Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger came through with a couple very important nuggets of news for Devils fans today.
Devils have begun talks with David Clarkson. There have been no financial discussions at this point.— Rich Chere (@Ledger_NJDevils) May 15, 2013
Devils have not yet begun talks with Patrik Elias. Like David Clarkson, he can become an unrestricted free agent.— Rich Chere (@Ledger_NJDevils) May 15, 2013
Well this is certainly good, if not entirely expected news. I wouldn’t read too much into no Elias talks yet, although it does tell me that perhaps Lou Lamoriello has prioritized Clarkson, which would make sense for a few reasons. One, Elias’ value on the open market is pretty much well known. He’ll likely get a two-year deal worth between $9-12 million, but Clarkson’s value could spike if he’s allowed to talk to other teams. Of course, Clarkson and his reps understand that and I highly doubt Clarkson will sign before getting a chance to at least test free agency. This sounds to me like Lou testing out the waters and getting a sense of what Clarkson’s people are looking for in average annual value so that Lou can slot in whether the Devils will even be a player in talks. I’m on record as saying I think eventually a deal gets done unless Clarkson is truly looking for the biggest contract possible, in which case he’ll likely end up in Toronto or Edmonton. My guess is that this will play out a lot like the Zach Parise negotiations from last year, with Clarkson hitting free agency the Devils staying in it until the end. Whether Clarkson returns to New Jersey is likely up to him.
While the Devils lost 10 straight and careened out of the playoff chase, there were some who wondered whether general manager Lou Lamoriello would pull the plug on coach Pete DeBoer during or after the season. On breakup day Monday, Lamoriello put those questions to rest.
Pete DeBoer will definitely be back as head coach of the Devils next season, general manager Lou Lamoriello said today.
“I’ll put it to rest. The season is over now,” Lamoriello said. “I think getting involved in that stuff during the year and answering all those questions, I’m never going to answer one way of the other. We’re playing. But this coaching staff worked as hard as any coaching staff that I’ve had here.”
Lamoriello mentioned the “staff”, but would not commit to the entire staff being back next season.
“I don’t know what’s on the horizon for tomorrow,” Lamoriello said. “Everybody’s situation is individually different. Everybody has different contract situations, so I’m not going to sit here today is everything is A, B and C because I don’t have the answers to that right now.”
The biggest factor, though, was that Lamoriello thought the team continued to play hard for DeBoer even when it was struggling to win games down the stretch.
“That to me is the underlining factor of a lot of the things you do,” Lamoriello said. “If there’s a reason to do something and it’s going to make us better, it doesn’t matter who it is. This is not about liking people or not liking people. It’s great when you have both, which certainly Pete is that type you like and respect. But it’s about the bottom line and it’s about evaluating.”
Two words: No. Duh. There was absolutely no reason to fire DeBoer or to even considering firing him, mainly for the last quote from Lamoriello. The Devils (outside of the Rangers game Sunday) played for DeBoer to the bitter freakin’ end, which is a true sign that the coach still has the rapt attention of his locker room. Plus, DeBoer is a really good coach. Not many bench bosses could’ve gotten the Devils on the run they went on last year or fashioned together this year’s misfit talent collection and kept them in playoff contention despite injuries to Martin Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk. DeBoer ain’t goin’ nowhere — and that’s a very good thing.
The interesting thing for me is that quote from Lou about DeBoer’s staff. The Devils clearly didn’t take well to Matt Shaw’s power play, although I think part of that blame lies with the shortened season and lack of a training camp. Also, Scott Stevens’ defense wasn’t even close to what the group was last season. Now, obviously Stevens is Devils royalty and was operating with a flawed group of blueliners, but allow me to play conspiracy theorist for a minute. If the Devils weren’t enamored with how Stevens handled the D-men, they could always move him into a front office/organizational role to save face while bringing in a more experienced hand to replace what they lost in Larry Robinson. I’m not expecting it to happen. I’m just saying it could.
The Devils have to give up a first-round pick either this year or next as part of the NHL’s punishment for “circumventing the cap” with the original Ilya Kovalchuk deal. Would this year be the year?
Lamoriello confirms Devils will keep first round pick this year— Rich Chere (@Ledger_NJDevils) April 29, 2013
This should surprise absolutely nobody. For one, there’s no way the Devils were forfeiting their first-round pick the year they host the draft. Secondly, I’m sure the Devils think they can make the playoffs next season, so why give up a lottery pick now as opposed to a mid- to late-first rounder next year? Finally, thanks to the trades they’ve made this season, the Devils have really no choice but to keep their first rounder. Of course, this all could’ve been avoided if they’d forfeited their first rounder last year when it was the second-to-last pick in the round in a very weak draft. Hopefully, Stefan Matteau was totally worth it.
After Ilya Kovalchuk was seen wincing and flexing his shoulder Sunday, there were some questions as to whether Kovalchuk was healthy enough to play now that the Devils have been eliminated from the postseason. Lou Lamoriello put those questions to rest Monday.
GM Lou Lamoriello says Ilya Kovalchuk is healthy now and will play the Devils' remaining 3 games.— Rich Chere (@Ledger_NJDevils) April 22, 2013
I’ve said all I need to say about this. If he’s healthy, then play him. If he’s not, well, you know.
There’s going to be a multitude of reactions to tonight’s loss. Many will cite “puck luck” or the lack thereof. Others will claim a screwjob from the refs in the third period. Some will say Pete DeBoer isn’t doing his job and needs to go, if only to shake up the team. I’ll give you the first one. I may even listen to you on the second one, too. But this loss, like most of the last nine have not been the fault of one, Pete DeBoer. This loss, like this skid, is a combination of factors, but the blame resides largely on the ice. Some thoughts…
Car, meet wall: We talked about it in our pregame thread, the idea of a team struggling to score running into a very good goalie in Craig Anderson. We were concerned that if Anderson was on his game, it might not matter what the Devils did — and after 60 minutes it was pretty clear that Anderson was going to win tonight no matter what the Devils did. Although he got a little help from the iron maidens, he did plenty of work on his own. At times, Anderson used excellent positioning to give the Devils almost nowhere to shoot. The rest of the time he flung his legs or his glove or his blocker (or the butt end of his stick) into the Devils’ way (and faces). Flat out — Anderson was a damn beast tonight. He might have missed too much time with a sprained ankle to still be considered for the Vezina, but he put on the type of late-season performance tonight that usually rockets a goalie’s name to the top of the list. You know what tonight was? It was the Coyote vs. the Roadrunner. The Coyote painted the train tunnel on the rock, thinking it would fool the Roadrunner, who of course (through the miracle of dated animation) ran right through that tunnel. When the Coyote tried to follow, he either found himself flattened by a train or up against the rock. Craig Anderson was both the train and the rock tonight, sitting back and attacking and basically steamrolling a Devils team that basically gave everything it had and came up with nothing.
The last time the Devils were in the midst of a lengthy losing streak, Pat Pickens and I got together and debated whether the Devils were in real trouble. Pat was a little more optimistic than me, although we both saw a chance for redemption. Then Ilya Kovalchuk got hurt and the Devils went off the rails. With eight games left, Pat and I faced a simple questions: Will the Devils make the playoffs? What follows is a quick answer to that question followed by a debate over why it happened, how to fix it and whether Pete DeBoer should be part of the solution or on the chopping block.
If you can play better in a loss, I’d like to see it. OK, maybe if you scored some goals, but I’m not sure how much more the Devils could’ve done tonight. They dominated puck possession, neutralized the Bruins’ offense and put tons of pucks on net — all to come up with nothing. Even worse, with the way things are unfolding around the East, they’ve fallen out of the playoff picture for now. Not a good night, to say the least. Some thoughts…
Everything but the kitchen sink: The Devils did it all tonight. They threw pucks at the net, they deked the Bruins out of their jocks (Andy Greene says “Hi” Shawn Thornton) and they had Tuukka Rask running all around his crease. Yet, at the end of the day, it was a zero on the scoreboard. While I’ve spent countless posts here lamenting the Devils’ lack of a finisher, never was it more apparent than tonight. Say the Devils didn’t get “puck luck” and I’ll say you’re being naive. Tell me the Devils should’ve scored four times tonight and I’ll respond, “But they didn’t.” None of this is to say the Devils played poorly in the offensive end; it was quite the opposite. The Devils did so many things well tonight, reducing the Bruins (arguably the second-best team in the East) to nothing more than partners in an optional skate. But the one thing they didn’t do outweighs all the positive because this time of the year isn’t about “building.” Just like coffee, April is for closers, which is one thing the Devils have been woefully lacking since January 19. There’s no relying on Ilya Kovalchuk’s return. It’s not coming “anytime soon,” according to Pete DeBoer. That means “future Hall of Famer” Patrick Elias, “budding power forward” David Clarkson and promising young centers Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique need to start putting pucks into the net. Devils fans ask if this team can make a run like last season but tonight was 60 minutes worth of reasons why they might not even get the chance.
Perfect opportunity: The worst part of tonight’s loss was they wasted a wonderful performance by Marty Brodeur. No, he wasn’t tested a lot — the Bruins’ 26 shots felt more like 16 — but he was spectacular when he needed to be and solid when he didn’t. The Devils wasted a performance they’re not likely to get more than once or twice every few weeks. Brodeur’s sliding skate save in the final minutes of the third period somehow kept the puck out of the net, much like the right post did moments later. But that’s the thing about vintage Marty, when he’s on his game, so are the metal pipes surrounding him. The pipes seem to be more friend than foe when Brodeur is playing at a high level, giving Marty three extra appendages like some freakish hockey version of Doc Ock. Unfortunately, the only thing Marty gets for his stellar evening is a boost to his goals against average and save percentage, all while the one stat the Devils didn’t need continue to add up. The losses keep coming, whether Brodeur is on his game or off. That should be a terrifying thought for the Devils and their fans.
Looking up: The Devils are frustrated. You can see it by the repeating image of heads jerking back, eyes agape at yet another blown chance. When the Devils aren’t staring blankly from their bench, they’re pointing their gazes upwards, almost begging some higher power to reward their hard work. Except when you build a team that’s counting on fourth-line wingers to play third-line minutes and asking a second-year player to go from ROTY candidate to All-Star, all while hoping that an out-of-nowhere 30-goal season somehow repeats itself — well, you get the 2013 Devils. They score four goals when everything seems to be clicking, until the Lightning score in the final seconds and it all goes to shit. DeBoer spent the first weeks of the season talking about how overtime losses weren’t ideal but were good enough. They needed all the points they could gather, he said. He was partly right. Can you imagine where the Devils would be right now if not for that roaring start? Injuries are part of the problem, but so is not adding any legitimate secondary scoring either last summer or during the first few weeks of the season. The Devils will continue to hit the post and the crossbar. They’ll continue to flub shots and watch the puck hit the outside of the net. It’s not because they’re not getting scoring chances. It’s because the players on the roster aren’t good enough to finish those chances. This isn’t necessarily an issue with coaching or system, although those have both been issues at separate points this season. This is an issue with the flawed construction of a roster that left the team with too many shortcomings to overcome injuries or regressions from the few players talented enough to help replace Zach Parise’s scoring and offensive presence. So the Devils will likely keep looking up at the ceiling, perhaps even in the locker room on baggie day, which will come a lot earlier than last year’s.
Crazy 8 (plus 3): Don’t look now, but the Flyers are two points behind the Devils, who are in ninth with 39 points after tonight’s loss and the Islanders’ (40 points) overtime loss. The team that beat the Isles, the Capitals (yes, the Capitals we all counted out weeks ago) have 38 points and are sitting in third place The Jets, who also have 38 points, are in 10th based on tiebreakers and the Rangers, meanwhile, are in 8th with 39 points and at least one game in hand on most of their playoff competitors. If you’re starting to feel tight around the collar, it’s a feeling you share with the Devils. Things are getting tight in the bottom third of the Eastern Conference playoff chase and the Devils have more in common with teams careening out of the picture than they do with those moving on up. The good news for New Jersey? Of the Devils’ remaining 11 games, two are against teams currently out of the playoff picture (Panthers, Sabres) and three come against teams they’re directly competing with (Rangers 2x, Flyers). The bad news? The Flyers and Rangers might be hitting their stride and the quickest way to fall out of the playoff chase is to lose those oh-so-special “four-point games.” That’s not even mentioning the games remaining against the Bruins, Senators, Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Penguins. The point being the Devils neutralized the team with the second-most points in the East tonight, yet still fell in the standings. What happens when they lay an egg?
Notes: I’m not quite sure how Bryce Salvador got back out on the ice tonight. He could barely tough his leg to the ice after that hip check in the first few minutes, yet was back on the bench before the 10-minute mark for the first and took a shift minutes later. He is way more banged up than the Devils are letting on. … Andrei Loktionov was shot out of a cannon tonight, but that he was (arguably) the Devils’ top center tonight is one of the problems, not the solution. I’m a huge Loktionov fan, but he should be playing third- or (maybe) second-line minutes — not carrying the top line that’s already missing its best player. … The Devils’ response to the Bruins’ goal was one of the better responses they’ve had to going down 1-0 this season, which is saying something because, you know, they’ve given up the first goal alot this season. … Speaking of which, guys like Jaromir Jagr have all the (puck) luck, right? … The David Krejci line was pretty much the only one that put consistent pressure on the Devils tonight. They had some shifts and I was actually surprised they didn’t score. … Remember that “jerking head motion after a missed goal” thing I talked about? David Clarkson is the poster boy. I’m surprised he hasn’t missed time with whiplash. … How desperate is DeBoer for an answer? He reunited the CBGB line for a key shift late in the third period. The fourth line. I enjoy watching those guys play, but should they be the ones you go to for an answer? … The Devils’ frustration came to a head with about 4 minutes left in the third when the Devils were looking for penalties on three successive shifts. In fact, they showed Steve Bernier on the bench a minute-plus later still complaining to a teammate about the call he didn’t get.