Under general manager Ray Shero‘s baton, the Devils’ renaissance was supposed to be roughly equivalent to climbing the Empire State Building stairs.
A long, slow, frustrating project.
But judging by Ray’s multiple moves in the last week, this rebuild has been more like an express from the lobby to the Observation tower.
Capturing the go-go offensive ace Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers would have sufficed to slake the thirst of most Devils fans hoping for a goal-scoring upgrade.
While applause over Hall’s acquisition still was reverberating up and down the Garden State Parkway, Hero Shero returned to the negotiating table and produced another stunning grab; only this time on the blue line.
A balance-wheel for the Stanley Cup champion Penguins, newly acquired defenseman Ben Lovejoy will fill the space once occupied by Adam Larsson who had been dispatched to Edmonton in the Hall exchange.
Judging by the pure joy displayed by Lovejoy when I interviewed him, The Maven predicts that Big Ben will bring an added element of exuberance to Newark’s blue-line brigade that was missing from the more stoical Larsson.
I could hear it in Lovejoy’s crescendo response when I asked Ben why he decided to sign with New Jersey.
“This,” he said, “is a good, young, talented team and I know from experience that they’re tough to play against.”
A product of Pittsburgh’s farm system, the New Hampshire-born Lovejoy played under Devils coach John Hynes when the latter was his bench boss in the American Hockey League.
“One of the many things that impressed me about Hynes was his practices,” Lovejoy explained. “We always had little, competitive games which were always up-tempo. And John always challenged us in practice.”
Listening to Lovejoy talk about his game, I came away convinced that his work ethic will be on the five-star level and he doesn’t mind saying so either.
“When it comes to my game,” Ben went on, “I always am trying to get better. And when I’m on the ice I try to outwork everybody.”
Part of the Devils’ allure to Lovejoy also is the opportunity to play for a pair of executives he knows and respects, Shero and Assistant General Manager Tom Fitzgerald. He said they have “smart hockey minds” and he trusts them.
“I chatted with Ray before signing and talked about what I did in Pittsburgh and what I could bring to New Jersey,” Lovejoy said. “I told him he’ll be getting not only a leader, but someone who’ll help the young guys; to show them what it takes to be a winner.”
As for Hall, the other half of Shero’s one-two acquisition punch, Lovejoy sounded like Taylor’s favorite uncle when I asked his reaction to having the ex-Oiler as a teammate.
“That guy (Hall) is so, so good,” Ben enthused. “I say this first-hand because I hated to play against him. He’s got elite speed and if you look away for a second, you’re in trouble.
“When the Devils got Hall they got a huge game-breaker. He’s another reason why New Jersey is the perfect spot for me!”
Meanwhile, the GM continues to bring in new faces.
The latest “sleeper” is former Dallas Star forward Vern Fiddler who gives the Devils more depth on the attack.
“Fiddler is a good face-off man,” said Shero, “and he’ll take some of the load off Travis Zajac. I also like Vern’s personality.”
Ray further added defensemen Andrew MacWilliam, 26, and Karl Stollery, 26 as well as right wing Carter Camper who’ll be 28 on Wednesday.
Unless any one of the above trio stars at training camp, each is likely destined for the Devils AHL club in Albany.
“When I look at our overall roster now compared to a year ago, we’re a lot better now,” Shero said. “Check out who we brought back and our additions up front — Fiddler, Beau Bennett, Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelley.
“We’re younger, deeper up front and a better team all-around. We’ve got speed and we’ll need it because that’s where the game is now. All in all we continue to move in the right direction.”
From NHL front office to NHL front office and from media types across the continent, Shero’s re-shaping of his roster from below-average to the level of a legitimate playoff contender is inspiring admiration.
“In a nutshell,” concluded The Hockey Journal’s Devils columnist Leo Scaglione, Jr., “Shero has upgraded his offense in terms of skill — big time — and depth. Meanwhile he hasn’t scarified the defensive side of the puck.”
Hey, they don’t call him Hero Shero on Broad Street for nothing!
REVIEWING THE RETURN OF P.A. PARENTEAU TO THE ISLANDERS
Credit Garth Snow with a “sleeper” move that could pay big dividends at a bargain price. The Islanders‘ general manager has lured sharpshooting P.A. Parenteau back to Tavares, Inc.
For $1.2 million. it’s a case of low risk-high reward for the likable 33-year-old right wing who figures to have 20 goals on his stick. And if he’s on John Tavares‘ line as he was for two previous Isles seasons, maybe more than 20.
The French-Canadian veteran is an above-average possession player; a type lacking on Tavares’ line this past season.
This signing solves one problem created by Frans Nielsen’s exit; namely, Parenteau replaces Franzie as the club’s Shootout master.
With the additions of Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and now Parenteau, Snow has added three 20-goal scorers.
Or, to put it another way the Nielsen-Kyle Okposo-Matt Martin emigration has been matched by the Ladd-Chimera-Parenteau additions.
And a lot of anguish caused by the Okposo-Nielsen-Martin bye-byes has been deleted as well.
THREE FREE AGENTS WITH ASSORTED APPEAL
1. BRANDON PIRRI, LEFT WING: Compared to others, he comes relatively cheap and, at 25, is reaching his peak. How can you go wrong with a kid who can score?
2. JIRI HUDLER, RIGHT WING: Now we’re getting older (32) and more expensive, but this is a creative forward whose career year was only two years ago.
3. KRIS RUSSELL, DEFENSE: At 29 and in his prime, the crack puck-blocker won’t come cheap; not by a long shot. But experience and age have appeal.