Screwing the Cap on Tight
That an NHL team in front of its home audience would dress less than the maximum number of skaters seems hard to believe.
I mean, can you imagine the fallout in Montreal or Toronto if such nonsense occurred?
Yes, Calgary did it two seasons ago. GM Darryl Sutter misplayed the salary cap game, but at least it was late in the season when injuries and callups can make the already tricky game of maneuvering the salary cap nearly impossible.
But this year's New Jersey Devils, down to 15 skaters just three games into the season? That's just blatant mismanagement. The fact it is Lou Lamoriello behind it all, a member of the Hall of Fame and one of the best managers of the past quarter-century, has even his admirers - and there are legions of them - scratching their heads.
Good thing it's not the early 1980s again. Someone might suggest this is a Mickey Mouse way to operate.
Some are wondering if there should be a punishment from the league for dressing fewer than 20 skaters. Well, dressing fewer than 20 skaters is the punishment for botching the cap, and anyway you cut it, that's what has happened in Newark with the Devils.
This happened before, and Lamoriello had to get out of it by sending big contracts to the minors and making one-sided trades. This time, there is no easy way out, and so far, Lamoriello hasn't wanted to choose any of the uncomfortable alternatives open to him.
Instead, the Devs started the season with 20 players, and after a suspension and two injuries, found themselves down to nine forwards and six defenceman for Sunday afternoon's game against Pittsburgh. It was a home game, and as a season ticket holder, you'd sure have to be annoyed that the Devils weren't maximizing their chances of winning by dressing a full roster. Ditto for the veteran New Jersey skaters like Martin Brodeur, Jamie Langenbrunner, Colin White and Patrick Elias, who have been put in a difficult position by management and are now winless after three games following Sunday's 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh.
Making it worse, of course, is that the man all of this was done to accomodate, forward Ilya Kovalchuk, hasn't scored a goal in any of those games. The desperation of the Devils to sign Kovalchuk has never been fully understood, and even less so now when it's clearer than ever that the club simply couldn't afford him, at least not without making some other tough decisions on players.
But Lamoriello has not, as of yet, wanted to make any of those tough decisions, and so a contract that has already cost the club millions in salary, fines and lost draft choices is now costing the team competitively.
The strange part is that the Devils have always been all about winning, even ahead of the business of attracting fans. Now, they have been organized in a way that seems to be all about Kovalchuk, to the exclusion of winning.