Devils need Buck Showalter-esque figure to restore success

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The Devils need their Buck Showalter. They need an individual with gravitas and a track record of success to restore seriousness and sense of purpose to a New Jersey organization that has fallen into a black hole while devolving into North America’s least relevant major league franchise. 

The Josh Harris-David Blitzer ownership needs to step back and anoint an authority figure with independence who will prioritize winning as the first, second, third and fourth objectives, rather than overseeing a jumble of competing interests within the hierarchy that has produced a spinning wheel operation appearing to prioritize social media image over results and style over substance. 

Enough! Enough already. Can you imagine another organization endorsing its leader of the analytics department doing an interview extolling his and his group’s virtues in the wake of one embarrassing season after another through which the team’s sum has been far, far less than its parts? 

Four straight seasons now in which the Devils have not played a meaningful game the second half of the schedule while finishing 28th, 29th, 26th and 29th in the league. One misstep after another, one regime after another. Nine times out of the playoffs in the 10 years since New Jersey’s stunning run to the Cup finals in 2012 behind 40-year-old Martin Brodeur. 

The distance between Exit 16W leading to the Meadowlands — the Exit of Champions — and Exit 15W leading to the Rock may be just four miles on the Turnpike map, but it can be measured by light years in the real world. Does anybody know what time it is? Does anybody care? 

Josh Harris (left) and  David Blitzer (right).
Josh Harris (left) and David Blitzer (right).
Paul J. Bereswill

I know. The goalies. The injuries to MacKenzie Blackwood, enduring a second straight drama-filled season, and to Jonathan Bernier. But who on earth made the decision to leave the position to neophytes when the top two went down? There is always an excuse or two over there to be folded into the Instagram account, whose operators recently dubbed 2020’s seventh-overall, Alexander Holtz, “Alexander the Great” in the wake of a 26-goal season in the AHL. 

They’ve got some nice pieces on the other side of the Hudson who can sure make for a fun watch when the likes of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt exploit their elite skill sets. But pond hockey makes for a fun watch, too, and that’s pretty much what the Devils have been playing these past two seasons with Lindy Ruff behind the bench. Whose idea was that? Sometimes it seems as if the Devils are operating a day-care center. Whose idea was it to have these high-end kids fend for themselves? 

You never quite know who is making these decisions and why. If you call the Islanders, there is one man and one man only with whom to speak, and that is Lou Lamoriello. If you call the Rangers, there is one man and one man only running the show, and that is Chris Drury. In Detroit, you are dealing with Steve Yzerman. With the Devils, you never quite know, and that’s a common perception echoed throughout the NHL. 

Buck Showalter
Buck Showalter
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

It is unfortunate Scott Stevens does not wish to commit to the 24/7/365 lifestyle that comes with the territory. The same applies to Brodeur. Patrik Elias may not be at the stage of his life or career when he is ready for this undertaking, but he most certainly should be included in the conversation. I understand that playing experience is not a prerequisite for this type of undertaking, and neither is being of the male gender, but if a franchise icon is otherwise qualified, I’m interested. 

And though I do not have an extensive list of candidates to provide here, I would sure make it my business to touch base with no-nonsense Paul Maurice. If fallout in Vegas costs George McPhee his position as president of hockey ops, he should be speed-dialed. Laurence Gilman, who has comprehensive front office experience in organizations as disparate as Arizona, Vancouver and Toronto, should be considered. The pool of qualified aspirants is larger than that, but the job is worthwhile only if ownership does away with its byzantine management style. 

A couple of years ago, I’d have said that this is a team in dire need of John Tortorella’s Shock Doctrine, but I just don’t know at this point whether he can relate constructively to the newest generation of elite talents. It would be worth the Devils’ while to find out, though. Perhaps Maurice can be recruited to go behind the bench. 

Again. Not a single meaningful game in the second half of a season since 2018. Four years of hockey irrelevance, except on the one and only date on the calendar that needs to be circled. That would be Lottery Day. That is the day on which the Devils matter. 

Paul Maurice
Paul Maurice looks on while on the Hurricanes’ bench.
AP

The rest of the time, well, the Devils are a major league sports operation that has been hiding in plain sight. Despite the presence of the captivating Hughes, there is not a single media outlet in New Jersey (or New York) that covers the team. I’d venture to say that makes them unique among the 124 teams in our four major sports leagues. 

Fluff on social media does not compensate for perpetual ineptitude on the ice. They’re the Waystar Royco Cruise Line of “Succession,” posting pictures of Logan, Kendall, Roman, Shiv and Connor Roy sipping champagne while the ship goes down under them. 

Friday night’s season finale at the Rock was deemed Fan Appreciation Night. The organization should have been appreciative that Devils fans did not show up en masse wearing paper bags over their heads. There is a heritage to uphold here. Ownership has an obligation to remember that. 

The buck stops at the top.

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