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Peter DeBoer? Devils Make Head-Scratching Selection

Peter DeBoer became the seventh coach for the Devils in the past seven years. Photo Credit: Andy Marlin/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils finally finished their coaching search two days ago, becoming the last team to fill that spot. The selection is still a bit of a head-scratcher.

Several big names were linked to the team’s open spot. Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therien, two veteran coaches with playoff experience, seemed destined for the job at one time or another. The Montreal Canadiens link still existed, with Guy Carbonneau finding his name attached to the position. Assistants like Mike Haviland were thrown into the discussion. Reports even had the Devils dipping into the college ranks, with Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves possibly taking over. Surprisngly, none of these guys earned the job.

Instead, Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello decided to hire Peter DeBoer. Does it ring a bell? DeBoer spent the past three seasons as the Florida Panthers coach, compiling a less-than-stellar 103-107-36 record. He never made the playoffs, but came close, losing out to the Canadiens in a tiebreaker during the 2008-09 season. Before coaching in the NHL, he spent seven seasons as the Kitchner Rangers head coach. That team won the Memorial Cup in 2003 and featured right-winger David Clarkson.

Clarkson gave the hire a ringing endorsement.

“I think Pete is going to be a great fit,” Clarkson told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record yesterday. “Wherever he goes, he finds a way to get the best out of the players.”

Lamoriello believes DeBoer can serve a dual purpose. First and foremost, the team needed a coach who could bring them back to the playoffs. The veteran-laden roster is seeing their championship window close rapidly. The organization’s 14-year playoff streak snapped last year, and Lamoriello doesn’t want to make that an every year occurance.

He also needed a coach who could relate to young players. The Devils relied heavily on rookies last season, and their better prospects are knocking on the NHL door. DeBoer spent the past three years coaching young players with Florida. The teams weren’t great, but it gave him the opportunity to learn the ropes. Lamoriello believes that experience served him well.

“He’s young,” Lamoriello said to Gulitti. “He has excellent experiences in dealing with all types of players. He also served as an assistant where he an opportunity in international play with league players and to (be able to) sit and watch how other people handed them. And I think he’s had three years of outstanding apprenticeship (with Florida), if that’s what you want to call it.”

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An Analysis of the Johan Hedberg Signing

Hedberg recorded a career-best 2.38 goals against average and was given the Player's Player award. Photo Credit: Justin Aller/Getty Images

Last year, the New Jersey Devils watched Johan Hedberg save their season, posting a career-best 2.38 goals-against average. He more than earned the $1.5 million (plus bonuses) he signed for last July. It was only logical that Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted the goalie back.

While the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement before July 1, Lamoriello didn’t let Hedberg stay on the market long. He re-signed “The Moose” to a one-year, $1.25 million contract. Getting a fan favorite back excited plenty fans. Bringing back a solid player with for less than he made last year made the signing even better. Lamoriello definitely earned himself some praise with this move.

At the beginning of last season, I laid out my expectations for Hedberg. I expected him to be a solid backup, and pegged him as a streaky goalie. Martin Brodeur just came off a season where he played 77 games and returned to Vezina form. I figured Hedberg would start between 12-15 games, so he wouldn’t be too important. But, of course, things didn’t play out that way. Brodeur fought through injuries and inconsistent play, limiting him to just 56 games played. Desperately needing some solid goaltending, the Devils leaned on Hedberg. The Moose wouldn’t disappoint.

Hedberg became one of two Devils to actually play solid hockey until John MacLean. He kept the team in the game, stringing together quality starts. He once allowed his goals-against average to climb north of 3.00, and that month Brodeur came back from injury. When Jacques Lemaire took over, he played even better. Hedberg reeled off 7 straight wins during February, recording a 1.43 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. Fans serenaded him with chants of “Moose” during home games, and antler hats started popping up around the arena.

The good times wouldn’t last, as Brodeur eventually won back his spot. The appreciation shown by both fans and teammates wouldn’t end with him moving back to the bench. In addition to the praise of Devils’ fans, Hedberg’s teammates gave him the Player’s Player award. Everyone in the organization appreciated his contribution, and he rewarded them with a stellar season.

Hedberg once again made a personal sacrifice to join the Devils. Last year, he left his wife and daughter in Atlanta to play in New Jersey. He admitted he didn’t like it, and I’m surprised he chose the Devils again. When a player is willing to give up living near his immediate family to play for your team, it speaks volumes to the respect he must have for New Jersey. Even without a coach, he made the sacrifice to return to the team.

Just like last season, this is a low-risk signing. I don’t want to speculate on games played, because only Brodeur knows how much he’ll play next season. He proved a more than capable backup, and could form a solid goalie tandem if the new coach decides to use one.

It’ll be another year of Moose calls at the Rock. For fans and players, it’ll be another year to enjoy a quality teammate and positive locker room presence.

An Evaluation of the Andy Greene Signing

Greene, who recently signed a four year, $12 million contract, will need to improve on his 21 points last season. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Free agency opened four days ago, and the New Jersey Devils have yet to sign someone new.

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello opted to retain his own players, re-signing both Andy Greene and Johan Hedberg. He managed to re-sign Hedberg for just $1.25 million, a $250,000 reduction from his base salary last season. Greene, however, cashed in big time.

Lamoriello signed Greene to a four year, $12 million deal Friday. He’ll carry a $3 million cap hit, which isn’t terrible considering the other ridiculous contracts handed out to similar players. But he officially took one-fourth of this season’s remaining cap space. Is $3 million a stretch? While it’s not perfect, it’s a contract that the Devils can support – and possibly trade.

Greene had a terrible contract season last year, recording a minus-24 through the first three months of the season. When Jacques Lemaire took over, he turned around tremendously, playing to a plus-1 for the remainder of the season. We all know that plus/minus is a flawed statistic, so that point alone can’t determine the validity of the huge pay increase.

The Devils leaned on Greene last season, putting him in their top three defenseman. His 22:21 of ice time ranked third, with 1:16 TOI on the powerplay and 2:19 TOI on the penalty kill. He turned in decent numbers during special teams play, but his even strength numbers were terrible. He carried a minus-.83 rating, becoming the only defenseman to carry a negative rating. New Jersey averaged just 1.61 goals for per 60 and a 2.66 Corsi rating. Both those numbers jumped with him off the ice, a clear indictment of his play.

There’s no doubt that Greene could be an effective second or third pairing defenseman. But there’s no shot he’ll ever be the team’s best offensive defenseman. He recorded a career-high 37 points two seasons ago. That’s it. He plays in an offensively-depressed system, but that excuse can only stretch so far. Maybe his numbers dropped because of the Devils’ terrible first half, but that’s yet another excuse. If he’s making $3 million to be an offensive defenseman, then he needs to produce.

However, it’s not the worst deal Lamoriello ever made. Greene is overpaid, no doubt about it. But look at some of the other crazy contracts handed out. James Wishniewski will make $5.5 million despite having no long-term, proven success. Christian Erhoff will make $4 million in a ten-year deal with the Sabres. Hell, even Steve Montador will average $2.75 million, and he’s not a great puck-moving, offensive defenseman. When you look at those ridiculous deals (both in cap hit and length), the signing doesn’t seem terrible.

In the next three to four years, the Devils defense will undergo a dramatic change. Both Mark Fayne and Matt Taormina will fight for roster spots next season. Rookies Alexander Urbom and (maybe) Adam Larsson will push veterans. Colin White and Bryce Salvador, two defensive stalwarts, may play their last season in a Devils uniform. Greene will quickly become the veteran among a greener blue line. That leadership could prove invaluable.

If all else fails, Greene’s contract will be attractive trade bait. Apparently, his agent fielded calls from “Stanley Cup contenders” during the opening of free agency.  If Lamoriello needed to trade him, his $3 million cap hit wouldn’t be detrimental.

Greene isn’t an earth-shattering signing, and hopefully will improve. If he slides back down the depth chart, his stats will improve. But Greene will never be the best offensive defenseman on this team. He needs to, once again, become a solid producer in the lineup.

Devils Qualify Nine Restricted Free Agents

Corrente, a former first round pick, was qualified by the Devils today. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils entered today with 11 restricted free agents. Two of them may not return.

The organization sent qualifying offers to nine of their restricted free agents today. Matt Corrente, Matt Taormina, Vladimir Zharkov, Mark Fraser, Maxim Noreau, Jeff Frazee, Steve Zalewski and Nathan Perkovich all received offers.

Alexander Vasyunov, who entered the offseason as a restricted free agent, did not receive an offer. His agent informed the Devils that he signed a one-year contract for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL next season.

The players can still receive offer sheets from other teams, but the Devils can match that offer.

There were a few players who were locks for qualifying offers. Taormina led defenseman in goals until a high-ankle sprain ended his season. He was one of the few bright spots during the team’s abysmal first half, and will probably get a chance to earn his spot back next season. Corrente, a former-first round pick, has the support of the organization behind him. Like Taormina, injury limited him this season.

Other players seem to be skating on thin ice. Fraser followed a strong rookie campaign with a disappointing sophomore season. The Devils qualified him, but with the defensive depth moving through the organization, he needs to put together a solid season. The same goes for Frazee. The Devils have three strong goalie prospects in Scott Wedgewood, Maxime Clermont and Keith Kinkaid. They’re still a year or two away, but Frazee doesn’t have much time to prove himself.

The organization also did not issue a qualifying offer to defenseman Anssi Salmela. He played 48 games with the Devils, but failed to really make an impression. It doesn’t necessarily mean the team won’t sign him. Two years ago, New Jersey didn’t qualify Andy Greene, but re-signed him anyway.

Zach Parise entered this offseason a restricted free agent, but did not receive an offer. Instead, New Jersey elected to take the left-winger to arbitration. That eliminates the possibility of other team’s submitting an offer sheet and guarantees he will be a Devil next season.

Can Larsson Play In The NHL This Season?

Larsson, ranked number one among international skaters, became a New Jersey Devil in the first round of last night's NHL Entry Draft. Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils drafted the number one rated international skater, defenseman Adam Larsson, with the fourth overall pick in yesterday’s NHL Entry Draft.

The organization filled one of their biggest needs with a very talented prospect. He joins an impressive list of young blueline prospects that will form the defensive corps for years to come. But many of those players remain two to three years away from making the NHL. With the lack of offensive talent on the Devils’ blueline, one question remains – can Larsson make an immediate impact on the NHL level?

Many believe Larsson is the most NHL ready defenseman. The 18-year old began playing for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League two years ago, becoming the third 16-year old to break into the league. He finished the season with one goal, eight assists and a plus-12 rating. Don’t let those low offensive numbers fool you – Larsson posses some serious offensive potential. Skelleftea used him primarily in a defensive role last season, limiting his production.

Playing against men for two seasons prepared him for the physicality of the NHL. He still needs to add strength, like most other young players. Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said he’ll have every opportunity to make the team this season.

“We’ll have an opportunity to see him in the summer camp and training camp,” Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “All of that will determine it. He’s played two years in the elite league, so it’s not out of the question that he can do that.”

The Devils need immediate offensive help along the blueline. Last year, all defenseman who dressed for at least one game combined to record 88 points. Andy Greene led all defenseman with 23 points as the top offensive threat. That’s a pretty putrid number. New Jersey hasn’t had solid offense from a defenseman since Scott Niedermayer left. It’s a hole they’ve failed to fill year after year. Larsson could potentially be the answer to their never-ending problem.

“Larsson is going to be a top offensive defenseman,” New York Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark told Gulitti. “If a team feels that their priority is an offensive power-play D, if he goes one, it’s not a problem with me.”

The problems come with his experience. Like Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson, he needs to gain some experience on North American rinks. Both spent time in the AHL last season, learning how to adjust to the rink and playing style. Both came up and found success later in the season.

There’s no denying Larsson’s potential impact. Right now, he seems like one of the best options for offense along the blueline. His performance in both the prospect and training camp will ultimately decide his fate. He should play in the organization next season, and may see some NHL time.

Devils Need A Veteran Presence Behind The Bench

The Devils need a new coach, and Ken Hitchcock would bring a veteran presence and winning record to the team. Photo Credit: Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

It’s the offseason, which means the New Jersey Devils can only be doing one thing – looking for a new head coach.

Today, Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello announced the team would not hire a coach before the NHL Entry Draft Friday night. A few names are connected to the Devils, most notably Ken Hitchcock. There doesn’t seem to be a candidate on the horizon, and New Jersey appears doubtful to have a coach by the open of free agency. For a team that missed the playoffs, it’s incredible that this checklist item hasn’t been done.

There are several qualified and interesting candidates out there. Lamoriello could return to former Devil Kirk Muller, who is an assistant with the Montreal Canadiens. Mike Haviland, one of the hotter coaching prospects, could lead the team. Recently-fired Craig Ramsay would bring a veteran presence behind the bench.

With so many candidates, it’s a crapshoot as to who will become the organization’s next coach. There should be, however, one determining factor – the amount of actual NHL coaching experience. If the Devils want to return to the postseason, they need to hire a veteran coach.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea – just look at last season. John MacLean, the team’s assistant coach from 2002-2009, helped coach the Lowell Devils to a winning record during the 2009-2010 season. They finished fourth in the Atlantic Division and made the playoffs. They couldn’t advance past the first round, but he did exactly what the organization wanted – gain experience and show he could succeed as a coach.

Devils fans were excited to welcome one of the most successful former players to the bench. MacLean promised a more up-tempo system and a continued emphasis on “the Devils way.” After several first-round flameouts, he seemed to breath life into the organization. Many believed he would be the change this veteran team needed.

That optimism lasted until the end of October. MacLean promptly led the team into a tailspin. By December 23, the Devils were 9-22-2 and MacLean didn’t have a job. In rode Jacques Lemaire, leading the team on an incredible second half run.

The run proved something pivotal to the franchise’s success – the vital need to find a veteran coach. There’s no doubt the Devils are changing the guard. This isn’t the Devils of the early-2000s, with a large core of older players supplemented by younger call-ups. An AHL coach could find success with the various young players on this roster. The veterans, however, won’t respond to the unproven coach. It didn’t happen last year, and I’d seriously doubt it happening again.

I’m not going to guess on the team’s next head coach. With Lamoriello, playing the guessing game is an exercise in futility. But I will bet on one thing – the Devils next coach won’t be some hotshot assistant making his coaching debut. It’ll be an established veteran with a proven track record.

Evaluating The Devils Organizational Depth: Right Wing

Perkovich headlines an underwhelming group of right-wingers at the AHL leve. Photo Credit: Christian Abraham/Connecticut Post

The New Jersey Devils need depth on the wings.

The team lacks great talent along both wings, with their great prospects manning center. The organization’s two best right-wingers, Mattias Tedenby and Nick Palmieri, both figure to remain in the NHL next season. Despite struggling offensively, Vladimir Zharkov also looks to be a virtual lock as a checking line forward. That leaves a gaping hole of talent needing to be filled.

There’s plenty of talented wingers at the NHL level, so this isn’t an immediate position of need for New Jersey. If the organization feels there’s a need for a right-winger, they can shop around for a decent free agent. They don’t need to use their first-round pick on a right-winger, but should address the issue in this year’s draft.

Without further adieu, The Devils Den presents the less-than-inspiring report on the organization’s right wingers. And here we go:

Albany Devils (AHL)

Nathan Perkovich – 40 GP, 17 points (8 G, 9 A), minus-3 rating

Perkovich slipped into a sophomore slump this season, failing to improve on the potential he showed as a rookie. He collected 33 points last season, including 19 goals. A high ankle sprain severely limited his production, which helped produce those low numbers. Unfortunately, Perkovich is a 26-year old AHLer. Time is running out for him to make an impact beyond the AHL level.

Darcy Zajac – 40 GP, 9 points (4 G, 5 A), minus-9 rating

Zajac struggled to find success at the AHL level this season. He played well with Trenton, collecting 23 points and a plus-8 rating. In Albany, those numbers dipped across the board. Zajac will never be a scorer like his older brother, Travis. He’s a third or fourth line checking forward at best. There’s already a ton of these guys throughout the organization, so Zajac will need to separate himself from the pack.

Trevor Kell – 21 GP, 3 points (1 G, 2 A), minus-8 rating

Kell seems destined to remain in the ECHL for next season. In four years with the organization, he’s failed to stick at the AHL level. He’s shown his offensive potential in the ECHL, where he collected 33 points in 37 games last season. Those numbers fail to transfer to the AHL level. He’s struggled to find any openings in the AHL, and he’s entering his fifth season with the organization. I would doubt his ability to move any higher than the AHL leve.

International Skaters

Mauro Jorg (Lugano) – 50 GP, 12 points (3 G, 9 A), minus-15 rating

The Devils selected Jorg in the seventh round last season, marking the first forward they selected. He doesn’t seem like anything special, considering his limited ability to produce offensively. He may still need some time to develop, and probably won’t turn pro for a few seasons.

Ed. Note: The Trenton Devils did not list player positions on the team’s roster. You can check a review of all of their forwards in this preview.

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