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Let’s Re-Do the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils in EHM Bonus: The Sherman Abrams Approach

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In this bonus part of the Let’s Re-Do the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils season in Eastside Hockey Manager series, Sherman Abrams goes back in time to the trade deadline to be a seller instead of a buyer. Does he succeed at making the team bad enough to fall out of the postseason?

Sherman Abrams cares little about the fans’ reaction.
Sherman Abrams cares little about the fans’ reaction.

After twelve posts and several weeks, we have managed to see the New Jersey Devils win the Stanley Cup in a game of Eastside Hockey Manager. Yes, it is a hockey management simulation game. Yes, I meant “we” as I have taken suggestions and feedback from the People Who Matter - readers like you. With the confirmation that the New Jersey Devils will not be returning to play until the 2020-21 season in real life, we might as well keep ourselves entertained in anyway. Originally, winning it all was not the plan but it was supposed to be the end. However, the fictional general manager Sherman Abrams had something he wanted to share.

That’s right, Fischer. I talked to a wizard to make this right.

A wizard. Does this wizard have a name?

Ray Whitney.

He is a former professional player who had the nickname of “The Wizard.” He is not an actual wizard.

He is totally a wizard. After retiring, he gained the powers to re-do events that already happened provided that it fit a convenient narrative and the requester was pure of heart and mind.

Convenient is a good term for this. And how are you pure of heart and mind?

Fischer, I’m named after tanks. I tell you what results are good or bad based on lottery odds. I am the unspoken influence of every hockey fan that prefers selling current success for future potential. I am not about winning. I am about falling apart. And when Taylor Hall would not agree to a new contact back in January, there were People Who Matter that wanted him gone. You wouldn’t let me. Wizard Ray would. He sent me back to February 18, 2020.

Uh-huh. After Part 6. Did he do it with a pass from behind the net?

Don’t mock me. Let me spell out for you what I did. First, I scratched Hall, Vatanen, and Simmonds because I did not want them getting hurt before the trade deadline.

So you were going to deal those three.

Don’t jump ahead. Second, I decided to stop setting the lineup and making adjustments except for goalies. John Hynes is the head coach. You can let him decide who dresses and who plays where in the lineup. I am not a head coach. I am Sherman Abrams. Besides, this person said Hynes was smart in real life.

Abrams’ justification for letting Hynes set the roster and lines in EHM
Abrams’ justification for letting Hynes set the roster and lines in EHM

You dare question Rachel Doerrie?

Oh, no, never. She must be doing really well for whatever NHL team for she is working for now doing something I suppose.

Shh. Anyway, Hynes came up with this brilliant lineup:

The Hynes’ lines pre-deadline
The Hynes’ lines pre-deadline

This. This is terrible. Jack Hughes is a fourth liner? He had nearly 70 points and he’s relegated to the fourth line? Also, he left in Simmonds.

You’re just a dumb blogger. The genius of John Hynes wills this. And I took out Simmonds so Noel Acciari could takehis minutes. Anyway, the Devils lost 4-6 to San Jose. Rooney and Acciari scared me with goals but the Devils faltered as they should. Grand. But another move was needed. Jake Oettinger is young with potential. He could win games. I needed some more veteran presence in net. I sent him down to Binghamton and called up Cory Schneider. Their final game before the deadline against Washington saw Carlson fire in a slapshot past Schneider with six seconds left in regulation for a 3-4 loss. No points earned means no problems.

I am cringing, Abrams.

Get ready for the deals. The deadline was next. Check out THESE moves.

Abrams’ first move.
Abrams’ first move.

You traded the team’s leading producer on defense and their best right-sided defenseman in Sami Vatanen and useful right winger Blake Coleman to Colorado. For what would be a low first round pick and a third rounder in 2021. And J.T. Compher’s contract.

Vatanen was going to ask for a king’s ransom and Coleman is past his prime at age 28. Colorado was not interested in the recently-scratched Vatanen but they wanted Coleman so they listened to me. I took back Compher to make the money work. Here’s the next one.

Abrams’ second move
Abrams’ second move

You had Ray Whitney send you back in time to move Bratt to Arizona again? With useful bottom-six right winger and PP specialist Wayne Simmonds? A man who scored some huge goals in the playoff run? All for Michael Grabner, Attu Räty’s older brother, and their first rounder? Do you not remember Grabner in 2018? Were you trying to make the fanbase outraged? And don’t tell me you were trying to get a certain L.A. King that everyone here would hate you for getting?

That trade was rejected, don’t worry your ugly little head about it. I do remember Grabner in 2018 and moving a fan favorite and a young guy Arizona wanted would help bring the lack of scoring back to New Jersey. As for the fans, they raged about the Phil Kessel deal. So the fans can go whine about it with their impotent rage.

The board hated those deals, too. They are decidedly not impotent.

Whatever, I made two more deals before the big one. I moved Patrick Moynihan and Colorado’s third in 2021 and Boston’s fourth in 2020 for Alex Vlasic. Everyone loves big defensemen.

So the Vatanen & Coleman deal was for Compher and a first then.

Kevin Rooney played out of his mind against San Jose. I feared he would get hot, so I dumped him onto Florida with Mitchell Hoelscher and the fourth rounder in 2020 for Colton Sceviour and Colorado’s third in 2020.

Rooney is not a good player and you know this. Not that Hoelscher and a fourth is a lot but you effectively added salary for a marginal player from a bad Florida team to, what, get a low third rounder in 2020? Abrams, this is not good.

Don’t you trade-shame me. Here’s the big one.

Oh no.

Abrams’ fifth move; third major move of the day.
Abrams’ fifth move; third major move of the day.

You actually did it. You moved Taylor Hall.

Yes.

To Vancouver.

Yes.

With a first rounder, two prospects in Yegor Zaitsev and Graeme Clarke.

Yes. Colorado’s first rounder, not New Jersey’s.

For their 2021 first rounder.

They did not have a first in 2020.

So Vatanen and Coleman was essentially for Compher. Grand. Back to this deal, the return was a lesser winger in Michael Ferland, Vancouver’s first rounder in 2021 - which could be lower than it would be in 2020 since Vancouver is not a playoff team in this league, and one of their top prospects but not necessarily their best prospect.

Yes.

Abrams, you’re an idiot. This is only a game and yet I’m actually irked by this.

It’s short term pain to help this team fall further in the standings, get into the lottery, and get a hot prospect that could be a force on the ice for the future.

You dealt Hall, Vatanen, Coleman, Bratt, Simmonds, Rooney, and a bunch of prospects in the hopes of getting a young player through the draft who could be as good or better as those players the Devils already had. You received a some picks back and a bunch of dudes who are worse than who you have traded away.

There’s one more move.

Oh?

Abrams’ sixth and final move of the deadline.
Abrams’ sixth and final move of the deadline.

You flipped Nick Holden to Nashville to bring back Steve Santini and a prospect goaltender who is not that good.

All you analytics and stats people claim goalies are voodoo. So who cares? It’s a dart to throw. And who wouldn’t want to see young Santini on the same blueline as P.K. Subban? He can throw HITS.

He cannot do much else. And goalies aren’t voodoo. It is not really fair to discount current work with goalten-

Quiet you. I’m Sherman Abrams. I kept it real for a change. I wanted this team to crash out of the top eight. And I think I’ve done that quite well with these moves. My last move, internally, was to have Hynes change the tactics to stop being so offensive. Normal rates for every line. Can’t have these guys score too many goals. I’ve sold players. I got two firsts for the Devils in 2020 and some other things. The future is ON.

Uh, Sherman, did you see how the season actually turned out?

No. I made all of those moves on and off the team, left it to Hynes, and assumed I succeeded.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Why are you laughing?

The Devils still made the playoffs.

WHAT?

They made the playoffs! You didn’t win! You failed at making them fail!

HOW CAN THIS BE?

Let me break it all down for you. First, the road trip after the deadline did show the team struggle. They shut-out Detroit 3-0 and then fell 0-2 at San Jose, 4-5 at Los Angeles in OT (yes, the worst team in the NHL), and 2-4 at Anaheim. But they did beat Las Vegas 4-1 to end the trip. They also returned home to win 3-2 in OT over St. Louis. So that’s a 3-2-1 stretch right there. After then, there was a big swoon. They fell 3-4 to Our Hated Rivals, got blanked by Pittsburgh 0-3 (the board hated this game, but the way), they were pasted 2-5 by Carolina, they were edged in OT by Florida (Rooney assisted on the game winning goal in OT), and Schneider went from an ‘8’ performance after the first period to ending the game as a ‘3’ as Hynes let him hang out to dry in a 1-6 loss at Tampa Bay. Amid those five losses, the only team making any kind of ground was Toronto. They kicked the snot out of the Devils in a 2-5 loss. That four-point swing put them within five points.

However, the problem with tanking from a favorable position is that it takes more than your team losing to do that. The other teams behind them must also win games too. Toronto (and Philly and Carolina) often faltered when the Devils did. Of course, the six-game losing streak ended against Calgary with a 4-3 OT win and Blackwood played out of his mind in a 1-0 win over the Isles. Meanwhile, Toronto lost at around that time so the gap widened. The Devils did indeed crash. They lost 2-4 to Columbus; they did blank Minnesota 2-0 for a respite; and then dropped their last five games of the season. 3-4 to Philly in OT, 2-4 to Carolina, 1-4 to Pittsburgh, 2-5 to Buffalo, and 2-4 to the Isles. During that week, the Devils clinched a playoff spot because Toronto just could not close the gap quickly enough. Philadelphia and Carolina, despite wins over the Devils in March, were too far back. Ditto for Florida and Boston. This picture is from later in the year, but here are the final standings.

Final standings in the East
Final standings in the East

Despite the bad moves you made to be a “seller” at the deadline, the Devils were in too good of a position to fall down very far in the standings. They were a woeful 6-14-3 since Ray Whitney sent you back to February 18 and they still finished three points ahead of Toronto. That run included two three-game winless streaks, a six-game winless streak, and a five-game winless streak to close out the season. If you wanted this team to be in the lottery, then you needed to have them fail a lot earlier than mid-February. Besides, shouldn’t you know that, oh, wise tank commander.

I can’t believe this.

I’ll say this. Arizona did not make the playoffs, so their first rounder is in the lottery. Of course, with the way EHM is set up, I had to see what happened with the playoffs first since the lottery takes place right before the draft in the game.

They won a round right? Don’t tell me they’re in purgatory.

Nope. The Devils played Our Hated Rivals in the first round. They lost in a five-game series. Schneider never saw a game and the opponents loved lighting up Blackwood against a punchless Devils offense that could have used someone like Hall, Vatanen, and Coleman and, to a lesser extent, Bratt and Simmonds to faciltate things going forward. Grabner, Ferland, and Compher were not good enough. Neither was Santini and neither was Hynes consistent insistence on playing Acciari. Hughes was stuck on a bad line. Hischier and Palmieri could only do so much. Is this team in purgatory? Absolutely. You made the team worse in the short term and the long term and not only did they actually make the playoffs, they failed so they are going to be picking 16th overall. Sure, a lottery finish would likely have them in 14th but its still a downgrade. Winning a round would push them back further but it would also mean the team may not be as crummy as it seemed after your dealings.

Oddly enough, the board was “generally satisfied” with you despite hating half of your trades and being particularly unhappy with a couple of those losses (e.g. the 0-3 loss to Pittsburgh and the 1-6 loss to Tampa Bay). Would you like to know what else happened?

Fine, whatever, just get on with it.

The moves you made in this Ray Whitney-created situation led to a butterfly effect you caused led to an Anaheim-Buffalo final where Anaheim won their second Stanley Cup ever in a five-game series. John Gibson was the Conn Smythe winner for putting up a 95% save percentage in the entire postseason.

The playoff tree for this bonus episode
The playoff tree for this bonus episode

Interestingly enough, with the backing of Oettinger in the net, Binghamton barely made the playoffs. They proceeded to make a lot of noise. Binghamton swept the Toronto Marlies in the best-of-five first round, 3-0. They swept the Laval Rocket to take the North Division postseason crown. Alas, they fell to the Charlotte Checkers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Something tells me you do not care about the AHL.

I do not.

You know all of those awards the Devils won? They won none of them. Hughes still finished as a top scorer in the NHL and among rookies with 26 goals and 49 assists for 75 points. The intellectual giant that is John Hynes kept his minutes minimal for reasons unknown. The powers that be gave the Calder to Cale Makar. Hughes came in second. He also came in third for the Lady Byng. That was it. Nathan MacKinnon took the Art Ross and the Ted Lindsay; Six Seconds John Carlson won the Norris; Ryan O’Reilly won the Frank Selke; Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina; you were not the GM of the year or a finalist, that award went to Bob Murray; super-smart John Hynes didn’t win the Jack Adams, that went to Dallas Eakins; and the Hart went to Ratanen and somehow the other two finalists were his linemates in Colorado.

Ha! At least Hall won nothing.

Neither did you!

I still have that draft lottery. Arizona’s pick will make it happen.

You didn’t win that either!

Where New Jersey’s first round picks ended up in the lottery
Where New Jersey’s first round picks ended up in the lottery

The lottery winners were Columbus, Ottawa, and Florida. Two of those teams were not going to be caught by the Devils even if they lost all of their remaining were not going to catch even if they lost their last 23 games. Since both fourth rounders were dealt, they had the same number of picks for this draft than they did before your wheeling and dealing. I will give you credit, an extra first rounder and a third rounder is better than two fourths. But that is far as I could go. You effectively put the team into purgatory where they were good enough to be a playoff team, not good enough to compete in said playoffs, and so they do not get prime drafting positions to make the team better. Which is a big deal since you moved the team’s top scorer and best player, their top defenseman, a young winger with real upside, and two hardworking wingers who scored quite a few goals and played on special teams. Those replacements are not on this roster after your deals unless you firmly believe in the prospect pool or you hit big at the draft.

Whatever. The People Who Matter wanted to see a sell-job and I gave them one. OK, so this did not end the way I wanted it to, but they are set up for future seasons finishing in the lottery. I will continue to be relevant. I will continue to be amid the fanbase and the organization. I am Sherman Abrams. Besides, you couldn’t have re-signed Hall after the playoffs anyway.

Maybe not. But by keeping Hall as well as Coleman, Simmonds, and Vatanen, the Devils won a Cup. He may not want to stay, but so what? Expectations were more than surpassed and the ultimate prize was achieved. The banner declaring 2020 Stanley Cup Champions is going to hang as long as the franchise is around. It stinks that he wants to move on, but in the timeline where you did not trade him - and were a buyer at the deadline - the team achieved the championship every other contending team is seeking. The teams that are tanking and hoping the lottery balls bounce their way want to be one of those teams in the future. You did it in one. And you did it with the People Who Matter. Sure, some wanted to see you sell. And that was a fair request. But the People Who Matter not only didn’t complain about the success; they appreciated it. And Ray Whitney surely knew about that since, well, he’s the Wizard. Maybe he wanted to show you that selling off was not going to lead to your desired result.

(Grumble)

What was that?

I said you’re right. I hate saying that. Whatever, can I go back to the real world and start extolling the joys of not winning the Qualifying Round to eight other teams?

Sure. You’re free to go. I’d avoid Carolina, though.

Why?

Eh, you know what, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Go to Carolina. I’m sure they’ll greet you with open arms.

To Raleigh!


That concludes the bonus part of the Let’s Re-Do the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils in EHM series. Thank you to luozhen for the request. It was fun to write creatively to go over what happened had Abrams sold pending UFAs (except Andy Greene given his no trade clause and Martin Hanzal given his back spasms) for whatever he could get in terms of picks, players to return to make the money work (EHM teams really get particular about that), and prospects. I was surprised that the Devils still backed into the postseason. I was also disappointed that they lost in five to Our Hated Rivals. Still, this was a what-if within a simulation game to pass the time. It was a good bonus post. Now this will be the final part of this series. On Sunday, I will reveal the first of the EHM Experiments. Thank you to everyone who read this series so far. I hope you will continue to read as we try out some things in EHM that we really cannot do in real life.