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Matteau, Matteau: Devils Sign First Round Pick

August 14, 2012 Leave a comment

New Jersey signed the 29th overall pick, Stefan Matteau, to an entry-level contract today. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Eighteen years after his father broke the hearts of New Jersey Devils fans everywhere, his son has a contract with the very same team.

New Jersey signed first round draft pick Stefan Matteau to an entry-level contract. As per club rules, terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Matteau, 18, was the 29th overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. He spent the last two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development program, collecting 32 points (15g, 17a) and 166 penalty minutes for the under-18 squad this past season. He also participated in USA Hockey’s Under-20 Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid earlier this month.

While he’s expected to play for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL next season, Matteau said he’s looking to make the NHL roster this season. He participated in the Devils prospect camp this summer, and earned praise from general manager Lou Lamoriello.

A Bittersweet Goodbye: Devils Waive White, Intend To Buy Him Out

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Colin White, a 10-year veteran along the Devils blueline, was placed on waivers and will be bought out. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

For the past 10 years, Colin White became a staple of the New Jersey Devils’ defense.

For several of those years, he stayed buried under the bigger names on the blue line, with Scott Stevens and others leading the charge. But as players began to retire or leave in free agency, White became an important piece of the defense.

He earned the respect of his teammates, overcoming a gruesome eye injury during training camp in 2007 that almost cost him his career. He became an assistant captain, and at times was asked to act as captain.

But White carried an ugly $3 million cap hit, and the Devils were in a cap crunch. Despite trading Brian Rolston three days ago (and ridding themselves of his $5.2 million contract), Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted more wiggle room. With the rise of prospects and the possible return of Bryce Salvador, White became an expendable piece on the blue line.

Lamoriello placed White on waivers today, and intends to buy him out if he clears. The Devils’ general manager admitted it wasn’t an easy decision.

“He’s been a pure Devil,” Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “It’s unfortunate, but there comes a point when young players have to get a chance. With long-term contracts in this league, this is not unusual, but it is unfortunate.”

White ended his ten-year run with 20 goals and 105 assists in 743 regular season games. A former second round draft pick in 1996, the defenseman won two Stanley Cup championships in 2000 and 2003.

Lamoriello and White discussed the move during an end of the season meeting.

“Colin and I sat down and the end of the season and after the discussion we decided just to go and get a bit of a change,” Lamoriello told Gulitti.

If the team buys out White, they will need to pay two thirds of his contract over twice the remaining years. He’s due $3 million this year, in the last year of his contract. New Jersey will pay him $1 million over the next two seasons.

White remained the last stalwart of the Devils’ dynasty defenses. He seemed to play better last season, and showed aggressive play we haven’t seen in the past few seasons. He got into a few scrums and generally threw his body around. For the first time in a long time, White played like the younger version of himself.

With the move, Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur are the only remaining Devils with championship rings. The move also places a ton of confidence in Salvador’s recovery. The defenseman missed all of last season battling post-concussion symptoms, and has yet to participate in contact drills. It also opens a spot along the blueline for one of the Devils’ young defensive prospects.

Lamoriello believes the move allows White an opportunity somewhere else.

“This will be good for Colin,” Lamoriello told Gulitti. “Now, as an unrestricted free agent, he can pick where he wants to go.”

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The Devils also placed recently acquired Trent Hunter on waivers. Hunter, acquired in the Rolston trade, has two years and $2 million remaining on his contract. If New Jersey buys him out, they’ll owe him $666,667 for the next four seasons.

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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Devils Hold Prospect Camp Without Head Coach

The New Jersey Devils welcomed their prospects Monday, a class that includes fourth-overall pick Adam Larsson. But there’s one noticeable vacancy overshadowing all of them.

It’s not the lack of forward Mattias Tedenby, who will miss camp because of visa issues. The Devils have yet to name a head coach, and will not do so this week.

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record that the team will have a coach soon. They just won’t have him installed this week.

“It won’t be long,” Lamoriello told Gulitti. “(But) it won’t be this week.”

The delay in naming a new head coach has stretched longer than any time in recent memory. Several names were tied to the vacancy, but none were named by management as targets. Mike Haviland, a Chicago Blackhawks assistant and a New Jersey native, found his name once again connected to a Devils head coaching vacancy. Former NHL coaches Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien both found themselves mentioned as possibilities. Some media members speculated that ex-Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay could fill the position. But after his termination, he joined the Florida Panthers staff.

Media reports even linked the Devils to the collegiate ranks. Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, rumored to want a NHL head coaching job, found himself mentioned in the pool of possible candidates. He denied any connection to the position in a report two weeks ago.

With no coach in place, Larry Robinson will lead camp. He twice served as head coach, and spent last season as an assistant. He, like many others, is not an option for the coaching vacancy.

It seems the organization views the situation with a laid-back feeling. But the team should be concerned. They need to establish a system, and the rookies should have an opportunity to prove themselves in front of the most important decision makers. Instead, the players skate for people who don’t hold much control over roster decisions. It’s also important for these young players to learn the system of their (possible) future head coach.

At this time next week, the Devils may have a new head coach. But it’s once again another significant offseason event where the Devils lag behind the rest of the league.

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.

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.

Dealing With Zach Parise’s Restricted Free Agency

Lamoriello faces the daunting task of re-signing Zach Parise and making a new contract fit under a tight salary cap. Photo Credit: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

As the Stanley Cup finals begin and the off-season looms, the New Jersey Devils face several question marks. The team still has yet to formally interview candidates for their open head coach position. They need to determine whether they’ll hold their position in the draft (fourth overall) or trade out of the spot. They’ll also need to evaluate the 21 restricted or unrestricted free agents on their roster to determine whether or not they should stay with the organization.

The biggest question, however, surrounds just one player. Zach Parise enters the off-season a restricted free agent, seeking a raise from his $3.125 million salary. Despite battling a knee injury, he’ll still be the most sought-after restricted free agent forward on the market.

According to a report from Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record, the Devils have not contacted anyone in Parise’s camp about a new contract. It seems the team will file for salary arbitration, extending the period of exclusive negotiations for the player and team. While the move may damage the relationship, it remains the best option for the Devils. Player arbitration can help keep down Parise’s salary for this season, allowing New Jersey to adequately pay him when cap space becomes available in the 2012-13 offseason.

The term salary arbitration sounds dirty. It pits player against team in a dogfight over a new contract. The deadline to file a request is July 5, and cases are heard in late July and early August. The team and player can negotiate up until the hearing, and many cases end before a hearing takes place.

If it gets to a hearing, the team must pay the player at least 85 percent of last year’s salary. A ruling is made no later than 48 hours after the hearing. The team can walk away from the decision, but we all know the Devils wouldn’t do that. If they use the arbitration route, they’ll accept whatever decision the arbitrator announces.

It’s not a pretty process, but in this case, I believe it’s the best route. Parise missed all but one of the team’s 69 remaining games after surgery to repair his torn meniscus. Of course, his production before last season should earn him a raise. Hell, he’s one of the most important faces of the franchise. But salary cap issues continue to plague the Devils. General manager Lou Lamoriello will have just $7 million to sign players. It sounds like a ton of money, but Parise can – and should – command anywhere between four and six million dollars.

Taking the left-winger to arbitration guarantees two things: the Devils won’t lose him to an offer sheet they can’t afford, and he’ll be under team control next season. Any contract only be for a year, but the team can negotiate a larger extension with more cap space. It’ll keep him affordable for yet another season while giving him the chance to rebound and show the knee injury won’t hinder him throughout his career.

Arbitration cases don’t have to be nasty affairs either. There will be arguments, and ultimately things will be said that neither side wants to hear. But it’s a negotiation, and one that doesn’t need to get out of hand or nasty. I don’t think Lamoriello would walk into any case looking to personally attack Parise. The move is solely based on financial needs, and right now, the Devils’ cannot afford to upgrade their roster by significantly raising Parise’s salary. Arbitration seems like the necessary evil to keep him a Devil and keep the team competitive.

The 2010-2011 Player Review: Anton Volchenkov

Lamoriello signed Volchenkov to bolster the physical play of his blueline, but injuries limited him to only 57 games this season. Photo Credit: Lou Capozzola/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Anton Volchenkov.

For the past few seasons, the New Jersey Devils lacked an above-average physical defender along their blueline. They had capable defenders, like Colin White and Bryce Salvador, to provide physical play. But they continued to lack a shot-blocking, earth-rattling hitter like the departed Scott Stevens. Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello hoped all that would change by signing Anton Volchenkov.

Volchenkov came from Ottawa Senators providing the physical presence the Devils sorely lacked. He routinely sat near the top of the league in blocked shots and hits. He wasn’t a scorer, but he wasn’t expected to carry that load. With the signing, Lamoriello finally found that physical presence the team lacked. In fact, he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record that “we’re going to have that physical presence that we’ve lacked a little bit.”

Of course, Volchenkov wouldn’t completely meet expectations. He skated in only 57 games, his lowest total in four seasons. He only blocked 106 shots, a far cry from the 172 last season. His 125 hits sat far below the 172 he doled out last season. He struggled with the rest of the team, looking like a defensive liability in his own zone. But as the team improved, so did he. In the end, Volchenkov provided a glimpse of the physical defenseman the team expected patrolling their blue line.

Volchenkov At Even Strength

Volchenkov finished with decent numbers on even-strength despite missing several games due to injury. He averaged 18:06 of ice time, sitting fourth among Devils defenseman. His rating of plus-0.68 ranked third among all skaters and second among defenseman, an impressive number considering the overall down year for the team. He didn’t face the other team’s best players (minus-0.031 quality of competition) but didn’t get much help from his own teammates (minus-0.041 quality of teammates).

Despite his lack of offensive production, Volchenkov helped the team’s scoring and goal differential. On the ice, the team averaged 2.14 goals for per 60 (32 total). They allowed 2.21 goals against per 60 (33 total), recording a minus-0.07 on-ice plus/minus rating. Off the ice, those numbers worsened. Goals for per 60 dropped to 1.55 and goals against per 60 rose to 2.30.

Shots for and against followed the same pattern. On the ice, the team averaged 26.2 shots for per 60. He limited opponents to 21.7 shots against per 60. Off the ice, the team did worse in both departments. Shots for per 60 dropped to 25.8 and shots against per 60 rose to 22.2. They’re not big splits, but it shows a positive trend.

The stats look good, but Corsi disagrees with his performance. On the ice, Volchenkov recorded a plus-2.95 Corsi, a respectable (but low) number. Off the ice, that jumped to plus-6.24. He wasn’t a liability, but he clearly wasn’t the best option. For someone praised for their shot-blocking abilities, it’s telling that the team improved their defensive performance with him off the ice. He never really provides offense, and he couldn’t even score a goal this season. That drives down the rating as well. It wasn’t the greatest showing, but Volchenkov proved himself as a positive contributor. But he still left a lot on the table and failed to meet expectations.

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