A calculated risk Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils took at the 2012 draft is now trending in a bad direction and could backfire in a big way a year from now.
It all started a couple years ago when Lamoriello tried to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to that ridiculous 17-year, $102-million contract that was rejected by the NHL because it was deemed to be circumventing the salary cap. The Devils and Kovalchuk re-structured it to a 15-year, $100-million deal. That was approved, but the league fined and penalized New Jersey – $3 million, the loss of a third round draft pick in 2011 and a first round pick in the Devils’ choice of the next four drafts (2011-14).
Well, the Devils ended up winning the draft lottery in 2011, moving up from the eighth overall draft slot to fourth. No way they were going to give that up. New Jersey took Adam Larsson that summer and he’s been contributing ever since.
When the Devils lost in the Cup final to the Los Angeles Kings last June, their first round draft slot dropped to 29th overall. Most of us assumed 2012 would be the year New Jersey would take its medicine and forfeit its first-rounder. That didn’t happen. Lamoriello proudly announced last June 14 he was keeping the pick and the Devils selected Stefan Matteau 29th overall June 22.
That meant the Devils would have to decide between 2013 and 2014 to give up its first round pick. With New Jersey hosting the draft this June and not having picks in the third, fifth and seventh rounds, there’s probably no way they’re going to surrender it this year. Add in the fact the Devils have been atrocious lately and are now looking poised for a top-10 pick in a deep draft and we can all assume they’ll be making a first round selection on home turf June 30.
So that means the Devils will not have a pick in the 2014 draft, which according to International Scouting Services is even deeper than this year’s draft. Do you think Lamoriello would like to go back in time and give up the first pick last summer? (No disregard meant to Matteau, who is a fine prospect and managed to crack the New Jersey roster and play 17 games this season before being returned to the Quebec League.)
Maybe if the Devils re-group in the off-season, move up the standings, qualify for the playoffs and win a round or two, that pick may not be in the top 20. But the Devils are one of the older teams and may lose David Clarkson as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Moreover, Martin Brodeur will be 41 and UFA Patrik Elias 37 next season. This is not a team on the upswing.
More and more, New Jersey is looking like a team in need of a makeover. If 2013-14 is another step backwards, the first round pick the Devils are required to forfeit next summer could end up being a very high pick in a very deep draft.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN