Firstly, congrats to the Lightning and Canadiens as they begin the Stanley Cup Final tonight. They are where we want to get back to and, in a few years, it just might be the Devils playing for the Cup again.
Recently, Scott O’Neil, CEO of HBSE (the Devils’ ownership group), appeared on the New Jersey Devils Official Podcast: Speak of the Devils.
Sam Kasan of the Devils’ website recapped some of what O’Neil had to say and it was interesting.
“Let’s go” he said. Kasan clarified that he was speaking about “the Devils’ unique position and flexibility to make moves this summer. Whether it be with the NHL Draft, free agency or trades, general manager Tom Fitzgerald has been given the ‘green light’ to make the Devils a contender.”
O’Neil continued by saying “[l]et’s spill the coffers. We’ve got plenty of cap space, let’s use it. We’ve got plenty of picks, lets go get ‘em. We’ve got the expansion draft, that’s going to create opportunity. ‘Fitzy’ seems likes he’s locked in, zeroed in. He’s got the green light to go. Let’s put some players on the ice. It’s time. It’s time to start building up. We have this young core in place. Now let’s go build a hockey team and win some games.”
Kasan said that “O’Neil pointed to several NHL teams – Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles – that went through down years and rebuilt their franchises into Stanley Cup contenders.”
Setting the bar high, O’Neil said: “[t]his team is going to play some meaningful hockey (next) year. We have some work to do. We have aways [sic] to go. But you’ve seen this in hockey. You’ve seen the movie. You have a young core. You have to build around them. You make a meaningful run with good goaltending. That’s what we expect to do.”
Kasan said that O’Neil, despite the rough year, felt “the youth and enthusiasm pulsating throughout the lineup.
“This is the first Devils team that I totally fell in love with,” O’Neil, who has been with the team for eight years according to Kasan, said. “I think that’s the romance of hockey. I really do. I think you fall in love with teams, you fall in love with players, you fall in love with personalities. You fall in love with the way they skate.”
O’Neil also feels that Lindy Ruff is the man to get the Devils to the promised land. “I think that we have something really special. I’m sure some fans are frustrated with losing. I’m frustrated with the losing. I just didn’t think there was any other way. I think we have the right pieces in place. I think Lindy (Ruff) is the right coach. Fitzy is the right GM. I think they’re going to build something special.
O’Neil was on the podcast to promote his book: Be Where Your Feet Are: Seven Principles to Keep you Present, Grounded, and Thriving. While I am sure every business executive has seven or eight principles that allow them
to write a book and pull in royalties succeed, I don’t entirely agree with his GM skills.
I think he’s right about the expansion draft, but if he is inferring making trades at the Draft (for veteran, NHL-ready players), or reeling in a high-priced free agent, no.
The team needs to be built for long term success. Recklessly throwing money at a free agent (and overpaying, likely) is not a good idea. And that is if said free agent even wants to come to New Jersey. It’s a great place to raise a family, close to, but not in, NYC, but the team just is not ready enough to win for a big-time free agent to come here. That’s the catch-22 of free agency.
And the team not being ready enough to win? That brings me to my next point. The Devils’ roster is historically young. Our oldest full-time forward is Miles Wood at a ripe old 25 (he will turn 26 in September). That kind of roster needs seasoning. Yeah, making the playoffs would be a good trial-by-fire for them. But just learning how to win, being in a NHL playoff race late in the season, would be novel for these guys.
Time will tell if he is right. This team will get back to prominence, this I know. You have to admire O’Neil’s enthusiasm and desire to win but I just hope there is no pressure on Tom Fitzgerald to do something rash to appease ownership and the higher-ups.
Return to prominence will need to happen organically.