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s12 - Rebuild or Retool? (®)


EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ: With the recent trades by the New Jersey Devils, they announced their intentions to reshape the franchise. After last season’s continued playoff failure against the Hartford Whalers, they acknowledged that their previous core of players had run its course. The pre-entry draft exit of Ron Francis, Pierre Turgeon, Glen Murray and Troy Malette confirmed that a new era of Devils’ hockey was around the corner.

In spite the organization’s clear message throughout the early stages of the process, confusion arose regarding what their intentions truly are. Is this a classic five-year plan where the team expects to be very bad for very long and stockpiles future assets in the meantime? Or is it one that returning GM Vince Villa envision returning to relevance during the remaining years of Brian Rolston and Scott Niedermayer’s contract and taking one final run with their franchise goaltender?

Part of this confusion stems from the gray area regarding what constitutes a “true” rebuild compared to a “re-tool”. Most people associate rebuilding with tearing down a team’s current core and hoarding picks and prospects while bottoming out in the standings. This stands in stark contrast to the typical idea of a “re-tool”, which is generally executed by leaving the main pieces of a core in place, but changing the supporting cast around the established core.

So, what exactly is New Jersey doing? Rebuild or Retool?

It would appear the Devils are in the process of a complete rebuild. Let’s review the last two transactions?

Four days before the 2001 VHL Entry Draft, the Devils sent captain Ron Francis to the Edmonton Oilers. This move was made for several reasons (1) The Devils needed to get some salary cap relief and trading Francis brought $7,000,000 in relief (2) Francis’ two seasons in New Jersey were pedestrian at best with 114 points (42g-72a) over 153 games (3) Francis is 38 years old and was heard discussing retirement. Unfortunately for all those reasons there was a very small market for Francis which meant getting value for him would be difficult. New Jersey got young centreman Alyn McCauley (24) along with winger Lubos Bartecko who is projected as a bottom six forward, prospect Tomas Kurka and a 2nd round pick next season. Additionally, the $7M savings allows New Jersey to, at least, participate in the upcoming Free Agent market.

On draft day the phones in East Rutherford were ringing loudly and often. Management was in heavy discussion with 4 teams regarding UFA Pierre Turgeon and Glen Murray. After long negotiations a deal was struck with the Chicago Blackhawks in a 5 player, multi picks trade.

Going to the Windy City were Turgeon, Murray and Troy Malette and coming to New Jersey was highly touted center Brad Richards, defensemen Danny Markov and 3 picks in this year’s draft including Buffalo’s 1st round pick (#21 overall), Los Angeles’ 2nd and Chicago’s 4th).

The deal was made for the following reasons (1) Turgeon was a UFA and at 32 years old didn’t fit a rebuild (2) initial contract talks revealed Turgeon was looking for a long term big money deal which the Devils just didn’t have an appetite to do (3) Glen Murray needed to be in the deal to make a deal and his $4.4M salary for the next 4 years wouldn’t have value during a rebuild (4) The net salary difference resulted in an $8,000,000 saving.

To recap the deals, the Devils got about $15,000,000 salary cap savings; had 4 of the top 44 picks, including 2 1st rounders, in the entry draft; added a young, cheap top 6 center in Richards.

Making the deals was good for the team but now it was time to make to added picks count toward the future of the team. Management clearly focused on replenishing the farm team and getting replacements for an aging blue line.

We believe the Entry Draft is the most common way to land talent and, if done correctly, can help change the fortunes of a franchise. Acquiring picks and prospects in the hopes of developing cost-efficient talent is an essential part of our rebuild and quite frankly we needed to restock what was once a barren crop of prospects into something much more promising.

The 11th pick saw American born defenseman Mike Komisarek come to NJ. Mike is local kid born in West Islip, New York. His willingness to stand up for teammates and his hard-hitting style will make him a fan favorite at the Meadowlands for many years.

Devils used the 21st pick (Buffalo’s) to select Czech born defenseman Marek Zidlicky. Zidlicky is smooth skater with the ability to run a power play. He may be looked upon as a possible offensive blue liner like Scott Niedermayer.

The roll of defenseman continued with the 37th selection (2nd round) of Russian born Fedor Tyutin. Tyutin is projected to be an offensive blueliner with power play skills.

The 44th overall pick saw the Devils get some insurance for Marty Brodeur by drafting goaltender Pascal Leclaire. Laclaire is a few years away and will be honing his craft in the “Q”MJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads.

The Devils final pick was used on defenseman Aaron Johnson. Johnson is a rugged defensive minded blue liner who can help clear the front of the net.

When asked about the moves, the GM stated “We needed to change the direction of the club. Getting to the playoffs is always good but scraping by to just to get in isn’t how we want to get there. We want to contend for championships and need to reshape the club. Our picks focused on building from the goal out. We need to have a strong defensive core to work with Marty (Brodeur). We also want to be strong down the middle and getting Richards accomplishes that. Brad has a lot of talent and is responsible at both ends of the ice. We also believe we have flexibility in that several of our forwards are interchangeable and can play many up-front positions.

Obviously freeing up $15,000,000 allows us to be players in the free agent market if we want.

We were treading water with the team and the hard decision to move on had to be made. Honestly we're probably late to this party.”

Can we expect move roster turnover? “Like I’ve always said, I’m willing to listen when my phone rings or get an email. We’re focusing on free agency and we’ll see what the team looks like after that to determine what else can, or should, be done.”

To put it bluntly, rebuilding sucks. It usually involves a lot of losing, a lot of misplaced hope, and a lot of eventual disappointment when that hope meets reality. The Devils are in a unique position where they don’t need to follow the “typical” rebuilding model. The end goal of a rebuild is to acquire top-end talent, and if the Devils pull the right strings over the next few seasons, they’ll land that talent and be ready to compete soon.