It’s not uncommon for players to reunite with former coaches and/or a general manager who has previously acquired that player at a previous stop. There is familiarity between coach and player and in the case of GMs, a belief in the abilities, sometimes untapped, of the player. That scenario played out this summer when the New Jersey Devils brought in two former Penguins, defenseman Ben Lovejoy in free agency and winger Beau Bennett via trade, reuniting them with general manager Ray Shero and head coach John Hynes. As Andrew Gross writes in his Fire and Ice blog, those additions should have come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the situation.
Shero spent eight seasons at the helm in Pittsburgh, selecting Bennett in the first-round of the 2010 entry draft. Clearly Shero still believes in Bennett’s upside as evidenced by the Devils giving up a third-round pick – a substantial asset – to Pittsburgh in exchange for the winger. Bennett scored six goals and 12 points in 33 regular season games in Pittsburgh in 2015-16 but appeared in just one postseason game as rookies Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust passed him on the team’s depth chart.
The Devils finished last in the NHL in goals scored during the 2015-16 season, and even after adding LW Taylor Hall in the summer, the team could use more scoring depth. Bennett hopes to be able to provide that and reward Shero’s faith in him.
Lovejoy cited the presence of Hynes as instrumental in his decision to sign with the Devils in the offseason.
“(Hynes) was my defense coach when I played in Wilkes-Barre. I played for him for a full season. He knows my game. It’s not going to be a surprise here. He knows exactly what he’s getting. That’s the reason I’m here. I know the coaching staff through Wilkes-Barre when Ray and (assistant GM) Tom (Fitzgerald) were running the organization the first time I was in Pittsburgh. Those are guys I trust and know. I’m here because they trust me.”
The veteran of eight NHL seasons will be asked to add leadership and experience to a young-ish defense corps that only has one other defender – Andy Greene – over the age of 26. Lovejoy doesn’t bring much of an offensive game to the table but has generally been a responsible blue liner and has posted a negative plus-minus rating just once in his career.
Elsewhere around the NHL:
- GM Jim Benning and head coach Willie Desjardins are well aware the team has some ground to cover if they want to make the playoffs in 2016-17 after missing the postseason by 12 points this past season. But as Derek Jory of the Canucks official team site reports, both manager and coach are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming campaign. Desjardins: “We have more depth at every position and I feel we’re stronger at every position.” Benning, for his part, believes adding Loui Eriksson and Erik Gudbranson this summer along with a return to health for center Brandon Sutter will bring needed leadership as well as depth to the club: “We’ve added more depth to our group and adding Loui Eriksson, who I feel is a good player, a healthy Brandon Sutter, adding Erik Gudbranson; we’ve added some leadership in that room to help our young players along, so I’m real excited.”
- Two days after watching Team USA elimination from medal contention at the World Cup of Hockey, the man ultimately responsible for assembling the team, Kings GM Dean Lombardi, defended his roster construction strategy: “We’ve got some darn good players, but the reality is that matchup on a skill basis, if you want to go head-to-head and play a skill game, your odds of winning that game when you look at those matchups is not very good.” While Lombardi is likely correct in his assertion that Team USA wouldn’t have been able to match the skill and talent of the Canadiens no matter who they brought to the tournament, the choice to emphasize grit and heart ignores the NHL’s recent shift to a quicker game that values speed over other traits. Of course we’ll never know whether a Team USA roster including Tyler Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Phil Kessel – for example – would have been better equipped to beat Canada, but it’s clear they couldn’t have done any worse.