Saturday, November 1, 2014

Maybe it's time for some changes

The Devils are off to a better start than last year (5-3-2, 12 points through 10 games, good for 3rd in the Metro division this year versus 1-5-4 for 6 points through 10 games last year). It's a pace for 98 points where 93 made the playoffs in the East last year (the Devils finished with 88). But there are still a lot of reasons the Devils need to make changes.

First, they're somewhere between measures for a .500 team ("NHL .500" is referred to as an average of 1 standings point per game, which the Devils are slightly above, at 1.2; in pure wins and losses, ".500" is wins in half of the games, which the Devils have exactly that). But the really need to be better. It's early in the season, so the standings are somewhat volatile right now. Three teams are only 2 points behind the Devils, and they're tied with another team at 12 points. And that's just in the division where only the top 3 teams make the playoffs. They're also a point out of first. 5-3-2 would be out of the playoffs if they were in the current Atlantic Division. I expect things to shuffle a bit this season. Status quo isn't going to be good enough.

The Devils wins were also bunched up (3) at the start of the season, and the team blew leads in 4 straight games (including an OT win) before winning without leading on Thursday night. Twice in 10 games things got bad enough where the goalie was replaced.

I've long been a critic of Peter DeBoer and his mis-management of the players he's given, from frequent chemistry-killing line changes (both in game and between games), not managing the young players well (example: Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Jacob Josephson), as well as a lot of some basic hockey things that should be handled during practice (like passing that his team doesn't seem to grasp and penalty kill). He's also missed the playoffs in an un-Devil-like 2 seasons in a row (I almost consider the 2012 team, the only playoff appearance in 4 seasons, but the first under his watch, as a fluke), and there are a lot of these little things that could spell out a third.

Look at the last game, against Winnipeg on Thursday night. The team looked uncoordinated (not the first time in his term that I've noticed it) for most of the game. Sloppy passing, veteran defenseman getting beat. Things turned when Salvador was benched in the 3rd period. Salvador's skill level has been slipping for some time now, and maybe it's time for him to take a more regular seat (he can still be a presence in the clubhouse if that's where he gets praise) to allow more playing time for Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson, or even allow another young defenseman from the Albany team get into the lineup.

Speaking of Albany, I went to see them play last Saturday night. The Albany team hasn't lost in regulation this season (6 wins and a shootout loss, which I think reads out to 6-0-0-1). They looked coordinated. There wasn't one dominant player that should get an immediate call up (though Boucher did because of injury, and one or two of the defenseman are on the "watch" list) like I noticed with both Merrill and Gelinas when I saw them play last year. Everybody playing was playing well. They didn't look tired in a back-to-back like their parent club did that same night.

There was even one point in the game where I saw Peter Harrold (the 7th defenseman in NJ for some time, now playing in Albany) keeping the puck in the zone, and I said to my friend that in NJ, that puck would have gotten out, even with the same Peter Harrold playing in the same spot. I meant it somewhat as a joke, but there's a lot of meaning behind it. I think the Albany team is a lot better coached than the NJ team is. Now the NJ team has a lot of veterans who should know how to play hockey, but the coach is there to make them play as a team and to keep them sharp and to keep them from tiring out with his management of ice time both during the game and practice, knowing the demands of the schedule. What do they work on in practice anyway? So many things I've seen in NJ that need a lot of practice.

So I think it's time for some changes. DeBoer needs to go. I wonder if Rick Kowalsky would be the right guy to come in this season and replace DeBoer (or even next season as not to disrupt the success in Albany while using an interim coach in NJ). With more young players playing who played for Kowalsky in Albany (Gelinas, Boucher, Merrill, Larsson, Josephson and quite a few more in the pipeline), it might be better to have their coach come up too. I also think Salvador should remain on the bench in favor of Larsson and Gelinas. If Larsson proves to be a bust, there are more players in Albany that can make the move.

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