needed to change. I agreed.

I hastily got to work with Travis Hughes, then SBN NHL manager, and Tyler Bleszinski, SBN leader and Devils fan (Fun fact: Tyler once told me that if he didn’t start Athletics Nation, he was going to do a Devils blog. If that happened, it would have been fantastic like AN but it would also mean ILWT never would have been here.) to come up with new names. In the meantime, I confirmed in the evening of July 23 that, yes, the site’s name would change. The three of us settled on three choices and we got to work to secure domains and handles and such. On August 9, I presented to you, the People Who Matter, to decide which of the three we would go with. All About the Jersey won in a landslide. I formally announced this name and new writers for the site August 17. Work began to rebrand the blog as you know it today. On September 15, I wrote what is effectively a mission statement for the blog to go with the changes being made official. I still believe in it today.

I also expanded the writing roster to fill in some other needs. I wanted a fantasy hockey writer because I thought it was a niche worth filling. I also wanted two people to be available to post about Devils news closer to when it was reported so readers could react to it more quickly and we could have something up sooner. I also wanted two more people to post about moments in games such as important goals and plays to draw more attention. All volunteers but for more specific roles than a regular writing position. I went to the community and found those people. Matt Mowrer took care of fantasy hockey for a bit. Steve Wozniak (no, not the Steve Wozniak) and Christopher Moxley took care of news for some time. The moments were handled by Shane Kinsley and Nicholas D’Alessio. While these roles did not work out as well as intended, it was of no fault of any of these five. I thank them all for the work they did put in on the site and offering to help the site try to do more when the call was put out for more help.

A Short Preview of Part 7, the 2015-16 Devils: Hey, that was not as bad as I thought. Maybe this rebuild will not be so bad or even long?


Thank you for reading. Part 7 will be up tomorrow as the series continues.