I remember the first time I visited the Devils new front office in Newark. The place was interesting to say the least. EVERYTHING was painted horror movie red. The walls. Red. The carpeting. Red. I mean even the friggan cubicles were all red. Red everywhere. I felt like I had stepped into hell.
Of course I was there on business and I had to put my observations and prejudices aside, but it was hard not to feel like I was behind enemy lines. Once I got over it though, I realized that everything was done with a sense of pride and precision. I admired that.
But then something happened to the Devils organization. For the first time ever they started making money. Revenue from their new arena came in from sponsors, corporate suites, even attendance numbers increased (marginally). Finally the organization that had gotten by on barebones all of a sudden had some resources. Most people thought this would be a good thing…hell a great thing to cement the idea that hockey can succeed in New Jersey without the help of our boys in blue. But as Biggie Smalls once said, “mo money, mo problems.”
It has been reported in small doses that Lou Lamoriello was pushed by ownership to sign Ilya Kovalchuck to that massive 15 year, $100 million deal. Some Rangers fans were bummed that Sather didn’t try to swing a deal, others (like myself) wondered what the hell were the Devils thinking? But I am not here to debate this transaction. For better or worse, Kovy is a Devil till the bitter end.
The problem is the Devils are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole by sticking with regimented coaches and defensive systems while boasting a talent such as Ilya. Add to the fact that the team’s finances collapsed and now you’ve got the Caps joining our conference, and it’s easy to see why they could have one hell of a problem across the Hudson.
So what are our rivals to do?
The organization is obviously looking for new investors to fix their financial woes, but the on ice product can improve if they follow a model once used by their biggest rival, the New York Rangers.
The year was 2004 and the star was Jaromir Jagr. The Rangers front office made a wise decision to ship out anyone and everyone associated with past teams and brought in players who Jagr wanted to play with and who understood Jagr was the man. Aside from trading Leetch (I’m still not over it), it was the right direction.
The team was built around Jagr. Czechs were brought in, finesse players were brought in, and an assistant coach/head of player personnel, who understood the dynamics of a star personality, was promoted to run the show.
Coming from the Capitals the media labeled Jagr a locker room cancer, a diva, a player that would never fit into a team concept. Some of that may or may not have been true, but what was missed was Jagr’s competitiveness and his burning desire to win.
Renney was able to convince Jagr to play a more defensive system without the puck. However, unlike the system that was forced upon Jagr in DC, Renney would allow Jagr and his linemates to get creative with the puck. The Rangers would attack the blueline and Regroup if necessary. They would Overload on the powerplay and Jagr was allowed to double shift himself whenever he wanted.
Was this the right way to build a team? Maybe not, but it worked, at least for a few seasons. The point is nothing was forced on Jagr, as Renney didn’t dictate. The Czech superstar had a say.
If the Devils want to have any sort of success with Kovy on their roster, I suggest they start doing the same. The template for their success doesn’t have to be very innovative. It already exists. The problem is, are they willing to copy our old blueprint?
Hmmm, maybe the Caps should follow this plan too.