The Devils Backpage’d Two of Their Most Gutsy Wins of an Otherwise Awful Season With an Out-of-Nowhere Dismissal of GM Ray Shero
Because the only alternative is inconsolably weeping, ya just gotta laugh at this point. In the almost-too-comforting wake of the New Jersey Devils’ most impressive performance of the season, a convincing road win over the Washington Capitals, their ownership shockingly dropped the bomb of all bombs into what was finally starting to feel like somewhat serene waters 90 minutes before the home follow-up a night later.
Of course, you’d seek a “second” opinion from approximately six different psychics before believing that this team, as currently constructed, would string together back-to-back wins over the best team in hockey and the hottest team in hockey while riding the hot hand of…::prepare to pinch yourself::…Louis Domingue. Therefore, timing that can only be described as either hysterical or worthy of hysterics, depending on how self-deprecating you allow your sense of humor to be, was merely a product of irony.
Still, this team finally taking a sizable step in the right direction while the person who pointed them in said direction was being directed out the door is a coincidence that only a franchise in complete and utter flux could manage to “accomplish”. When you consider how quickly this season's expectations expired, this past weekend served as a hard-to-top high. Yet, even it was unceremoniously interrupted by the ultimate organizational low of managing to complete the trifecta of internal turmoil, by adding the GM to the list of casualties that already included the head coach and the best player, before the goddamn All Star break.
I’m not going to list all of them, because I have to get back to stuffing a life-size likeness of Nico Hischier to serve as my emotional support cuddle buddy until the sun shines on this predominantly dark era of Devils’ hockey. Still, other than the trade for Mirco Mueller, it was pretty tough to argue with any semi-substantial move Ray Shero made when he actually made it. Some turned out much better than others, but hardly any were scoffed at like they came from the desk of Peter Chiarelli.
Unfortunately, as much as I continued to trust in his asset management, the only thing that even his most universally praised acquisitions had in common was losing at a nauseatingly high level. So, especially if his plan of attack was to retreat and re-re-set the franchise by trading everyone that's over 25 years old and worth a damn for more yet-to-be-determined teenagers that have been relatively slow to develop on his watch, it's possible that firing Ray Shero was the right call.
He deserves all the credit in the world for spotting the sucker in the room, as that is an important skill to have in his field, and strong-arming said sucker into making a notorious and lopsided one-for-one deal that brought aboard the human rabbit’s foot that went on to become the first league MVP in franchise history. However, though he lucked into more than enough lemons in the draft lottery, he was hardly able to squeeze enough out of them to quench the thirst of a fanbase and front office that was made dehydrated by the desperate desire for more than one measly playoff victory.
If only out of fear of not being able to find a preferable power source, I personally wouldn’t have pulled the plug on Ray Shero just yet. He wasn’t the one who inked an aging goaltender to a long-term extension and the bi-polar status of Schneider's ability, never mind availability, has all but annually kicked over the bricks as he slowly but surely tried to build around a suspect defense. That said, even I can understand the “enough is enough” mindset in regards to the Devils’ rebuild and I didn’t sink hundreds of millions of dollars into a once formidable franchise only to be presented with the prospect of burning it back down to the studs - that are Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes - by pouring more gasoline on what’s largely been a five-year tire fire of an investment.
What I can’t understand, on the other hand, is the suspicious timing of what was presumably a fundamental disagreement about the immediate future of a foundering team. Never mind Ray Shero’s ousting being sandwiched by two wins that, impressive as they may be, mean very little in the long run. The timing I’m referring to is deciding there is a better (or more agreeable) man for the job shortly after letting said man complete the most impactful and tedious tasks of said job by cutting lose the head coach and orchestrating the mid-season trade of a superstar on an expiring contract. Regardless of whether or not John Hynes' termination was inevitable (it was) or whether or not there was someone more qualified to maximize what was sure to be an underwhelming return for Taylor Hall (there wasn’t), letting Ray Shero make those moves when they apparently weren't committed to letting him tend to the fruits of that labor is perplexing at best and frightening at worst.
Fans get to view a revamped roster through rose-colored glasses, but executives aren’t granted that same luxury. No matter how optimistic the outlook, there should have been an agreed upon contingency plan for the worst case scenario well before the season started and the “worst case scenario” was left feeling better about itself by looking down at the Devils’ blowing multi-goal third period leads at a rate that was impossible to anticipate.
Simply put, to only now reach an impasse in mutual understanding leaves me with very little faith that the decision makers that are still in place know what the hell they are doing. From the outside looking in, it certainly seems as though Ray Shero, Josh Harris, David Blitzer, and Hugh Weber did about as good a job at being prepped for the next chapter, never mind staying on the same page, as a bunch of housewives disguising their alcoholism in a shared love of literature at the weekly meeting of a boozy book club. If that doesn’t make you want to pop a cork and drown the sorrows of complete uncertainty then I’d greatly appreciate you lending me whatever will power you have left over.
Don’t get me wrong. Transitioning from the patently false grammatical migraine that is #WeAreTheOnes to the indefinitely forgiving #TrustTheProcess would be a welcomed change in forced enthusiasm amongst the fanbase. “Shero died for our sins” definitely does have the type of ring to it that would make Sam Hinkie brandish an envious hue. Other than that, however, there’s not much in the past of this ownership group that I want to see replicated in the Devils’ future. I’m oddly confident in Tom Fitzgerald, who was primed for taking the same position elsewhere if not for being stuck in this hand-basket to hell...
...but if the 76ers’ successful hiring of Elton Brand was any indication then we should be very wary of Martin Brodeur being gifted a feel-good, legacy-based promotion that he is in no way yet qualified to undertake.
Maybe I'm jumping the gun and that’s nowhere near in the works. Maybe the money men were comfortable in making this move because they have done far more preliminary research than I and have taken a long, nuanced look at a variety of external candidates.
I just don't think that Ray Shero getting canned for vague/cliched/canned reasons while the young roster he pieced together (from the barren wasteland that he inherited from Lou Lamoriello) was finally showing the promise of progress firmly grips anyone's hand and leads them to believe there is a well-thought out succession plan in place…never mind one that Devils’ fans should have a single ounce of faith in while blindly following an exposed organization into an unfamiliar abyss.