Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Have the New Jersey Devils really had "terrible drafting"? A response

I recently saw an article on Bleacher Report talking about the Devils' terrible drafting since 2001, and how that has decimated the team. Overall I thought the writer (Dave Lozo) brought up some good points, but I wanted to add my own comments on the article.

 First off, before anything else, I can't stand all the talk of Adam Larsson being a "fourth overall bust". He was rushed into the league and it's only been 4 years since his draft. It took Victor Hedman 5-6 years before he fully developed to his potential. Let's face it, defense is one of the toughest positions to develop through the years.

Overall, I think there is a good analysis of the draft years including good graphics of games played vs. number of picks per round numbers. However, I think the jump to "14 years of bad drafting" is just wrong. In those 14 years, the Devils have only had 10 first round picks, and most of them were late in the round. The exception to that being the Larsson pick at 4th overall in 2011.

In my opinion, the greater issue was the inability to retain players that left in free agency or retirement without any sort of compensation. Parise, Gomez, Niedermayer, Clarkson, etc. all left the team (for whatever reason they had) in free agency, and Kovalchuk left in retirement, which resulted in no compensation or return for any of them. These left some pretty gaping holes in the roster that had to be filled by free agency (Jagr, Ryder, Brunner, Clowe) or low-key trades (for guys like Tuomo Ruutu and Steve Sullivan).

I think the writer is overlooking the most obvious reason for the decline of the Devils, though, which is the loss of their franchise forwards, Kovalchuk and Parise. Yes it's a dead horse, and yes it's been beat already through the floor. But I can't stress how much of an impact these two guys had on the future of the franchise. In fact, the team was planning on having the two as their long-term forwards. This resulted in only needing to draft "support" players like two-way forwards and defensemen.

Now am I defending subpar drafting? Nope. But I wouldn't go as far as saying it's "terrible". The goalies that were picked throughout the years? That's due to the fact that the Devils weren't sure if Marty would go anywhere else in free agency after his success like Holik and Gomez did. Even so, Scott Wedgewood (he's struggling as of late) and Keith Kinkaid look quite promising as potential NHL backups.

There are always questionable moves by a GM, like when Lou traded for Cory Schneider with the 9th overall pick in 2013, but it was pretty well known that the Devils would have drafted Max Domi with the pick (David Conte said the guy they would draft was out of the ISS Top 10 at the time, leaving Domi). So would it be better to have Schneider or Domi? While Domi has been looking nothing less than stellar in the OHL and the WJC's in Canada, this is Lou Lamoriello. His success with the Devils came from the philosophy of building from the net out.

The Devils got their goalie to build out from.

Next up: the Defense.

This has been a pretty rough year for Devils fans, no need to sugar coat it. However, one of the few bright spots has been the young defense. In 4 consecutive years, the Devils drafted Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill, Adam Larsson, and Damon Severson. Only one of those picks was in the first round as well (Larsson). They are all in the NHL lineup (despite an injury to Severson sidelining him until January). Some teams would kill for that kind of consistency. Additionally in the lineup is Seth Helgeson, 4th round pick from 2009 (same year as Gelinas). Also in the pipeline are Steven Santini (a lock for Team USA in the WJC's but sidelined by a wrist injury), Joshua Jacobs, Reese Scarlett, and others.

This isn't even taking into account Mark Fayne, who was drafted in the 5th round of the 2005 draft (left the team in free agency).

The Devils aren't the Red Wings. In fact, only the Red Wings are the Red Wings. Why am I saying this? Because it's generally accepted that the Red Wings have the best scouting department, and that's a huge reason why they've remained competitive throughout the years. However, Detroit has never had the exodus of top franchise players like New Jersey.

So what I'm trying to say about the article is this: Every team has its big draft busts. For the Devils it was Mattias Tedenby, for the Rangers it was Hugh Jessiman, etc. But the main issue that got the Devils where they are is not the inability to draft, but rather the inability to keep and retain key franchise players.

There's still plenty of time to come before we can analyse recent years of Devils drafting, but to gloss over the details of an entire 14 year period as "bad" because of current team struggles is just asinine. What would happen if Chicago lost Toews and Kane, or if Pittsburgh lost Crosby and Malkin, or if Washington lost Ovechkin and Backstrom? You'd bet they would be struggling.

The Devils do have a very shallow forward prospect pool, and I believe this year's draft will be the perfect opportunity to refill it, rather than try to fill holes through free agency. The defense, however, is looking to be extremely promising.

The Article I am talking about.

Thanks for reading. If you want to read more, follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog.
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