Originally published March 3, 2015 at Inside Hockey.
If anything was telling in the trade deadline, the Devils are looking more towards the future in rebuilding rather than the present. Lou Lamoriello may say differently, but actions speak louder than words. The Devils are truly out of the playoffs and need to look beyond these next few seasons.
Lamoriello traded Jaromir Jagr to the Florida Panthers last week for a couple of picks (New Jersey received Florida’s second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and a third-round pick in 2016). At the trade deadline, he traded Marek Zidlicky for a conditional pick (conditional third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft). The Devils were forced to keep Martin Havlat and Michael Ryder (even though Ryder had requested a trade). No teams want to pickup a player that has only played in a couple of games since the All-Star break. Lamoriello stressed on Monday that he had to think of the team first before thinking of the individual players.
Both players are sitting in the first game after the trade deadline, while Damon Severson (D) was activated off of injured reserve and given the nod to play. Lamoriello would rather play seven defensemen than play Havlat or Ryder.
Just what type of team has Lamoriello constructed? The Devils haven’t been able to bounce back since the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. Just where did everything go wrong?
It began with the Ilya Kovalchuk contract. The ludicrous contract ended up working towards the detriment of the team when it came time to re-sign Zach Parise. Both Parise and Kovalchuk put up similar numbers, so he was due to receive a large payday. With Kovalchuk’s contract, there was no way the Devils would be able to retain Parise, so he went home to Minnesota.
Kovalchuk, who wanted to play alongside Parise ended up not wanting to stick around in the NHL. So he went back home to Russia, retiring from the NHL. The Devils had to find some sort of superstar and Jaromir Jagr was waiting in the wings. The Devils were forced to come up with a new plan by building a team around Jagr.
In retrospect, that never works. The New York Rangers were never able to go far in the playoffs with a team built around Jagr. Sure, he may put up the numbers, but he is also known to carry a team. He shoulders much of the responsibility and most of the team feels intimidated by that.
The second he is removed from the team, whether through an illness or trade, you begin to see the team flourish without him. The team becomes more laid back and they find ways to synch together and win. This happened in Dallas after he was traded to Boston in 2013, and it happened again while he was ill (flu/mumps) earlier this year and the Devils were on their California road trip.
Jagr is best after he’s traded to another team during the race for the Cup. The team he’s traded to is not built around him. He just has to find a way to fit into the winning dynamic that is already in place.
Post NHL trade deadline, where does this leave the Devils? It leaves them in rebuild mode. They are still in need of a top scorer (or two) to replace Kovalchuk and Parise. It will cost them a pretty penny, but imagine what type of team the Devils would be if they were originally able to retain Parise and Kovalchuk post-lockout. Another run for the Cup would have immediately followed. Instead, the Devils breakdown after the lockout means they won’t be seeing the playoffs any time soon.
So now the Devils hope that there is another Parise out there ready to be drafted. They’ve had a few misses these past few years with players like Mattias Tedenby. He had great potential, but he had difficulty conforming his game to the Devils style. That ultimately cost him a NHL job.
The question remains if Lamoriello still has that bit of magic left in him that found such great Devils like Patrik Elias, Martin Brodeur, Travis Zajac and Parise. Can he still put together a team that can be a playoff contender like he did three other times in the past?
As of now, he does not have all of the elements, including a coach to take the helm. Even if he were able to put all of the pieces in place, it would still take a couple of years before the team could be playoff ready (see 2012 playoff team). In other words, the Devils cannot anticipate a Stanley Cup playoff run anytime soon, unless by some miracle they are able to land a qualitative forward and/or Kovalchuk all of a sudden decides to return to the NHL and play for the Devils.
There are also other pieces that need to be fixed. What the Devils lost in David Clarkson, they tried to replace with two players: Ryder and Ryane Clowe. Both turned out to be a bust for the Devils. Ryder was not able to produce the numbers Clarkson could; and Clowe was unfortunately placed on LTIR.
Mike Cammalleri was the best addition in the off-season. He was the only major hit in these past few years of misses.
The Devils were wise to keep Adam Henrique and Andy Greene by signing them to multiyear contracts. They’ve also developed a lot of qualitative defensemen over the years. Now, they have way too many protecting the blueline while their captain, Bryce Salvador, remains on LTIR and no forwards that can score 30+ goals per season.
As of now, it will take a lot for the Devils to become an attractive team to lure prospective free agents again. These days, players want to jump ship rather than believe this team has potential. There are others who claimed to have drunk the Kool-Aid, when in fact they never did. They never really bought into what the Devils were truly about. Their departure from the team will not be missed.
For the Devils future, their best bet may be in looking towards luring players from the KHL or other European clubs, while developing their youth. Maybe they’ll get lucky with rebuilding that way and players across the NHL will want to be part of this winning team again.
 If Detroit advances to the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals, New Jersey will instead receive Detroit’s third-round pick in 2016 and fifth-round selection in 2015. If Detroit reaches the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, New Jersey will instead receive Detroit’s second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. [Source: New Jersey Devils]