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New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero won’t let his team’s surprising success force him to deviate from his plans for this season and beyond.
Even though a deal for older more veteran talent could push the Devils further into the playoff picture for this year, Shero is taking a long view with his team.
“That’s not the direction we’re going. Every team has different expectations,” Shero said via phone to Puck Daddy. “Where we are with New Jersey, we have to retain our assets. And any trade we’re making are not really for rental players. They're really hockey trades, and those are difficult to do as we know.”
The Devils are 15-10-4 in Shero’s first year as general manager, fighting for the last Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference with his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins amongst others. Lou Lamoriello was the Devils' general manager from 1987 until last offseason when he stepped down and eventually took the same job with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Devils have missed the playoffs four of the last five years.
New Jersey has gotten a renaissance year from forward Mike Cammalleri with 30 points in 29 games played and a breakthrough year from forward Adam Henrique who has 23 points in 28 games. Shero’s offseason moves have mostly worked out with forwards Lee Stempniak (23 points) and Kyle Palmieri (13 goals and 23 points) on pace for career seasons. Goaltender Cory Schneider has played like a dark horse Hart Trophy candidate going 13-7-4 with a 2.09 goal-against average and .926 save percentage.
Shero understands that the Devils weren’t given much of a shot before the year, and tried to use that as motivation with his squad.
“There’s a conversation we had with the players, all the players the first day of training camp, ‘here’s what’s been written and here’s what’s been said.’ Not just of myself but the players, prospects, whatever it is,” Shero said. "It was, ‘here’s where we are. We’re all in this together and we have a chance to write it differently.’”
How does the plan go from here? For Shero it’s about patience with his group. He said he’s leaning on his experiences with smaller market teams like the Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators. Shero was the assistant general manager with both franchises. With the Penguins he had funds from ownership to spend as much as he possibly could under the salary cap to build a winner.
“Being the general manager of New Jersey really wasn’t about as much my experience as a general manager in Pittsburgh. I’ve really taken what I’ve learned from five years in Ottawa and eight years in Nashville with expansion teams and how you do it,” Shero said. “Certainly with the cap era it’s a little bit different, but the process itself, the development in players, trades or free agent acquisitions, the latter is a little bit different with free agency and the salary cap – it’s exciting doing it that way.”
If Shero needs to spend money, he said New Jersey’s ownership led by Josh Harris and David Blitzer will offer financial support. He just doesn’t see spending his way out of the Devils’ current situation as prudent.
“Even if they said to me this summer ‘you can go to the cap’ there’s no need to,” Shero said. “You can’t because you’re just going to handcuff yourself three or four years from now. You would have fallen into some bad deals or bad contracts.”
Shero still pays attention to the Penguins, but more from a work perspective. Pittsburgh is in the Metropolitan Division with the Devils, so he has to follow the team’s moves to stay one step ahead. Shero won one Stanley Cup with the Penguins in a tenure that went from 2006-07 through 2013-14. In his tenure the team went to the Stanley Cup Final twice, winning once.
On Saturday, the Penguins fired coach Mike Johnston in the middle of his second season with the team. The interview with Shero took place before the decision for fire Johnston. The Penguins let go of both Shero and his coach Dan Bylsma in the 2014 offseason.
“Everybody tried. We wanted to win. We got back to the (Eastern Conference Final), we just never get back to the Final for whatever reason,” Shero said. “Everyone can speculate, but I think with anything, I look back and learn from that and no different from my experience in Nashville or Ottawa, how to deal with different things.”
Is he concerned about how star Penguins forward Sidney Crosby isn’t scoring at his usual pace. More so from a hockey fan perspective than anything else. Shero made sure to point out he wasn’t in a position to comment specifically on Crosby when asked, but did speak generally about the star's struggles.
“Just because it’s Sid I guess it’s more of a national thing. He certainly seems to be rounding back into form the last nine or 10 games or so. I’m a fan, I can only hope so he does so well. We’re obviously in the same division but I hope he does well for the league’s sake and the Penguins and for himself,” Shero said. “I know he has high expectations for himself. He’s still at the right age he’s not too old. I’m sure things will come together for him in time.“
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