Q&A With...In Lou We Trust!
Our talk with the other SBNation Metropolitan Division blogs continues as we go one on one with John Fischer of In Lou We Trust!
The New Jersey Devils have had more upheavals off the ice in the last few seasons than any other Metro division team. Ownership struggles, parting ways with Martin Brodeur, the many layered Kovalchuk saga, the departure of Zach Parise after their run to the Cup Finals, and much more.
There's a lot of questions around the Devils organization, and their new ownership has quite a lot of work to do. I reached out to John Fischer, head honcho over at In Lou We Trust, to get his take.
1) I think it's fair to say that this offseason in Jersey was the start of the post-Marty era in Devils history. How are you (and most Devils fans) feeling about that?
I think most fans are fine with it. The 2013-14 campaign went a long way in making most fans, myself included, realize that it's the end of the Martin Brodeur Era. His save percentage has been in decline for a number of seasons now, but not necessarily in the forefront of team issues like the lack of scoring. The results have helped hide that.
Yet, with the arrival of Cory Schneider, it was apparent that the Devils could have had it much better in net. A difference of 2% in save percentage is massive over a whole season and even I still wonder what would have been the results had Schneider received 10-15 more games than he got. If you're looking for a turning point, the Blowout in the Bronx serves a good one as any. Since the fans endured all that and saw a better man not getting the minutes he should have, I'd say more fans - my self included - have mentally and emotionally moved on and are looking ahead to 2014-15. The Brodeur we all knew and loved is not the same as the 42-year old man not yet realizing there's a reason he still doesn't have a contract.
2) People like to joke about the Devils' offense, but adding Cammalleri and Havlat wasn't a terrible move. Do you think they'll be able to spark things up?
I hope so. The roots of the Devils' lack of production lie in their lack of shots. They're excellent in possession but they do it by playing low-event hockey. Even with only looking at road-game data, the Devils were among the lowest shooting teams in the league. That is likely due to the system they play in more than the players in the system. That said, there will be chances for Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat to add some offense. When healthy, both have been fairly productive at a minimum. Their talents are suited for the attack, which addresses a seemingly constant need for New Jersey. They will be especially useful for a power play that will not likely enjoy a high shooting percentage as they did last season. The big concern for both is their health. They both didn't play full seasons last season and they have their own injury histories. You can't spark things up from the IR list.
3) Was the departure of Volchenkov a bit of addition by subtraction?
In the long run, yes. The Devils jettisoned their biggest contract on defense to create a spot for the younger defensemen. Volchenkov was playing third-pairing minutes, he provides next to no offense, and his only value was playing the PK. He wasn't an anchor like Bryce Salvador but he wasn't so necessary either. The hope will be placed on Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, and Eric Gelinas. All three have shown that they might represent a bright future on the Devils' blueline. Two of them will have to shine right away. Mark Fayne's departure means Andy Greene needs a new partner to play big minutes against tough competition. Volchenkov's departure is another spot, though a lesser one. Those spots need to be filled at a minimum. I think Larsson and Merrill can do so, but again, they'll have to do so quickly for the Volchenkov buyout to immediately mean addition by subtraction.
4) Outside of Stefan Matteau, are there other prospects that we should keep an eye on who you think have a good chance to make an impact in Jersey this year?
This year, I don't think Stefan Matteau or any of the forward prospects will make an impact. The Devils are lacking in that department. Moreover, they have 14 forwards signed that are waiver-eligible, seven defensemen signed, Ryan Carter in training camp without a contract but expected to sign with NJ at some point, and three veteran forwards on a professional try-out basis. There's no room for Matteau, Reid Boucher (great shot, everything else could use work), or anyone else. If it wasn't for the emergence of Gelinas (not yet signed, but he's a RFA so he's not going anywhere) and Merrill last season, then I would think Damon Severson would get another long look in camp. He played well into preseason last fall and didn't look too different from Gelinas or Merrill. Granted, it's preseason but there's reason to be excited for him. If it wasn't for the AHL-CHL agreement, then I think he would have made Albany last season instead of having to go back to dominate juniors again. That said, Severson will likely leave an impression for future call-ups as opposed to a roster spot straight away.
In net, there's 25-year old Keith Kinkaid, who could very well be the #2 goalie this season. He's been the starter in Albany since being signed out of Union College three seasons ago. His save percentages in the AHL weren't great, but he's been the #3 man and with Brodeur gone, he may move up. He'll have to beat out a 37-year old veteran backup in Scott Clemmensen. Scott Wedgewood will also be in camp, but since he didn't reach a 90% save percentage as a rookie in the AHL last season, he's not really going to be in the picture for the backup goaltender battle this fall. Overall, the Devils brought in so many bodies this summer and in camp that there's not any immediate room. When injuries strike, then we may see Boucher, Matteau, Severson, and some others - but only on a limited basis.
5) Don Lou has never been afraid to yank a coach who he feels isn't getting it done. How safe is DeBoer if the team struggles again?
Well, I don't know who Don Lou is, but Mr. Lamoriello's past history with coaches isn't necessarily cut and dry like that. Here's the prior five coaches to Peter DeBoer and how they left the position: John MacLean proved to be in over his head from the get-go; he was the last mid-season firing. With only 9 wins by Christmas, it's hard to say it wasn't justified. Jacques Lemaire retired and only returned to fill in MacLean's departure with (literally) nothing to lose. Brent Sutter resigned citing family reasons before signing with Calgary. Claude Julien had a mutiny on his hands and Lou chose the players' demands ahead of the playoffs. Larry Robinson got sick from being a head coach and couldn't handle it in-season. Only one had to do with results and the season got beyond fixing before it happened. That all said: if the Devils really flop in the first two months, then I think DeBoer is out. I don't want him to suffer that fate. His system has been making the most of what he's got. I don't think there's another coach that could have done that much better. I don't think that will happen, as I do think the team will make the postseason - thereby keeping DeBoer's position safe.
Bonus: Has the new ownership honeymoon worn off yet, or are fans still feeling pretty jazzed about the new bosses?
I think most of the fans are positive. The big concern about Vanderbeek was whether he had enough money to run the team. Josh Harris by himself is worth over $2 billion, so for there's no longer any money concerns. From the standpoint of what an owner is primarily responsible for, then there are no issues.
In terms of the business & arena experience aspect, we'll see. The dumbest thing they've done so far was changing the goal song. For years and years and years, it's been Rock and Roll Part 2. The argument for changing it was that it wasn't family-friendly how the fans chanted "You suck" after every "Hey." That's a load of garbage on it's own, especially in a sport where the culture excuses profanity in most ways. You may disagree but what was garbage was in how they changed it. After a preseason with the original song that caused no damage to no one, they announced that fans would get to vote for a replacement song online. Three songs were picked, two of them weren't even thought up as suggestions via various hives of Devils fans online. The first two stunk and no one knew what they were. Seven Nation Army was the winner by virtue of the only one being recognizable. Fans still yelled "You suck" to the beat, causing the song to be played louder than necessary. Incidentally, this is something that Jeff Vanderbeek, the prior owner, tried to change in his first season. To "Ole" by the Bouncing Souls, if I recall correctly. It didn't last. We'll see if they are stubborn, but I don't think fans are going to - nor should they - fully shut up.
But in the bigger picture, that's just a small piece. There will be more changes to the experience at the Rock in this coming season. They hired more personnel for sales and so forth. The Devils Dancers are apparently out. I don't think they'll be missed too much; they didn't really add much value. In a session with season ticket holders, they made it clear they wanted new vendors for food. That should be in place soon. Harris did get Quince Imaging, which should lead to some really impressive video work for presentation.
They've done work for the Cavs and Nets earlier this year, real impressive stuff with 3D imaging on the court. Provided they work on that aspect, continue to give Lou the money he needs to do his thing, and doesn't meddle, then there should be no issue. If they want that full A+, then would do well to bring back the original goal song that the fans prefer.
Thanks again to John for answering our questions - go check out ILWT for an in depth look at the Devils as we get ready for the 2014-2015 season!