For years in the National Hockey League, the trend for teams was to keep a general manager around as long as possible to fulfill the vision of his plan. That is why the firing of New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero was shocking. It came out of nowhere. However, maybe we should not be that surprised because of the way the sport is trending. While the timing of the firing is very strange, we live in a world where everyone wants instant gratification. And when you are an owner of a sports franchise you need to see results right away. While team success and the all mighty dollar drives every decision made, the Devils need to be driven by one voice and one philosophy going forward.
Devils Need One Voice and Vision
Timeline of Shero Firing
When Shero came on in May of 2015, he had a lot of work to do after how Lou Lamoriello left the team. The cupboard was bare and the Devils did not have the draft picks necessary to go through a rebuild. Lamoriello was always trying to keep the team relevant and fighting for the playoffs instead of looking long-term. Josh Harris and David Blitzer both understood the plan Shero and his team laid out for them. Again these are the same owners that own the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and went through the whole “Trust The Process” philosophy.
In the time Shero was with the Devils, he brought talent to the team. He acquired players like Taylor Hall, P.K. Subban, Kyle Palmieri, Sami Vatanen, Marcus Johansson, and Will Butcher. Not to mention the two number one draft picks in 2017 and 2019 where the team drafted Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes respectively. During the season, Hischier signed a new seven-year deal, which is very team-friendly for the new general manager. He also revitalized the AHL roster by adding much-needed depth to the organization. Not to mention the numerous draft picks the Devils acquired in the upcoming NHL Drafts. It is safe to say the team in a much better position than when he found it.
Now that the dust has cleared on Shero’s firing, the big question is why now? If reports are true that they signed Shero to a new four-year deal at the end of last year, and wanted to get rid of him at the end of this year, you have to wonder what changed. The owners were very optimistic about the team’s future after Ray Shero was very aggressive this past off-season. But when the team has only one playoff appearance in five years and one playoff win in that time period, owners start to get antsy.
It also does not help that the Devils got off to a poor start. One of the knocks on Shero is that is he is too loyal. Shero waited until December 3rd, to fire John Hynes. For a team that had expectations of making the playoffs, that was too long to wait to fire a coach in the eyes of the owners. They felt he needed to act quickly when things started to spiral out of control earlier on in the season.
Then there is the Hall trade. Ownership made it clear that signing Hall was a priority after his MVP season in 2017-18. They did everything in their power to keep him. But the sad reality was Hall was not going to stay in New Jersey. Even with all the moves, the New Jersey Devils made in the off-season, his mind was already made up. And while the return on Hall might have not been the greatest, it was the best deal out there. However, if you believe the reports about Ray Shero not allowing Hall’s agent to speak with other teams during the process, it does limit the return.
Structural Set Up
What makes things even stranger is that ownership stated they did not like the direction the New Jersey Devils were going in. That leads one to believe there was a difference in philosophy on the direction of the Devils. As Elliotte Friedman pointed out in his 31 Thoughts, Ray Shero likes a small inner circle of people. He was the same way when he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, Harris and Blitzer liked to be more involved than most owners. They wanted more of a collaborative effort where everyone was involved to build the team and drive the philosophy.
Then there is the analytics department. Why the analytics department did not report to the general manager is very odd. Unlike most team structures, the analytics department of the Devils reported directly to the owner. This made Ray Shero very uncomfortable. And while using numbers is a good thing, it should not be the only way to construct a team. With too many hands in the pot, Shero felt undermined. This is where the philosophical difference began to rear its ugly head. As mentioned before, the owners wanted a more collaborative effort, then one man making all the decisions. Whoever the next general manager will be will have to be on the same page as the owners’ philosophy of having collaborative decision making.
This Year And Beyond
It will be interesting to see what the New Jersey Devils do at the trade deadline. With Tom Fitzgerald taking over the general manager role on an interim basis and Martin Brodeur the Executive Vice President, Advisor to hockey operations, they will need to figure what direction this team is going. While many believe Brodeur does not want the general manager role, he would like something to what Brendan Shanahan has in Toronto. And if Brodeur isn’t the man, will Fitzgerald get a look? Most likely, unless the team goes in a completely different direction at the end of the season.
However, whoever does take over, there needs to one voice and one vision on how to make the Devils better. If it is truly about trusting the process, then why change the vision all of a sudden. These owners went through lean years with the 76ers being really bad and empty buildings. Now the 76ers are one of the best teams in the East in the NBA. The entire team must be on board with the vision.
They thought they would have a winner by now. Then realistic expectations need to be set instead of being sold a bill of goods about the playoffs. While some of Shero’s moves did not pay off at least he went out being aggressive. That’s all you can ask from your general manager.
However, when the results do not come and the New Jersey Devils continue to struggle then fans decide to stay home. The team loses revenue and has to comp tickets to get fans in the door. Then why not come out and say it is all about the money! Instead of hiding behind the excuse of the team wanting to go in a different direction. The owners need to let the general manager do their job and remain hands-off.