Butcher Named to All-Rookie Team; Devils Lose Two More Free Agents

I hope everyone had a happy and safe Independence Day yesterday – as well as a happy Canada Day back on July 1 if you are up north.

Some little tidbits to get to that may have slipped through the cracks the last week or so.

First, Will Butcher was named to the 2017-18 NHL All-Rookie Team. The Devils blueliner had five goals and 39 assists for 44 points in his rookie campaign. He finished ninth in Calder Trophy voting but did make the cut for the first team All-Rookie team.

Butcher was signed as a college free agent last summer after choosing not to sign with the Colorado Avalanche. The Denver University product put up three power play goals of his five lamp lighters and was a plus-1 to go with eight penalty minutes.

Now, the development of Will Butcher leads me directly to the second part of this post. The Devils loss of a certain free agent. Jacob MacDonald, who was an AHL mid-season All-Star last year representing Binghamton declined to re-sign with the Devils organization and moved to the Florida Panthers.

As Chris Ryan of The Star Ledger mentioned in a tweet to a fan when asked why the Devils did not keep MacDonald, it was basically that MacDonald’s path to the NHL was blocked by Butcher. Ryan said in the tweet that MacDonald is going to get the NHL “as an offensive defenseman and someone who’s going to run the power play. When he looks at the Devils’ depth chart and sees Will Butcher, that path is much tougher in NJ.”

Obviously, this is not too much of a hit to the Devils. MacDonald, for all of the buzz that has surrounded him, has not yet played an NHL game and is 25-years-old. Butcher is the much better, younger option there.

One other free agent that the Devils let walk was Brian Gibbons. Gibbons came in as somewhat of a stop gap last season, but performed over his head. He was given a one-year, $1 million deal with the Anaheim Ducks.

There has been a segment of the Devils’ fanbase that has been a little bit worried due to a lack of deals made by New Jersey this offseason. There are two main things to keep in perspective here. One, it is only July 5. Training camp does not even begin for about two and a half months. Two, there just were not that many good free agents for what the Devils need out there. Would landing John Tavares have been a good move? You bet, but he was not talking to divisional rivals largely, it seems, out of respect to the Islanders (keep in mind that that is just merely speculation on my part there). Would John Carlson have been a great signing? Of course, but he never even made it to free agency, with Washington locking him up almost as soon as they finished their Stanley Cup parade. Would Calvin de Haan have been at least a good consolation prize? Yes, but he chose Carolina for more term and money than it seems the Devils would have been willing to commit to the oft-injured d-man (again, speculation here).

The main point is just to relax. Ray Shero is no dummy. He has a plan and he is sticking to it. The Devils are not just spending to spend. Free agency is a very dicey way to build a team. The shrewd GMs do it through the Draft and trades. Remember, it was a summer trade that got us the reigning NHL MVP.

Plus, you have the youngsters like Joey Anderson and Michael McLeod, amongst others, who will be looking to make a push this camp. Even 2018 first rounder Ty Smith could make a big impact in camp and make the opening night roster. You just never know.

Ray will get the job done in making this team better for next season. This much I am very sure of.

Ray Shero Interview With Mike Morreale

Devils general manager Ray Shero recently spoke with Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com while they were at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo. They touched on a few topics. Here are some of the highlights.

Shero and Morreale began by talking about the possibility of the Devils trading down in the upcoming NHL Draft. Shero said that he “wouldn’t be opposed to moving down” in the Draft “if it meant obtaining additional assets.” Morreale pointed out that the Devils have just six picks in the 2018 Draft, as opposed to 2017 whne they had eleven picks. That Draft, of course, yielded first overall pick Nico Hischier.

Shero then touched on the Devils rebuild and the success that they had this season in making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012. He mentioned that asset management is very important for the Devils, with Taylor Hall’s contract up after the 2019-20 season. He mentioned that Hall’s new “contract would kick in” in 2020-21, “the same season Hischier becomes a restricted free agent. So we have to be careful what we’re doing beyond two years.”

What he was basically talking about was that the Devils cannot just make moves for the sake of making moves at this point. In other words, Devils fans should not be disappointed should the team not sign John Carlson and/or John Tavares.

As Shero put it: “If you’re going to move up, great, but what’s the cost to move up? Hey, we’d love to move down and get more assets, but you’re never going to know that until you’re on the draft floor and it’s coming to your pick.”

Morreale then asked Shero about his now-famous discussion with Hall following the 2016-17 season. That was the one where the superstar forward really “bought in” to what the Devils were trying to do. Morreale asked if Shero had had any similar conversations with anyone following this season. He said he did, but not in the same vein as the Hall conversation.

“Well, it probably wasn’t the type of conversation I had with Taylor, but I had a pretty frank discussion with [goalie Cory Schneider] after the season.” The gist of that conversation was that Cory is now north of 30 years old and, following his hip surgery this past year, he might need to begin to look at new ways to train this summer. Shero told a cool story about former Devil Lee Stempniak, who began doing Pilates prior to the season he spent here in New Jersey. Whether Pilates is the key for Cory is yet to be seen, but Shero did reiterate that there is support for Schneider within the organization. Shero hopes that the surgery will also get things taken care of and get Cory back to being the best goalie he can be.

Morreale’s next question was about Ilya Kovalchuk and Shero’s answer was very frank: “I’ve not reached out to Kovalchuk’s representatives and I’ve not heard from them, so there you go.” That was the long and short of it. The likelihood of Kovalchuk coming back to New Jersey seems to be slim to none and good riddance if he doesn’t come back, in my opinion. Once July 1 rolls around and he signs with the Rangers, we can finally be rid of this whole drama.

Morreale then moved right on and asked Shero about Hall, Schneider and Patrick Maroon’s surgeries following the playoffs. The updates are as follows: all are doing well, he does not know if Cory will be ready in time for training camp’s start, Hall seems to be on track to be ready for training camp and Patrick Maroon will be coming “back to New Jersey on June 11 to make sure everything is going well.” Shero was also quick to point out that Predators’ goalie and 2018 Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne had the same surgery as Cory has had back in 2013, so that should put some fans minds at ease.

The next question was about “the type of player you might be targeting with the No. 17 pick.” Shero discussed things with “(director of amateur scouting) Paul Castron and (assistant director of amateur scouting) Gates Orlando after all the interviews at the combine” and they’ll “have certain players in mind, but things change.” The interviews produce “interests and red flags” and there are follow-up interviews for the players who were at the combine as well as interviews with players who were not. Shero was very good at not tipping his hand at where the Devils may be going but there are needs that the team will likely want to fill.

Talk then turned to Geoff Ward. Morreale flat out asked if Shero has “a replacement in mind.” Shero mentioned that he is happy for Ward (he did have a year left on his New Jersey contract – but has gone to Calgary to coach with Bill Peters) and that he and head coach John Hynes have been on it “for the last week-to-10 days.” They will be talking to Ryane Clowe “to remain on board.” They have liked what he has done for the team over the last “two years and we think he has a really big upside.” Shero did point out that this might not be the direction Clowe wants to go at this point in his career. They have gotten “lots of calls … but we haven’t acted on it yet.”

Finally, Morreale talked to the GM about opening the 2018-19 season in Europe. The Devils will be playing an exhibition game in Bern, Switzerland October 1 and then their first game of the regular season will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden against the Oilers on October 6. Officially, the Swiss game is part of the “2018 NHL Global Series Challenge” while the Swedish game against Edmonton is part of the “2018 NHL Global Series.” Shero was asked how excited he was for these games.

He said that it is good exposure for the players and the team. He hearkened back to the 2017 Kraft Hockeyville Canada game at Prince Edward Island against the Senators and to his time with the Penguins, as they played an exhibition game in Helsinki, Finland and some regular season games in Stockholm, Sweden. He said that he thinks it will be a good experience for the players and that “I think it’s great for your brand.” He also feels the continued exposure overseas is good for the NHL as a whole as well.

Overall, this was a good interview. Morreale delved into some directions that you might not think he would go on the official NHL website (Kovalchuk) and also got some information out of Shero (the injury updates) and some promotion for the team (the Global Series games). It is a good read over at NHL.com and something every Devils fan should check out.