Friday, July 8, 2011

An offseason about nothing

For a long time, the premise of the hit show Seinfeld about four friends in NYC was that it was 'a show about nothing'. Maybe it was but it sure kept audiences interested for a decade. In that vein, the Devils' offseason has become about nothing. A lot of rumors, sound and fury from the outside but with no actual news to report with GM Lou Lamoriello at his lockdown best. Any time there's even a hint of a rumor it's shot down. Even the one piece of information that Lou surprisingly allowed - that he was looking to make a trade - hasn't come to fruition yet.

So where does that leave the Devils? One week after free agency opened and with every big name having chosen a destination, the team remains unchanged from the one that finished last season hockey's best team in the second half. Well okay, there's the not-so-small matter of replacing Jacques Lemaire, the catalyst for the Devils' second half surge. While it's become common for Devil coaching decisions to take well into July, this year it seems more annoying due to the fact that really since December when Johnny MacLean was sacked, we've known that we were going to need a coach after Lemaire did a favor for his 'buddy Lou' and came out of retirement one more time.

While the lack of an actual leak is admirable on some level, compared to Lou proteges Brian Burke and Dean Lombardi who can't talk enough, when you couple it with the world we live in of twitter and people wanting instant news it can become a sour mix. Every time there's been something out of the ordinary that person gets linked to the Devils job. When Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves didn't return a few calls amidst rumors he was leaving his alma matter, people immediately linked him to the Devils with News 12 (local) even reporting he would be hired in a matter of days. Of course that didn't pan out. Neither did the scuttlebutt about Guy Carbonneau, who was leaving his junior team but shot down rumors he was coming to the Devils. And hopefully the most recent rumor about ex-Hab and Pen coach Michel Therrien is as inaccurate though I could see that one having legs given that we had rumored interest in him last offseason and he's the only one that is even known to have interviewed for the job (albeit months ago).

Waiting hasn't neccesarily been the best policy when it comes to the Devils' seemingly interminable head coach search though - both Lemaire and Brent Sutter were named coach on July 13 in the last few years but at least with Lemaire the delay wasn't as long because of the fact Sutter left a few weeks after the Devils' stunning first-round playoff loss to the Hurricanes in late April. And with Sutter, the wait was because Lou had to talk him into taking the job (in fact, it eventually came out that the Devils had been in contact with Sutter for a whole eighteen months before he ever took the job).

What worries me is it looks like the same thing's happening now, Lou's set on one choice - Eaves perhaps? - but can't talk him into taking the job. That didn't exactly work out in the case of Sutter so I'm wary about picking anyone who has to be talked into taking an NHL job - though the alternative of a stopgap like Therrien isn't exactly appealing either, especially since as in the case of Claude Julien, Lou'll be looking for the first excuse to dump him if whoever his first choice is does eventually say yes. Maybe some will think it's farfetched that Lou's waiting all this time to try to talk one guy into taking the job, but what other rational explanation could there really be for the search taking this long? One month after the Stanley Cup Finals, three months after the end of the Devils' season and more than six months after the firing of MacLean the Devils still don't have a coach for 2011-12 with prospects camp set to begin next week.

Of course all's quiet on the players' front as well, with negotiations between Lou and star winger Zach Parise still 'status quo', and it probably will remain so until at least days if not hours before the early August arbitration deadline. Really there's no excuse for there not to be an agreement between the two sides by then after months of negotiating already, especially taking both at their word that all parties involved want Zach to remain a Devil for a long time. Perhaps part of the delay is waiting for a trade to clear cap space, not that the Devils really need it but after what happened last year they surely want as much breathing room as possible. Of course we heard that song and dance last year, that we would do something to get under the cap and instead after a whole offseason of speculation - and a failed attempt to get Jamie Langenbrunner to waive his no-trade - we basically waited for the injury bug to take care of what Lou couldn't.

Granted, the preseason isn't going to begin for another three months - but it would be nice to have things settled unlike last year and be able to go into camp without any clouds over our head. For how inept MacLean was as a coach and unlucky to have Parise hurt for much of the season, the early-season uncertainty I'm sure took its toll in the room then as well.

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