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Devils fire GM Shero and seek ‘new direction’ amid yet another unsalvageable season

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Asked ahead of the season to grade the off-season handiwork of the NHL’s 31 GMs, chances are New Jersey Devils architect Ray Shero would have finished at the head of the class.
For no other organization was the summer so seemingly transformative, as not only did Shero’s Devils have the lottery balls bounce their way and end up with the first-overall pick and top prospect Jack Hughes, the New Jersey GM went out and executed a swap that brought one-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman P.K. Subban to the Devils, inked veteran forward Wayne Simmonds to a low-risk deal that had potential for high reward and then leveraged a pair of draft picks into promising winger Nikita Gusev. Add to it that Shero’s roster already included Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Sami Vatanen, among others, and there were some who were ready to call the Devils a post-season caliber club.
But as has been said, the Stanley Cup isn’t won in the off-season and it sure as heck isn’t won on paper, and New Jersey’s on-ice performance couldn’t have done much more to contradict what most saw as a brilliant bit of off-season team building by Shero. Through six games, the Devils suffered six losses, and at no point since has New Jersey been able to reattach the wheels to a bus that has spent much of the season careening uncontrollably. First, that resulted in Hall’s departure. Then it was coach John Hynes, since hired by the Nashville Predators, who got the axe. But Sunday came a decision few expected, at least in the midst of the campaign: Shero has been handed his walking papers.
In a release Sunday evening, Devils managing partner and chairman Josh Harris announced Shero and the team have “agreed to part ways,” adding that both he and the organization believe “the Devils need to move in a new direction and that this change is in the best interest of the team.” Hired by New Jersey less than one year after being let go by the Pittsburgh Penguins in May 2014, the change in the GM chair comes little more than four and a half years after Shero’s hiring. New Jersey assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald has been tabbed as interim GM, while legendary Devils netminder Martin Brodeur, who was serving in a business development role with the franchise, will take on advisory duties.
To be sure, a change in direction is warranted in New Jersey, and Shero’s successes have been few and far between since he stepped into the GM role in May 2015. Mired in a steady decline at the time of Shero’s hiring, the Devils have taken very few strides in the past four-plus seasons, and of those they have taken, few have been meaningful. Only once under Shero did New Jersey earn a playoff berth, and that berth was a by-the-skin-of-their-teeth entry on the strength of Hall’s play, which earned the now-Arizona Coyote the Hart Trophy as league MVP. Shero’s tenure is frankly best summed up thusly: since he took over ahead of the 2015-16 season, only five teams have a lower points percentage than Devils.
Given that’s the case, the autopsy of Shero’s tenure will yield plenty of reasons for his demise as Devils GM. But possibly the most indefensible, and what has surely hindered any opportunity for growth New Jersey has had over the past four-plus seasons, has been Shero’s record on draft day.
Some will excuse the Devils’ draft haul in 2015 as it came mere months into Shero’s term. That said, with the gift of hindsight, New Jersey positively bungled the sixth-overall selection that draft. Despite playing a steady role for the Devils, Pavel Zacha has not blossomed into the player the Devils had hoped, and New Jersey could undoubtedly use either of the rearguards, Ivan Provorov or Zach Werenski, who were drafted with the seventh- and eighth-overall selections that followed. But even if the performance of Shero and Co. at the 2015 draft is forgiven, it’s difficult to do the same for the drafts that have followed.
In fact, aside from the can’t-miss picks that were the first-overall selections of Hughes (2019) and Hischier (2017), the Devils have had more than their fair share of whiffs. Despite having four selections in the first 80 picks of the 2016 draft, only Jesper Bratt, a diamond in the rough selected 162nd overall, can be counted among the 30 players to have played 35 or more NHL games since that draft weekend. Other than Hischier, not one of the Devils’ 2017 picks has played more than 30 big-league games. The jury remains out on the rest, but the forecast isn’t all that promising right now. In The Hockey News’ Future Watch 2019 issue, a panel of scouts ranked defenseman Ty Smith as the only top-20 non-NHL prospect in the Devils’ system.
None of this is to say Shero didn’t also have his managerial successes. The acquisition of Kyle Palmieri early in Shero’s time as Devils GM and the addition of Hall in a stunning one-for-one swap in June 2016 were among his best. However, Shero wasn’t able to address the Devils’ greatest issues in recent years. For the second season running, the Devils are in line to post some of the worst goaltending numbers in the NHL. New Jersey’s blueline, even after the acquisition of Subban, is a concern. Despite adding Palmieri and the since-traded Hall – dealt away for picks and prospects less than one month ago – Shero failed to surround them with a proper supporting cast. The Devils are operating with the fourth-lowest goals per game total at the time of Shero’s firing. The lack of offensive depth, and frankly depth at all positions, falls on Shero’s shoulders. There are really no two ways about that.
And it’s all of these flaws, be it the goaltending or the blueline or the offensive ineptitude, that Shero’s successor will be tasked with addressing, not one of which will be an overnight repair. This will take seasons, multiple, to fix, and it’s going to be an arduous process that will almost assuredly see the Devils remain a league bottom feeder for years to come while whoever steps into the GM chair attempts to build around the pieces that do exist. When you’re at the top, change is never easy. When you’re at the bottom, it likely means there are more years at the bottom to come. And that’s where the Devils are right now, starting somewhat anew more than four and a half years after they believed they were about to get the fresh start that they needed.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Tags: news, new jersey devilsConnect: About the AuthorJared ClintonJared Clinton is a writer and web editor with The Hockey News. He’s been with the team since 2014. He was born, raised and resides in Winnipeg, where he can be found missing the net on outdoor rinks all over town.

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The NHL is going to the Sunshine State for the All-Star Game next year. Any way they can shoot it into the sun instead?

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Everything about the All-Star Game, from the Skills Competition to the low-effort 3-on-3 tournament, is broken and the event does nothing to showcase the best game in the world.The Pacific Division All-Stars|Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty ImagesST. LOUIS – It’s pretty clear that F-bombs were the underlying theme of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game and that didn’t even include the chorus of millions of viewers who were sitting at home and likely saying something like, “(Expletive), this is god awful.”
Even by All-Star Game standards, where the bar is basically set on the ground when it comes to competitiveness and entertainment, this was putrid. Four teams played the equivalent of one full 60-minute game of hockey and scored a total of 38 goals. Think about that for a minute. The Canadian and American women’s teams, who actually played as though they cared about the game, produced just three in 20 minutes.
And for the second straight year, the female players saved the weekend. Which is great for women’s hockey, but says about as much about how bad this event is as it does about the excellence of the women’s game. For those of you who care, and will need to refer to the written word when the results are wiped from your memory bank 10 minutes from now, the Pacific Division defeated the Atlantic Division 5-4 in the championship game and split $1 million in prize money. David Pastrnak, who was named Least Terrible Player™ and won a car for his efforts, scored six points in the tournament. So did Leon Draisaitl and Quinn Hughes, which would represent a pretty good week for all of them.
The night was not without its controversial moments. Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong kept the censors busy by dropping three F-bombs during the band’s in-game performance. As one observer noted, with their performance, Green Day gave more (expletives) than the players.
And on the ice, the heated rivalry between Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers and Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames got a little bit of juice. On the second goal of the second game, which came 2:59 into the game, Tkachuk made a no-look, between-the-legs pass to Draisaitl, who buried it. Tkachuk didn’t even look toward Draisaitl and made for the bench, while Draisaitl appeared to say “(expletive) you” to Tkachuk.
“I hope everyone realizes I was just joking around,” Draisaitl said. “I guess I expected (Tkachuk to skate after the bench). I probably would have done the same.”
As far as his part in the exchange, Tkachuk said he didn’t hear anything from Draisaitl and as far as skating back to the bench, said he wasn’t about to do a major celebration for an assist in the All-Star Game. “I don’t know if anyone else was celebrating goals tonight,” Tkachuk said. “You guys read too much into that. I have zero idea (if Draisaitl said anything). It was my first shift of the game and I was going back to the bench and we had just made it 2-0. You have to ask everyone else if they celebrated after goals. I didn’t see too much of it.”
Tkachuk has a point there. Had these guys celebrated after every goal, there might have been a spate of rotator cuff injuries among the best players in the league going into the home stretch. “It was a nice play by him,” Draisaitl said about the Tkachuk pass. “Like I said all along, we’re all here to have fun, we’re all here to have a good time and things like that, they happen in the game. This is not the time to be grumpy about anything. Our team, everyone here had a great time.”
Of course they did. They all held hands, sang Kumbaya and went out and put forth minimal effort. Over the three games, Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens was the only one to record a hit. It becomes clearer with every passing year that this event is essentially a mid-season waste of time. You can’t make players care about this game. Not even a $90,000 reward is enough to do it. The NHL has already said that next year’s game will have more of an “international flavor” to it, which might help. But this thing, from the Skills Competition to the three-game tournament, is broken. Badly. It’s embarrassing and it does absolutely nothing to showcase the best game in the world.
So to recap, the highlights of the weekend were the women’s game and seven-year-old Alex Letang, son of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris, who was adorable and engaging in the post-game interview area. Aside from that, nothing about this spectacle was memorable. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday that having the league shut down for two weeks every four years for the Olympics is, “extraordinarily disruptive.” Meanwhile, half the league is off for five days before the All-Star Game and the other half puts its feet up for the five days after. And the league takes a four-day break to put the event on. But it’s apparently too much for the league to take a two-week break every four years.
Next year’s All-Star Game is in Florida. Instead of going to the Sunshine State for the game, perhaps the NHL could just shoot this whole event into the sun.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Tags: all-star gameConnect: About the AuthorKen CampbellKen Campbell, The Hockey News’ senior writer, is in his second tour with the brand after an eight-year stint as a beat reporter for the Maple Leafs for the Toronto Star. The Sudbury native once tried out for the Ontario League’s Wolves as a 30-year-old. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.

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Black Hockey History Tour Arrives Just When the Sport Needs it Most

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The mobile museum celebrates hockey’s trailblazing black players – and reinforces the ‘hockey is for everyone’ message during a turbulent time.|Matt Larkin/The Hockey NewsST. LOUIS – The trailer, decked out and converted to a mobile museum, was packed to capacity, adorned with images of black NHL players, information about their legacies and artifacts, including recreated St. Louis Blues jersey stalls for Grant Fuhr, Ryan Reaves and Jamal Mayers. A crowd gathered around a roulette-style trivia wheel, taking turns answering questions about the history of black hockey players. Among the people answering were black people and white people, kids and adults, men and women. This was the latest stop on the NHL’s Black Hockey History Tour, and it means a lot to many different people for many different reasons.
Firstly, for any person of color who has played the game or dreams of playing the game, seeing the images of and facts on black hockey players, whose history in the game dates back as far as the 1800s, is inspiring and moving. Retired NHL right winger Joel Ward, attending the exhibit Saturday in St. Louis, was visibly energized by the sight of it.
“As you can see, we’ve been playing hockey for a long time – we’ve been at it,” Ward said with a proud laugh. “What a cool thing to do. For me, growing up, there weren’t too many black players. Kevin Weekes in our family was the end-all of superheroes. So for the kids to come out here and get a glimpse and learn a little more about history and all the brothers that played, it’s really cool.”
The exhibit also carries far more weight today than anyone could’ve expected even two months ago. After right winger Akim Aliu came forward in November with revelations of racist comments by his former AHL coach, Bill Peters, it sent a shockwave through hockey that culminated in Peters’ resignation as coach of the NHL’s Calgary Flames. It was a watershed moment for the game that led to the NHL, with help from Aliu, tabling the idea of a code of conduct and zero-tolerance approach to hate speech in the sport. The initiative won’t change the landscape overnight, however. Retired NHL goalie turned NHL Network lead analyst Weekes, who was also on hand Saturday, said the exhibit shouldn’t carry extra weight right now, but that it does given the sad stories still coming out. We learned how far the game still has to go less than a week ago when AHL defenseman Brandon Manning was suspended five games for using racial slurs against the Ontario Reign left winger Boko Imama.
For Kwame Mason, director of the documentary Soul On Ice and the museum’s co-curator, the exhibit does an important service of offsetting all the upsetting stories in the hockey world today with some tales of wins for inclusivity.
“Because the atmosphere of hockey is fighting to be more inclusive, to be more welcoming, museums like this will show people that there is that idea of hockey being for everyone,” Mason said. “This is why it’s important. It counteracts the negative stories that are out there. For every negative, we have to have a positive.”
Lastly, seeing all the different types of people taking in the exhibit this weekend – which included all types of races – really underscored the point of the museum: it’s a way to bring attention and respect to the trailblazing black players, from Willie O’Ree to Angela James, but also a decidedly inclusive project designed to invite all types of people to learn about black hockey history. That philosophy is exactly what the NHL hopes to bring to the game as a whole – to eschew the antiquated idea that hockey is a sport for the old guard and no one else, that it can’t be shared with minorities, women or people of different sexual orientations. To drive the point home, Weekes came up with an illuminating analogy.
“I’ve been to Italy numerous times, I have a lot of Italian friends in Toronto and New Jersey, and they never say, ‘Pasta’s our food, it’s just ours. Nobody’s allowed to eat it. You can’t have it. You can’t have marinara sauce. You can’t have buffalo mozzarella. It’s just for us,’ ” Weekes said. “Nobody says that! So we can’t be saying that in hockey. We can’t. It’s the most ludicrous thing in the world.”
So while the NHL and the sport have many years worth of work left to establish that Hockey is For Everyone, the black hockey history museum didn’t exist a couple years ago, so it’s a clear sign of progress. Just as young women watching the 3-on-3 game on TV Friday might have been inspired to pick up a stick and play, any minorities visiting the museum could experience the same kind of inspiration.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Tags: nhlConnect: About the AuthorMatt LarkinMatt Larkin is a senior writer at The Hockey News and has been part of the team since 2011. He’s your one-stop shop for deep-dive player interviews, predictions, statistics, fantasy player rankings, player safety and hair tips. Catch him weekly as host of The Hockey News Live and The Hockey News Podcast.

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