Normally I wouldn't write this many posts, but this was an exception.
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There had been speculation that since the new owners were being tentative on their "state of things" conference at the end of the year that changes were coming. Lou said it was his idea to step down, but since the speculation was there, I think it's fair to say that the situation may have been a bit more complicated than that.
This isn't a eulogy of Lou; enough people did that already. We all know what he's accomplished with the team.
This is like a look at the one thing he did that hurt his progress the most, his tragic flaw or fatal undoing: bringing Parise to arbitration.
What about this move changed the fate of this franchise and forced it into obscurity?
Well, when it first happened (and I immediately became anxious when it did!), the idea was that Parise wasn't going to get an offer sheet from another franchise. But you have to look at the consequences of the action. What IF Parise had signed an offer sheet? What if he signs 7.8 a year for 12 years, for example... well... that would have given Lou possibly 4 first round picks at the time, or at least 2 1sts, a 2nd, and a 3rd. The compensation would have slowed the Devils down as a franchise, but it wouldn't have diminished their asset value. They could have traded those picks for immediate help, or they could have sat back and refueled their farm system.
Or you could have just signed it and had an all star winger for the next eight years (and maybe a top 6 the last four).
Now the owner had issues, yes, but no issue should ever sacrifice the asset value of a franchise (that is, the number of quality resources they have to trade/use). You CANNOT afford to lose an all star player for nothing... and the last three years is why.
If he had not taken Parise to arbitration, but waited to sign a 3-5 year deal with him at the time, no problem, then a year before his contract expires, he might move Parise or he might sign him to an extension.
Why did I write this? Because much of the criticism he's getting is unfair. "The New Jersey Devils are irrelevant... their system doesn't work anymore" (it does... even without two impact players, had they gone 50% in shootouts, they make playoffs last year), "Their drafting has been bad" (it's been average, well above average in round 2-3), etc.
And fans criticize him for his inactivity and his inability to acquire young impact forwards. He might have acquired young impact forwards... with a couple of first round picks in his arsenal. But you can't sap maple from a pine tree. If impact forwards aren't available with what you have to offer, you can't force them to be available.
Everything that happened with Kovalchuk was unfortunate for the franchise (at the same time, a blessing). Kovy might have stayed around had Parise stayed around. But as soon as Parise had no obligation to the Devils, he left. And then Kovy saw an opportunity to do something that was obviously resting on the back of his mind to do.
Moral of the story? You can't allow your star players to test free agency. It's the same thing as saying you cannot give a toddler a loaded gun. Star players have no idea the value they have to a franchise or the implications their decisions will have. They're just making decisions that they feel is best for themselves... they have no awareness that their absence will hurt anyone. Parise said that he had no idea that the Devils were going to miss the playoffs the next few years because he thought Lou had everything taken care of.
So what about everything else? What did Lou do to try to recover?
He found a new franchise goaltender. The development of the Devils future D has gone far better than expected. They're essentially loaded with assets on the back end.
He tried: he signed Cammalleri, and he tried to add some goals onto the roster with Jagr, Brunner, and Ryder, and while Jagr did better than expected, Ryder did poorer than expected. That's one top 6 forward down. Two more to go.
Truth is, he had very little to work with. Barring the Parise accident, what might NJ have done these last two years if they still had both Parise and Kovalchuk? We can't know, because their failure in the first season without Parise is what gave them the pick to acquire Schneider... who's a top 5 goalie right now.
But as for what Shero has ahead of him is not as doom and gloom as many other NHL fans and media are reporting (they'll be irrelevant for five years! some say). Unlike the other teams in the bottom ten of the league, NJ has goaltending and defense (vastly underrated as it is) set. All they need is some top 6 forwards.
In the end: Lou's decision to take Parise to arbitration sliced an artery in the organization, but he and the organization have actually done a really good job at bandaging the wounds over the last three years. The NHL's current drafting system is a complete mess and has been since the league expanded past 26 teams, so the "transition" might take a couple more years as Shero's now tasked with improving the asset value of the franchise even more.
But you can't criticize ALL of a person's decision-making on one bad move. You can do 98% of things right, 2% of things wrong, and that 2% will kill ya. You can do 50% of things right and 50% of things wrong, and the good will just end up outweighing the bad. Lou was more an 80/20 split... but that 20 included the loss of Parise and that awful Clowe contract.
Let's just hope Shero continues to steer the team in the right direction.
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