Fans of the New Jersey Devils aren’t used to gearing up for the playoffs without their team being involved.
After all, the last time the Devils missed the playoffs was way back in 1996, so it might feel like the sky is falling after the clubs worst regular season in two decades.
But believe it or not, the Devils failures this season might be the best thing for the team moving forward.
During their streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances, the Devils have been buyers at the trade deadline, spenders in the off-season, and have generally swapped youth for experience in their many Stanley Cup quests.
This is the plan of attack for most general managers who have teams contending for Lord Stanley’s mug. The problem is that, since the lockout ended in 2005, the Devils haven’t really been contenders.
They haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since the pre-lockout era and have been ousted in the first round in each of the last three seasons.
That looks more like the track record of a pretender if you ask me.
But what was GM Lou Lamoriello suppose to do? Dump his skilled veterans for youth and draft picks when his team had racked up four division titles in five years?
Not then, but maybe now that the Devils recent playoff disappointments have turned into an unsatisfactory regular season, Lamoriello will finally have an excuse to make some changes.
After all, time is winding down on the legendary career of Martin Brodeur, so it’s a good time to start getting younger. They need to make the transition from one era to another as smooth as possible.
The good thing about the Devils situation is they don’t need to completely tear down their current roster and start from scratch. Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise (if they can extend his contract) are the type of star forwards in their prime that any team can build around.
Combine that with the contributions of young prospects like Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby and Nick Palmieri this season, and there just may be light at the end of the tunnel.
But that light will only shine as bright as Lamoriello lets it.
The Devils need to start politely saying goodbye to veterans like Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, Dainius Zubrus, Colin White, and Bryce Salvador, and start focusing more on building through the draft.
Lamoriello has either traded to move down in the first round or has traded away his first round pick all together in four of the past five drafts.
In fact, New Jersey has picked better than 20th overall only once since 1996. The player they took with that pick was Parise (17th overall in 2003) and I think most would agree he’s worked out nicely for the Devils.
This year they’ll have that opportunity again as they’re guaranteed to have a top 10 lottery pick.
The importance of the draft has been proven over and over again in professional sports.
Now for the first time in a long time, the New Jersey Devils will have to prove it themselves starting at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft on June 24th in Minnesota.