6 #NJDevils Thoughts – March 30, 2018

1) Been about two weeks+ since I cranked out one of these, so let me play catch up.  I went to the game in Vegas a few weeks ago and while it was highly entertaining, for me, there were a few great moments before puck drop.  I’m not breaking any news here, but Chico Resch and Ken Daneyko are SO good to Devils fans.  At a bar just outside T-Mobile Arena, I noticed Chico talking to a few Devils fans and I don’t think anyone else really noticed him.  So being the obnoxious person I am, I started a “Chi-co” chant and he lit up like a Christmas tree and made his way over to our table.  He asked our group how we were, how many Devils fans we thought were standing outside (it was hundreds), etc.  Took pictures with everyone…genuine, great guy.

Before warmups, Ken Daneyko came down (unprompted) and said he saw all the red jerseys near the glass and he had to come down.  “Let’s get some pictures, I’ll sign for everybody too,” he said after he held court with a few dozen Devils fans.  He asked fans what they thought of the arena, commented on the Stanley Cup patches on people’s jerseys and spent a good 15 minutes or so with all the nearby fans.

That’s all.  Just wanted to reinforce how damn lucky we are to have them both.

Oh and on my last day in Sin City, I played blackjack for an hour and essentially just pushed chips back and forth with the dealer.  Though I did honor Nico by finishing up $13.

2) Besides the 2 points, there was an emotional layer to the Devils’ win in Pittsburgh last week.  Ben Lovejoy had the guts to address the team in practice the day before the game, as the squad had lost back-to-back games.  My heart sank when his failed clearing attempt and ensuing screen allowed the Pens the third and tying goal.  After the initial shock, I did say to myself, “If this is a true ‘team’, someone will pick him up.”  And thankfully Taylor Hall did that in OT.  Poetic moments like that seem to happen during special seasons.  Maybe I look way too deeply into things, but in a sense, it reminded me of Game 7 of the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals against Ottawa.  Trailing 1-0 after a period, Pat Burns came into the locker room and spoke to the team about Joe Nieuwendyk.  Nieuwendyk injured his oblique in Game 6 and only took 3 shifts in Game 7 before re-aggravating it and leaving for the duration of the contest.  Burns mentioned the résumé of Nieuwendyk and that he was “pretty much bawling his eyes out because he can’t be out there helping you guys” and that “if someone cares that much, we should too.”  The Devils, as the story goes, responded with a two-goal 2nd period and went on to win the game/series.  I know he’s not everyone’s favorite player and who knows if he gets back in the lineup this season, but I think there’s something more than meets the eye to that sequence of moments.

3) Two weeks ago, Elliotte Friedman reported that New Jersey Devils Assistant General Manager Tom Fitzgerald withdrew his name from the pool of candidates for the open General Manager position for the Carolina Hurricanes.  Kind of telling that Nashville Predators Assistant GM Paul Fenton pulled out of consideration and then Fitzgerald.  Not long after that, the Hurricanes suspended their GM search until the end of the season.  A few things here…one, I know new owner Tom Dundon is trying to shake things up in how an NHL team does business, but I’m not sure any front office executive currently with a quality team wants to be the first guinea pig under him.  Secondly, Dundon recently stripped Ron Francis of his GM title and “promoted” him to President of Hockey Operations.  Francis was widely respected as a player and currently respected as an executive.  I think that made some of the bigger names for the job a bit leery as well.

Side note, I think one of the biggest items to address in the offseason is improving Binghamton, which falls directly on Fitzgerald.  It’s tough for the Devils to develop their kids exactly the way they want if they are playing overseas or in NCAA, USHL or CHL.  It is vital that Binghamton is a quality hockey team for years to come, in order to provide a great learning environment for young players in a men’s league.  Think about it though…it’s really hard to put together a good AHL team.  You have to find players that are just below consistent NHL talents, but better than simply mediocre AHL’rs.  And the players who DO fit that bill, think they’re (perhaps rightfully) above the AHL and should be with the parent club making real money.  Would players like Blake Speers and Nathan Bastian be further along in their development if they were playing for a team near the top of the conference?  Hard to say!  But I imagine they would be, to a degree.  It will be fascinating to see what Fitzgerald does in the offseason to bring this team out of the basement.

4)  Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic recently listed a few under-the-radar front office executives in the NHL that should get more publicity than they do.  One of those names was Steve Pellegrini, Vice President of Hockey Operations for the New Jersey Devils:

“The former NHL salary cap guru and CBA expert was hired back in 2006 from the league head office by former GM Lou Lamoriello and remained in his post when Ray Shero came in as GM. A Western Conference executive suggested his name to me, calling Pellegrini a sharp mind who has paid his dues. He negotiates all the player contracts for the Devils.”

It always speaks to me when front office executives are retained by an incoming administration.  Normally scouting staffs don’t alter too much when a new regime comes in, but high-ranking positions like VP of Hockey Ops are normally turned over to people with strong connections to the GM.  I imagine after the McGillis-Malakhov-Mogilny fiasco in the Summer of 2005, Lou must have known he needed help from someone who knew the cap and CBA, inside and out.

5) I know a lot of people are hoping for the return of Marcus Johansson, but deep down inside…I wonder how much Ray would prefer he shut it down for the year.  For those who didn’t follow Ray prior to his Devils tenure, his son Chris suffered a concussion in January 2011…which oddly enough is the same month when Sidney Crosby had a pair in a span of days.  Chris was out of school for 2 months and didn’t play hockey until the next season.  For years, Ray has been at the forefront for concussion testing and harsher discipline on plays that induce them.  I highly suggest checking out these pieces from the Toronto Sun, CBS Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

6) Best wishes to former Devils defenseman Lyle Odelein on a speedy recovery, as Aaron Portzline of The Athletic reported that he is currently facing serious health issues at a hospital in Pittsburgh.  Odelein was a solid point-producing defenseman for the Devils in the late 90s, both at even strength and on the power play.  Odelein made it cool to pass the puck back to the goaltender when under duress, as often referenced by the great Doc Emrick as an “Odeleinian pass”.

Get well soon, Lyle.

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