The idiom “The Devil is in the details” often refers to how something might seem simple at first look, but will take more time and effort to complete.
I think it fits nicely for sports teams trying to rebuild. There are many theories on how to do it, but as we have seen in the NHL it works for some teams, and not for others, but in many cases some luck is a major ingredient.
Between 2002-2006 the Pittsburgh Penguins were the worst team in the NHL, winning 100 of 328 games. Their losing gave them four top-two picks, but if they hadn’t won the draft lottery in 2005 and the right to select Sidney Crosby, they likely don’t have the success they’ve had over the past 13 seasons. Crosby has 1,233 points. Bobby Ryan went second that year and he has 551 points. Jack Johnson, Benoit Pouliot and Carey Price rounded out the top five.
The Pens wouldn’t have taken Price because they took Marc-Andre Fleury first overall in 2003, so unless they would have grabbed Anze Kopitar (who went 11th and is second in their draft class in points with 903), the Pens wouldn’t have had a player remotely close to Crosby’s abilities.
The Chicago Blackhawks were bad for a decade, but they won the draft lottery in 2007, and moved up from the fifth spot to #1 and took Patrick Kane. Kane was a major reason they won three Stanley Cups and is still one of the most dangerous offensive players in the game, with 954 career points.
Would they have won without him? I doubt it, considering James van Riemsdyk (second overall, 449 points), Kyle Turris (third, 393 points) and D-men Thomas Hickey and Karl Alzner went fourth and fifth. Maybe the Hawks would have selected Jakub Voracek (seventh, 651 points) or Logan Couture (ninth, 521 points), but neither of them have Kane’s ability.
The Edmonton Oilers won the 2015 draft lottery, moving up from third to first, and selected Connor McDavid. The Oilers have yet to surround him with a contending team, but he, and Leon Draisaitl, still give them a fighting chance. Only four years and 17 games removed from the draft, McDavid already has 122 more points than the second overall pick, Jack Eichel. Eichel is a pretty good player, but he’s not McDavid.
The New Jersey Devils won the 2019 draft lottery, moving up from third to first, and selected Jack Hughes. It is way too early to see how good Hughes will be, but so far he has exceeded what I expected with nine point in 14 games. But the Devils are hoping their luck at the lottery will propel them to a better place in the standings.
The problem is it won’t happen overnight, and the fact their best player, Taylor Hall, is a pending unrestricted free agent and could walk this summer makes the details and plan of their rebuild much more complex.
In order to build a winning team you need many good pieces, not just a few elite superstars as Oilers fans have painfully witnessed for the past decade. Neither Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier are elite yet, but at the very least in a few seasons they should be quite good.
The most glaring weakness for the Devils is their goaltending. Cory Schneider has lost his game and he still has two years remaining with a $6 million cap hit. They are hoping McKenzie Blackwood can become a reliable starter. He has started nine of the Devils 14 games, and while his numbers (.888sv% and 3.13 GAA) are much better than Schneider’s (.854sv% and 4.71 GAA), they are still not close to good enough for an NHL starter.
They have some decent young puck moving defenders in Damon Severson, Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen, but defending is their challenge. Andy Greene is 37 years old and near the end. PK Subban turns 31 in May and you wonder if his best years are in the rear view mirror.
Hughes, Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood and Jesper Boqvist are all 24 and under. They have some solid vets in Kyle Palmeiri and Blake Coleman, but if the Hall decision will have a huge impact on their organization.
The New York Islanders have proven you can remain competitive even if your star forward walks in free agency, but I think that situation is a bit different than the Devils.
I think Ray Shero will trade Hall at the deadline rather than risk losing him for nothing it the summer. It is a big decision, but the details in contract talks will have a massive impact in the future of Devils.
Josh Archibald and Riley Sheahan are healthy and return to the lineup. They are in the same boat as lines two and four — they need to generate some offence.
Taylor Hall was asked, if he gets to unrestricted free agency, would he rule the Edmonton Oilers out?
“Haven’t even thought about it. It’s too hard to rule out, or in, any teams at this point.”
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) November 8, 2019
The Devils had played much better recently prior to last night’s loss in Calgary.
“Last night was a disappointing effort on a lot of levels,” said Taylor Hall. “We have shown we can play well for stretches of games, but last night, emotionally, structurally and competitively we weren’t there. If you have a game like that in today’s NHL you have no chance. I expect us to bounce back in our structure and competitiveness tonight.”
Hall hasn’t played with the Oilers for three years, but is a big fan of hockey and watches many games. What changes has he seen in Draisaitl’s play over the past few seasons?
“I think more assertiveness,” said Hall. “I don’t think he is riding shotgun with Connor anymore, he is driving the bus sometimes. He isn’t afraid to take the game over himself. He’s always had the skill to do that, and it’s probably just a confidence thing now. That is the case with a lot of players. You have the tools, everything is there, but it really is about having the confidence to take games over and drive the play yourself. I think that is what you are seeing with Leon.”
Many Oilers fans have wondered if Hall makes it to free agency would he consider Edmonton as a destination. Mark Spector asked him if he’d rule out Edmonton?
“I haven’t even thought about it. It is too hard to rule out or in any teams at this point.”
I didn’t expect him to say much more. He is still a member of the New Jersey Devils and commenting about playing for another franchise wouldn’t look great. I’d be surprised if he re-signed with the Devils during the season. If I was his agent I’d tell him to wait until the off-season.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The last two meetings between these two teams resulted in 6-3 wins for each team. I sense the offense, and Schneider’s struggles, continue as the Oilers win 5-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid ties Dale Hawerchuk for 12th fastest player to 400 points in his 305th game. He finishes the night with three points.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The blueline chips in with three points including Matt Benning scoring his first goal of the season.
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