Monday, January 20, 2020

New Jersey Devils Fire Ray Shero, Now What?

By Scott Huntington

People used to find the New Jersey Devils in the news because they made it to the Stanley Cup playoffs, won the Cup for the third time, or traded for some of the most prominent players in the game. They made their mark on the hockey industry under long-time General Manager Lou Lamoriello, who passed the baton off to Ray Shero in the 2015 offseason.

Shero joined the team with extensive experience with the Pittsburgh Penguins, making notable acquisitions of Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis, and Hal Gill that led them to the 2009 Stanley Cup. As of Sunday, the Devils fired him before he could finish his fifth season.

It's a move that rocked the team and leaves the future in question. Here's what experts are speculating about the Devils' future and what fans can expect in the upcoming months.

What Led to Shero's Firing

History shows a roster of mistakes that could have mounted tensions before Shero's firing, but his issue of not addressing goaltending this past summer was the final straw. A few better plays in the net would have prevented the team from struggling during the last season, but Shero left them on their own. The many bad moves cost the Devils their chance of retaining renowned player Taylor Hall in December.

The ultimate issue was that Shero had no direction for the team. He appeared to keep everyone waiting until Cory Schneider could find his momentum. Every decision Shero made was to give the team their best chance possible to win with Hall's powerhouse skills, but the first three months of the season were a strategy disaster.

What Management Might Do

Shero's recent firing hints at more dysfunction in the team's ownership than their statements let on. They're looking for someone with great GM experience, who can redirect the team and re-strategize the remaining 2019-2020 season. As of now, Tom Fitzgerald currently fills the role of interim GM and is widely respected for his leadership skills, but other teams are also considering him for current openings.

While Fitzgerald enjoys his GM test run before possibly moving on to a permanent role elsewhere, the team's owners have compiled their roster of potential hires. Bill Armstrong, the assistant GM in St. Louis, and Columbus' Bill Zito are some of the most well-known figures in the running for the permanent GM role.

Don't expect news about this anytime soon. It may take until summer to fill the role, in case there are other firings at the end of the season that free up more experienced GMs.

The Devils' managing partner, Josh Harris, also announced that the owners are looking to Martin Brodeur for help in running the team. They asked him to be an advisor to the hockey operations department, given his Hall of Fame goalie skills and experience with the St. Louis Blues as assistant general manager. It may stabilize the team and potentially fix their goaltending issues.

What the Future Holds

How the next few months play out is up to the coordinated efforts of the team's players and ownership. Before his firing, Shero picked Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes for center, which gives the team a powerful offensive advantage. Based on this season's track record, the only way to go from here is up.

Still, the team relies on pros like Wayne Simmonds, Sami Vatanen, and captain Andy Greene. All three could go elsewhere at the trade deadline if Fitzgerald or his replacement don't come up with a plan.

Keep an Eye Out

Things will be a bit rocky over the last few months of the current season as the Devils transition into the next phase of their legacy. With Shero gone, goaltending can become more of a focus as everyone looks for some direction as to what's coming next.

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