Monday, May 07, 2007


Everson Knows Nothing

I was reading through HFBoards and someone pointed out this incredibly dumb article by Mark Everson of the New York Post. Many there have referred to Everson as "Neverson" due to his inaccuracies and "selective memory" for his coverage of the Devils. I think this article is a good representation of why many Devils fans do not think highly of him. Since it's the offseason now, there's not a whole lot to cover, so let's go through this bit by bit.
The opening paragraph already leads the reader with a number of assumptions:
THE Devils' GM is finally taking a spanking from the usual genuflectors, and rightly so, for having the gall and ego to fire coach Claude Julien, then failing to take a second-round team any further than Julien probably would have.
Who are these usual genuflectors? Surely they can't be from rival teams. The Flyers didn't make the playoffs, the Penguins and the Islanders lost in the first round, and the Rangers last exactly one game longer in the second round than the Devils. I can't imagine any of those genuflectors being fans of the other 14 teams who didn't make the playoffs and the 6 teams who lost in the first round (especially Tampa Bay). Right from the first sentence Everson argues and assumes that there are genuflectors (of some origin) who usually criticize the Devils over the firing of the coach.

Not that the team's poor effort on the ice had anything to do with it, Everson ends this long sentence by assuming that Claude Julien would have taken the Devils to a second-round loss. To his credit, he did say "probably;" but no reason as to why he or anyone else would think that. I don't know and Everson won't tell - going on as if it's like common knowledge. The reason for the coaching change, as I understand it, was to ignite a fire under the then floundering Devils. We can not even assume whether they would have finished second in the Eastern Conference or even get past the first round.

The issue again is whether these are the Devils or the New Jersey Lous - whether this Team Concept Lou Lamoriello preaches so often and genuinely actually applies to him, too.

Their identity was once Jacques Lemaire and his trap, but it has since become that of Lamoriello, the CEO/president/GM/interim coach/chef/cook/bottle washer. Lamoriello insists he made the Julien decision as a matter of duty. On a team no one man should have that much duty, power, or independence.

The trouble with Lou is that he has been so good for so long, so right so often, and kept his team competitive so long past its expiration date that people believe he is nearly infallible, that past performance is an indication of future returns. He operates as if he nearly believes it, too.

Really? That is the issue? Nothing else? Not the way the defense resembled moving cones for the better part of the last 3 games? Not the way the offense couldn't get out of their method of dump-and-chase following slow breakouts? Not even the coaching - which is certainly worth criticism, but Lou's job as GM is the issue? Really? And Everson's point of "the issue" is that Lou's been too good and that people trust his decisions based upon that? Well, color me confused. If a decision maker has a history of making smart decisions and yielding success, then wouldn't it be perfectly acceptable to generally accept their decisions or to be confident in them? I mean, 3 Stanley Cups in the last 12 years is nothing to sneeze at; some teams have had longer droughts than 4 years.
What he has done is very, very difficult: refusing to "rebuild," instead retooling as he went, remaining competitive and often contending. But the long-predicted price has come due, and not even his glare behind the bench made any difference as the Devils fell in five to the Senators in the second round Saturday - the third straight season they didn't win more than one round.
Retooling as you go is rebuilding. It's different from what most people consider "rebuilding" in sports; wherein a team tries to focus on the future, play younger players, and use the draft to bring their team back to power. The Pittsburgh Penguins of the last 5-6 years are a good, current example of this. However, what Everson does not realize is that Lou Lamoriello is known for upgrading the Devils year-by-year precisely to keep the team contending. He didn't rest on the laurels of the 1995 team and blew it up in, say, 1996. He kept who would be good long term and improved through variety of ways as the 2000, 2001, and 2003 team all went to the Stanley Cup Finals. How Everson can cover the Devils for so long and not realize this is beyond me. If the long-predicted price for this is losing in the second round to a very good team, I'm sure there are about 20 teams or so who would love that price. It's disappointing to lose, but it's not nearly as bad as Everson makes it sound.
The Golden Era of the Devils was largely built on three of his early actions: His refusal to accept Curtis Joseph and Rod Brind'Amour from the Blues for their signing of Brendan Shanahan, and winning his case that Scott Stevens was the appropriate compensation; his trade of Tom Kurvers for the Toronto pick that turned into Scott Niedermayer; and his down-drafting of Martin Brodeur.
Everson is right here, but he doesn't go far enough to give Lou credit. Yes, those three moves were very crucial to the Devils' success. However, Everson ignores additional moves such as the hiring of Jaques Lemaire, who put together the neutral zone trap, which was so vital that Everson deemed Lemaire and the strategy as the face of the Devils earlier this column. Lemaire's coaching and his tactics were brilliant in 1995 and was a huge reason the Devils won the Cup then. Everson forgets to mention the awesome work Lou and David Conte had during throughout 1990s, drafting talent such as Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, Scott Gomez, Jay Pandolfo, Colin White, and many others who became important components of later teams that were successful. The Devils were contenders mainly because of their success at the draft and in player development. There's probably more that I and many others Devils fans can name with trades, coaching changes, etc.
In real-estate terms, those three moves were: Location, location, location.

More was needed, such as his acquisitions of Bobby Holik and the Jay Pandolfo draft pick for Sean Burke and Eric Weinrich; Claude Lemieux for Sylvain Turgeon; and signing a "washed-up" Bobby Carpenter. After that first Cup, the Devils won one round the next four years, yet he resisted rebuilding.

Ah, my mistake, he did mention additional moves that helped form the 1995 team. But no mention of getting Neal Broten or Stephane Richer, other crucial players in that Stanley Cup run? Odd. Anyway, we return to Everson's inability to understand that rebuilding can be a continual process. Ask any Industrial Engineer (or an IE student) and they'll likely tell you that continuous improvement must be applied to a process for it to remain successful. I'd argue that the Devils are a successful example of continuous improvement in hockey given that they have been contenders since 1994 (1996 notwithstanding). Apparently, Everson does not recognize this and considers this as a fault.
He retooled by signing John Madden and Brian Rafalski as undrafted free agents, trading for the pick that landed Scott Gomez, and dealing the rights to Henrik Lundqvist for the Brian Gionta pick. He drafted Zach Parise, in part, because he doggedly prosecuted the Blues' tampering with Stevens.
For the third time, this is also rebuilding. But he fails to mention a number of important events that have happened between 1995 and 2003 (when Parise was drafted). Namely, two Stanley Cups, three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, five 100+ point seasons out of the last six (that was back in 2003, now it's 9 out of the last 10 years), and trades that saw Jason Arnott (the center of the A line!) come (for Bill Guerin) and go (for Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner). Given that Arnott was crucial in 2000 as was Langenbrunner in 2003, I'd say that's rather important.

Also, we see a glaring inaccuracy from Everson: the Devils never had the rights to Henrik Lundqvist. Look at HockeyDB, they list all the players the Devils have drafted since 1982 - no Lundqvists are on the list. Not that the Devils could have done that, as Henrik was drafted late (205th overall) in 2000, whereas Brian Gionta was a third rounder in 1998. Also, the Devils did have the 22nd pick in the 2003 draft (a Stanley Cup winning year which means nothing to Everson here, apparently) as the final year of compensation for the Blues' tampering with Scott Stevens. Everson is right there, but not fully. The Devils traded that pick along with an additional pick with Edmonton to move up to 17 to select Parise. A good move by Lou, don't you think? Not that you should trust Lou now for some reason, according to this article.
But there have been no acts of the Stevens, Brodeur, Niedermayer magnitude. The Devils' biggest stars in these playoffs were Gomez, Parise and Gionta, while Brodeur began looking like a 35-year-old who has played 891 regular season and 164 playoff games. The Devils no longer have the greats required for Cups. Instead, the new greats have gone to the franchises that put their teams in the toilet, and drafted high.
I'd like to remind Everson that Brodeur is still playing with the Devils and Scott Neidermayer is doing very well in Anaheim from the looks of things. Everson can't be that stupid to consider Brodeur be a shell of his former self after this season, can he?

OK, first silly statement first: the one about "new greats" going to teams who have stank up the place for a few years. You know, the rebuilders. I wish Everson gave an example of one of these new greats to base this off of, but I think I know why he didn't specify any of them. Sidney Crosby and his Penguins was a first round casualty; the Washington Capitals failed to make the playoffs; Ilya Kovalchuk, Kari Lehtonen, and Thrashers were swatted down by the Rangers in round 1; and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers just exited the playoffs yesterday. (Given Lundqvist was a late pick I can't imagine the Rangers being bad led to his drafting, but Everson couldn't mean him. Then again, he thinks the Devils had his rights at one point.) So far, these "new greats" have not done better than the Devils. Again, if only Everson had an example, he may have a point. Instead he has nothing there.

Now to the second silly statement: the one about Brodeur looking like a 35-year old goaltender. I think the Ottawa Senators would disagree with your assertion that Brodeur was showing his age, Mr. Everson. Especially considering Games 2 and 3. Brodeur wasn't a superstar yes, but he didn't cause his team to lose the series (goalies don't score goals) nor was he utter garbage.
It's a New NHL because of the salary cap, young free agency and the supremacy of skill and speed over hitting and checking. Lamoriello had trouble dealing with the cap; he has underestimated the sea-change of style required.
The Devils did have problems with staying under the cap this season, this is true. Yet the Devils won the division the last season (complete with a playoff sweep of the Rangers) and this season. I don't think the style is out of place, considering a majority of teams (such as the Rangers) set up a 1-2-2 system in the neutral zone. I don't think Lou of all people has underestimated the style of the New NHL based on these successes.
If it's not Pat Burns, whose ability to stay on will always be a health question, what respected coach would trust Lamoriello not to pull another Julien-ing?
I do not know. We'll find out later this offseason, Mr. Everson. I have a feeling there will be plenty of candidates for a position with a hockey team that has been contenders for the better part of the last 12-13 years. Most head coaches like having good chances at the Stanley Cup, as I understand it.

No. The answer is that after 19 seasons, a great Hall of Fame career, it's time for Lamoriello to turn over the GM job and concentrate on his CEO and president crowns. The Devils need someone who understands the way the cap drives the car, and gets ahead of the way the go-go league skates, instead of resisting it.

Here we have the coup-de-grace. The summation of Lou Lamoriello constantly improving his team to contend every year, doing well at the draft, overall doing well in trades and in free agency, and the Devils winning three Stanley Cups (last one being in 2003) all means nothing to Everson. Everson believes that Lamoriello, the man who took the Devils from mediocrity to respectability and to champions, should no longer be GM because the Devils lost in the second round for a third straight season.

The drafting, the deals, the level of professionalism, the way the franchise is run, and the fact that the team has consistently been contenders isn't good enough for Mr. Everson. How has Lou resisted the salary cap or the NHL style? Because they are not Buffalo? Because the Devils did not tank for 4-5 years, get lucky to get the #1 pick in the "New Great"sweepstakes, and get into the playoffs and lose in the first round? This must be a joke, I can't imagine anyone would actually argue for the ousting of a GM because of a coaching change that did not have its complete intended effect and that the team did not win the Stanley Cup. Notice how Everson had no idea as to who would be a more ideal candidate or why they would be an improvement over arguably one of the greatest general managers in the history of hockey (if not all sports).

Ladies and gentlemen, if you have read this far, I thank you for your patience. Now you have learned why many Devils fans regard Mark Everson so little. Everson apparently believes a second round loss = new GM. Silly, so silly, it's just dumb.

JOE SAYS IT IS SO, UNFORTUNATELY: Joe Betchel of the great 2 Man Advantage blog is leaving the site. Thanks Joe.

The list of Devils haters in the New York press is long and distinguished. Hockey scribes who are all secretly or not Rangers fans would love to see Lou give up GM control so hacks like Sather and Snow can compete, finally, against the Devils in the Atlantic.

Under Julien the team was soft. Every fan who spent any time at the regular season games knew it. Julien would routinely try to sit on one goal leads for an entire period or more. The number of nail-biting one goal games we won, and sometimes lost, was maddening. The offense wouldn't press, the defense was usually good enough to get the job done, but only because Marty was a rock in the pipes. That stuff doesn't fly in the playoffs. We don't have Stevens and Nieds and Dano to throw the big checks and skate the puck back to the neutral zone anymore. We have a bunch of role players on D now. Good, but not great.

Lou did make some mistakes this year. I thought he relied far too much on Rafalski - a player who has some nice offensive up-side, but scared the crap out of the entire arena 3-4 time per night when he'd cough up the puck right in front of Marty. Raffi is sloppy with his passes and he is too casual on the puck. He could return to All-Star form with some Pat Burns' type hard-assed coaching. Right now he sucks.

I would have tried to move Gomer before the trade deadline a lot more actively than Lou did. Don't get me wrong - I love Gomer. He's a great play maker. He is our only real speed on the ice (God I miss Niedermeyer). But he's a malcontent. He and his money-grubbing father/manager shake the Devils down every year for more cash than he's worth. He's almost certainly not coming back next season and if he does it will be for too much money and another one season committment. I'd have tried to get something for him before he left on his own.

I'd have fired the strength and conditioning coach before I fired Julien. When 4 of your star athletes are lost for significant periods - all with the same injury (groin) - it points directly at your strength guy not doing his job.
Brillant reading of Everson. It amazes me how poor some fact checking can be in larger newspapers. Add to the mix this is a NY hockey columnist, then facts are less important than dispensing vitriol upon the Devils. As far as his comments on the "new go-go NHL" foregoing checking etc, has he watched a Western Conf game recently (the Rob&Scott combo knockout punch of the Canucks was priceless)? Even if the physcial intensity of the regular season is half of what it is in the playoffs, its still a tooth rattling game in the west.

I also agree with dastar's comments above. I think Gomez' departure is a fait accompli and has been since mid-season. Off season will be interesting. I thought the groin flu we suffered this season was due more to the crap ice @ CAA, but firing strength coaches does seem to be a popular idea of late...
Thanks for reading this long-winded Fisking. Everson is not a good hockey writer; I wonder if he's this bad with other sports.

I have to disagree with the notion of trading Scott Gomez earlier thi season. It must be said that the Devils were at the top of the division at the time. You don't trade the #1 center when you're leading the division. You trade the #1 center when either A) a can't-miss deal presents itself or B) the team is sucking and could benefit more without him. That said, I can't imagine him commanding too much more than $5-5.5 million given this recent season. He didn't impress a lot of potential suitors with his production dropping from 33 goals and 80 points to 13 goals and 60 points.

Also, Rafalski WAS an All-Star this past season. He's a #2 d-man playing in a #1 role, so an upgrade on defense would be a good move.
John, I found out about Everson's fun with facts in the Devils' USENET group and I am as dumbfounded as you.
I'm sure Lou was thinking the same way you are now John, when he decided not to shop Gomez before the deadline. But Gomer wasn't lighting it up during the regular season, so his loss wouldn't have mattered much.

I disagree that Gomer won't get much play during the offseason. He came up huge in the playoffs, on national TV. I'm certain he turned a lot of heads in the process. Some team with more cap room than brains will offer him $6-7MM a season to leave - and leave he will.

The problem with Scotty is that he's spoiled. He's been on a winner since he came up and he doesn't know what toiling on a crappy team is like. He's going to leave for the money and he'll be hating life by the end of his first season if he doesn't move to another winner (just ask Bobby Holik).

The fact that Rafalski made the all-star team this season is a complete mystery to me. He wasn't one of the best D-men in the league at the break. He wasn't one of the best D-men on the Devils at the break. Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin were better defensemen all season than Rafalski (the fact that Oduya had a mental meltdown in the TB series not withstanding) and I trusted Lukowich, and later Matvichuk more in the defensive zone. Raffi had more points than the other kids because the team put him in position to shoot the puck more on the power play. The other guys all had better years defensively.
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