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Rolston Shouldn’t Be The “Sacrificial Lamb”

December 31, 2010 1 comment

Only four months after the “Ilya Kovalchuk Saga”, the Devils are entangled in another mess with a player.

This mess, however, doesn’t involve arbitration cases and collective bargaining agreements. It involves Brian Rolston, and the team’s decision to make an example out of the left-winger. While his play has all but earned him the stamp of failure, the Devils’ shouldn’t make Rolston their sacrificial lamb.

Brian Rolston has been dragged through the waiver process the past two weeks. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

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We all know the story of Rolston’s second go-around with the Devils. It’s been an abysmal failure. A 30-goal scorer with the Minnesota Wild, Rolston has failed to sniff that plateau while with New Jersey. His ability to quarterback the powerplay seems non-existent as well. In short, the team expected a top-flight winger and received a fourth line producer. But that’s not all Rolston’s fault. Injuries have cost him over 30 games, and he’s spent most of his time on the third line. That’s not the best place to produce 30 goals.

The Devils also never built around Rolston. They’ve failed to acquire or sign a playmaking center to play with Rolston. Instead, he’s suffered through playing with Rod Pelley, Dainius Zubrus, etc. With no solution in the minors and no one to set him up, numbers were expected to drop. It shouldn’t have been such a precipitous drop-off, but he couldn’t have expected to produce the same numbers.

Also, let’s remember Rolston’s age when he signed the contract. He was 35 and, even though a productive goal scorer, was showing a decline in points. Age was catching up with Rolston. And while he was productive, the numbers indicated that his game was slowing down.

I don’t believe the initial signing of Rolston was a mistake. The Devils needed a proven veteran scorer and powerplay producer, and they believed they found one. It just hasn’t worked out, and the organization is now paying a $5,062,500 cap hit for a left-winger who’s past his prime.

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In an attempt to shed his dead weight, Devils’ general manager and president Lou Lamoriello placed Rolston on waivers December 15. He cleared waivers once and remained with the Devils. That should have been enough to show the lack of interest in Rolston.

But Lamoriello continued to dangle his left-winger. The Devils’ G.M. placed Rolston on re-entry waivers Wednesday, hoping another team would take on half of Rolston’s contract. He even allowed Rolston and his agent, Steve Bartlett, to talk to teams about trading for Rolston or claiming him. But nobody did. Rolston returned to the team and could suit up for tomorrow night’s game against the Thrashers.

Rolston, who wanted a fresh start, expressed disappointment at the result of the move.

“It’s disappointing I didn’t get picked up for sure,” Rolston told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “The fact of the matter is my second year was the sticking point at $2.5 (million). You saw in free agency this summer that teams aren’t really willing. I think they ask about the money before they ask about who the player is. It’s the economic times. It’s disappointing for sure. I was hoping to get a new start somewhere, but I’m just going to continue on here.”

For more of the story, follow the jump.

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Rolston Assigned To Albany, Will Be Put Through Re-Entry Waivers

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

The New Jersey Devils completed a long-awaited roster move today, assigning Brian Rolston to Albany of the AHL today.

The team plans to bring him back through re-entry waivers.

For more on the story, see my post on SB Nation New York.

Categories: Devils Notes Tags:

Can Langenbrunner and Lemaire Co-Exist?

December 23, 2010 2 comments

By now, news has spread that John MacLean was fired today. His replacement, Jacques Lemaire, has coached the New Jersey Devils’ twice. His most recent tenure, during the 2009-2010 season, resulted in a fantastic regular season. But a disappointing playoffs marred the success and drove Lemaire to retire.

After Lemaire’s retirement, several stories broke about the fractured Devils’ locker room. Several of the stories featured the disagreements between captain Jamie Langenbrunner and the coach. With Lemaire back behind the bench, one burning question presents itself: will Langenbrunner and Lemaire be able to co-exist?

Jacques Lemaire returns to the Devils bench eight months after retiring from coaching. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Langenbrunner didn’t elaborate on his previous relationship with Lemaire.

“We’ll see. Right?” the captain told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “You guys obviously wrote a lot about what that was like last year – some truth, some not. I respect him as a coach. I think he’s a very smart hockey man. We’ll do what’s best for the team. He’s a very good hockey guy.”

Langenbrunner’s displeasure stemmed over an incident against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 3. Lemaire made Langenbrunner travel with the team to Carolina, but made him a healthy scratch. He wanted to rest the captain before the playoffs. Langenbrunner wanted to play all 82 games last season and didn’t like the news. There was also rumblings that Lemaire attempted to re-assign the captaincy to Colin White, which didn’t sit well with the team.

Lines of communication broke down between the players and coaches last season. Several players took offense to the way coaches handled lineup changes. Players said coaches sent text messages to players notifying them if they were scratched for that night’s game.

Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello had no choice but to make a coaching change. New Jersey has 20 points through 33 games this season and is tied for last in the league. The team lacks 5-on-5 scoring and plays terrible defensive hockey. Under Lemaire last season, the Devils won the Jennings Trophy and finished second in the Eastern Conference.

Despite their contentious relationship, Langenbrunner believes Lemaire’s hiring brings a fresh start.

“I guess when you get over the failure part of it, you have a new start, a new beginning,” Langenbrunner said. “It’s a chance to start over and restart our season a little bit.”

Maybe even a chance to restart the relationship between captain and coach.

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For a full preview of tonight’s game against the New York Islanders, check out my game preview on SB Nation New York.

The Importance Of Discussing Parise’s New Contract

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been easy to forget Zach Parise and his upcoming restricted free agency. The New Jersey Devils’ left winger is currently out recovering from a torn meniscus. His absence is overshadowed by the Devils’ lackluster play.

Overlooking this situation for fans is understandable. But for management to not approach Parise about a new contract is absurd. One of the best young left-wingers in the league, Parise will be in high demand this offseason. The Devils need to open lines of communication now to keep Parise under team control.

Parise should (and will) command top dollar from the Devils this offseason. The young left-winger, making only $3.125 million this season, will ask for an annual salary close to that of Kovalchuk. His production warrants the demand. In 419 games, Parise recorded 341 points (163 goals, 178 assists). He’s compiled four seasons of 30+ goals and 60+ points. Parise doesn’t only perform on the ice. He’s become a fan favorite and leader in the locker room. His chemistry with Travis Zajac gives the Devils a solid basis for the top offensive line.

Despite all these positives, general manager Lou Lamoriello has yet to begin contract negotiations. Parise will be in high demand. He’s better than Dustin Penner, who received a five-year, $21.25 million restricted free-agent contract from the Edmonton Oilers during the 2006-07 offseason. David Backes, who hasn’t produced Parise’s numbers, received a five-year, $22.5 million this season. Jeff Carter, whose numbers compare to Parise, signed an 11-year, $58 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.

There’s a good possibility Parise will demand a contract between those of Backes and Carter as a discussion point. Right now, the Devils face no pressure from other teams to negotiate with Parise. If Lamoriello waits until the offseason, several teams will work to either sign Parise or dramatically increase his price tag. With an unsure cap situation for next season, it’s not a situation the Devils want to find themselves stuck in.

There are several more months left to the season, and plenty of time to discuss a new contract. New Jersey can’t take this time for granted. Entering negotiations now can help lead to a quicker extension. With no pressure from other clubs, the Devils’ need to begin discussing Parise’s contract. Procrastination could carry serious consequences.

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For the preview, in-game updates and a recap for tonight’s game, check out SB Nation New York.

Categories: Analysis Tags:

Devils Defense Contributing To Offensive Slump

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Andy Greene has been among the several Devils' defensemen providing no offense along the blue line. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Devils rank last in the league with 58 goals scored in 32 games. Multiple fowards, like Ilya Kovalchuk, have suffered through season-long offensive slumps. Their lack of finish highlights the team’s inability to score goals. But the blame shouldn’t be heaped on their shoulders.

The Devils defense currently sits tied for 26th in the NHL in goals scored. Their seven scores place them with the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs, both below .500 and near the bottom of the standings. The lack of offensive defensemen has helped stymie the Devils offense this season. With no viable options in sight, the poor scoring abilities of New Jersey’s defensemen will continue to hurt the offense.

During the offseason, the Devils failed to address one glaring issue – the lack of a quality puck-moving defenseman. The team lost Paul Martin to free agency, eliminating the only quality offensive defenseman on the Devils roster. Andy Greene remained, becoming the number one offensive option. Instead of filling a glaring hole, Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello signed Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, hardly the offensive juggernauts.

That hole remains larger than ever. Greene has failed to meet expectations, with only 10 points through 32 games this season. No other defenseman filled the void. It seemed like Matt Taormina could fill the void, but a high-ankle sprain shelved the rookie. With no promising offensive defenseman being called up and trades looking non-existent, this hole will probably remain for the rest of the season.

Those seven goals represent more than offensive futility. Without offensive skill, every facet of the offense suffers. It starts with New Jersey’s breakout. Not every defenseman needs offensive skill to make the first pass. Most Devils’ defenders,, however, lack the skill to carry the puck up ice. They can’t make forechekcers miss, so opponents focus on forwards. That cuts down the options for the defense and neutralizes the breakout.

This carries over into the offensive zone as well. Teams are routinely clogging the slot and giving the Devils point shots. Opponents know the defenseman pose little threat. That allows them to knock away rebounds, etc. and deny Devils’ forwards scoring opportunities. With less space to work, scoring chances decrease dramatically.

The Devils aren’t the only team with this problem. Several teams struggle to find offense along the blue line. One look at the chart (seen here) shows the importance of offensive production from the defense. Teams like Atlanta, Detroit and Pittsburgh have multiple goals from defenseman. It’s no coincidence they sit atop their respective conferences. Offensive defensemen open up more possibilities and create a better overall offense.

While the forwards receive most of the blame, Devils defenders remain a large culprit in the team’s offensive futility. With no goal scoring along the blue line, New Jersey enters every game shorthanded offensively. The coaches should find a way around it. But, as the stats show, little contribution from the blueline costs teams in the standings.

*Thanks to both James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail and Pension Plan Puppets for the stat chart.

The Devils Fall From Grace: Who Can Be Blamed?

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This isn’t the way the New Jersey Devils’ envisioned their season.

After last night’s 7-1 beating at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers, the Devils are 9-21-2 on the season. They’re 20 points put them two ahead of the lowly Islanders – who lost 14 straight games – for last in the entire league. The team’s -40 goal differential ranks last in the league, putting them one ahead of the Islanders.

The Devils expectations entering the season were dreams of a Stanley Cup championship. On paper, the team looked stacked offensively and serviceable on the defensive end. But they’ve come to resemble the same Islanders they sit above. New Jersey is a miserable team that fails to put a winning effort on the ice night in and night out. And while the dumpster fire continues to blaze red hot, several people need to take the blame.

It was all smiles this offseason for Lamoriello, Vanderbeek and Kovalchuk. But since the season started, no one is smiling. Photo Credit: Mel Evans/AP

1. Jeff Vanderbeek and Lou Lamoriello

The first finger needs to point toward the team’s management. The Devils spent the entire summer chasing after Ilya Kovalchuk, a player they clearly didn’t need. The Kovalchuk Saga was a constant cycle of bad press for the Devils. Rejected contracts and league fines followed, and the Devils now lose several draft picks to sign one player. Granted, Kovalchuk brings the potential of 50+ goals. But the team didn’t build around the left-winger. Instead, they insisted on signing a player who doesn’t fit the system.

That wasn’t the only negative Kovalchuk brought. The move put the Devils’ several million dollars over the cap. Instead of looking to deal players, Lamoriello sat back and used long-term injured reserved. The inability to make moves hung like a black cloud over the locker room. To this day, players are expecting something to happen because of the cap. There’s no room for players to grow or mesh, because they need to worry about their own production.

For the first time in a long time, Lamoriello’s bad moves cost the team. But it hasn’t been the general manager’s fault. The blame flows further down the list, to the Devils coaching staff.

2. The Devils Coaching Staff

Every single coach on this team shares the blame for the team’s horrid play. When John MacLean was hired, he promised a more offensive, puck-possession system. Players like Zach Parise hoped he’d breath some life into the organization. Instead, MacLean looks lost behind the bench. He hasn’t made necessary adjustments in-game. He hasn’t hammered home a system that fits this team. There’s no puck possession, no creative play, and no chemistry. The only thing working is the Devils’ powerplay right now, and that credit belongs to Adam Oates.

Larry Robinson needs to shoulder blame as well. The Devils defense is atrocious. Defenders make blind passes, constantly turn the puck over and misses assignments. Injuries have been an issue, but aren’t causing the terrible play. What was once the Devils’ strength is now a glaring weakness.

The onus falls on the entire coaching staff. The players aren’t executing the game plan. They have no motivation. It might not be the entire fault of the staff, but the burden falls on their shoulder. They need to get the players ready to play, plain and simple.

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Devils Putting The Power In Their Powerplay

December 17, 2010 2 comments

After two-plus months of futility, the New Jersey Devils powerplay finally looks like an advantage.

In their past five games, the Devils are 7-for-20 (35%) with the man advantage. The seven goals match the same output of the 25 previous games, when the Devils were a putrid 7-for-74 (9.4%).

Several small changes led to the powerplay’s revival. As Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record noted, the Devils shifted Travis Zajac to the point in an umbrella formation on the first unit. Before the move, defenses would key on Ilya Kovalchuk at the point. Zajac’s ability to pass and shoot takes the focus on Kovalchuk. It also opens options for Patrik Elias, who plays along the half boards. When Zajac has the puck, Elias becomes a potential scoring threat. He also has Zajac to set up quick passes along the blue line as well.

Zajac played the point at times last season, but this season he’s quaterbacking the man advantage. While he’s not perfect, Zajac feels he’s growing.

“I’ve played it before, so I’m kind of used to playing it, but I’m still learning,” Zajac said to Gulitti. “A lot of it is making tape-to-tape passes and not so much rushing the play. It’s more just making the right play at the right time. It’s just being patient with the puck. I think the key on the power play is always trying to draw one guy to you and make it easier for Kovy or Patty to get shots off or take it to the net.”

The success brought composure to the Devils’ powerplay. Early this season, it seemed New Jersey would press to score, and their play suffered. With the powerplay working, the team is more willing to set the offense and patiently let things happen.

Devils coach John MacLean said a few successful powerplay attempts helped boost the Devils’ man-advantage play.

“It plays a big part,” MacLean said. “We’ve been working on it and I think confidence and comfortability with guys moving it around and knowing where to move it and knowing where one another is going to be is helpful. Like any part of your game, when you feel good about yourself and things that are happening, then good things start tending to go your way.”

Zajac credits assistant coach Adam Oates, who’s personally helped him improve on the powerplay.

“It’s just little things – what to look for, where guys sticks are on the opposite team, when to skate with it, when to shoot it,” Zajac said to Gulitti. “He’s a great hockey mind. He knows the game. He especially knows how to make plays. You’re always learning from that guy.”

While the Devils won’t convert every powerplay opportunity, the improvement helped get their offense going. New Jersey has eight goals in the past five games, and has twice scored three goals. With a strengthened powerplay, the Devils offense should continue to improve. Hopefully it’ll increase the Devils wins as well.

Ed. Note: You can see my preview for tonight’s game over at SBNation NY.

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