It’s hard to question the general manager of a franchise that has made the playoffs 15 of the last 16 seasons. It’s even harder to question that GM when several deadline maneuvers were likely behind his team’s run to the Stanley Cup just a few months ago. Add his Hockey Hall of Fame resume into the mix and it’s practically blasphemous to suggest anything other than adoration for arguably the best GM in hockey. Still, the New Jersey Devils are in the middle of a quietly disappointing offseason and Lou Lamoriello is behind a series of confusing decisions.
Is Lou Lamoriello losing his touch? This offseason represents failure and even unpreparedness. Can fans of the New Jersey Devils still blindly trust that Lou Lamoriello will find a way to make the Devils a contender each year? Sandwiched between larger, more stable franchises, are the New Jersey Devils simply too financially handcuffed for Lamoriello to build his roster properly?
The first confusing situation that Lou Lamoriello created this offseason involved Martin Brodeur. When Lamoriello refused to offer Brodeur a second year, the legendary goaltender took to the open market to leverage a two-year deal out of the Devils. Lou Lamoriello took his almost-calloused approach to management to a new level by not offering the face of his franchise the deal he wanted. This hostility came in the midst of lengthy contract negotiations with Zach Parise.
I’ve almost forgiven Lou Lamoriello for Zach Parise’s departure. Many tried, but no GM in hockey could have successfully pried Parise away from a contract to play for his hometown team with Ryan Suter. Still, the Devils were overly cautious in pursuing Parise last season. Parise was recovering from an injury that cost him most of the 2010-11 season, but all the Devils and Parise could agree to was a one-year deal worth six-million dollars as a restricted free agent. The Devils then inexplicably named Parise captain before he walked away, which only worsened the error of signing him to a one-year deal.
When Parise ultimately decided to leave New Jersey, the Devils were left with an offensive void. In response to the consistent 60+ points that Parise took to Minnesota, Lou Lamoriello re-signed 36-year-old defenseman Bryce Salvador and worked out a deal with Mark Fayne, leaving New Jersey with ten NHL-caliber defensemen and no new offense. The injury-prone Salvador represents limited value, while the overpriced veterans already on the roster likely have no trade value whatsoever. Unless an amnesty clause bails out New Jersey, the Devils have several bad contracts invested in mediocre defensemen. Can Lou Lamoriello possibly climb his way out of the contracts that clog the back end of New Jersey’s defensive depth chart?
Countless free agents that could have helped New Jersey signed elsewhere. Goaltending remains a long-term concern for the Devils as no clear replacement for Martin Brodeur is in sight. Despite this lack of stability, Lou Lamoriello still fought Brodeur on his next contract. This offseason, Lamoriello lost his captain and failed to replace Zach Parise’s scoring. The Devils have expensive contracts for defensemen that currently would not make the NHL roster and will need to move at least one defenseman. In one of the more disappointing offseasons in recent memory (largely due to the departure of Zach Parise), it seems reasonable to question the genius of Lamoriello.
Even little things Lou Lamoriello does now seem absurd. Lamoriello opted to keep the second-to-last pick in the first round of the draft this year,opting to concede next year’s first rounder as an Ilya Kovalchuk nonsense fine. Unless the Devils win the Stanley Cup in 2013, it seems unlikely next year’s pick will be less valuable than this year’s. While Lamoriello engineers championship teams in unpredictable fashion, nothing Lou Lamoriello has done since last year’s trade deadline has made much sense.
The only explanation that relieves the Devils’ GM of responsibility for this year’s quiet offseason is that financial restrictions have crippled Lou Lamoriello. He cannot lure players to New Jersey with promises alone. The organization is unstable, the goaltending situation looming on the immediate horizon is frightening, and the Devils were forced to take a step back this offseason. Still, did New Jersey have to sign Bryce Salvador? Did Martin Brodeur not deserve a second year after leading New Jersey to the Stanley Cup Final? It seems the genius of Lou Lamoriello may not be enough anymore.