NEWARK, N.J. – Lou Lamoriello did not speak with anger in his voice. He was not short with his answers. And he even declined an offer to wrap up the interview after 20 minutes, fearing that the media may have some more questions for him.
Indeed, the New Jersey Devils general manager has been through this before—losing a marquee player to free agency—and his team has survived. That’s how the Devils, after all, have been to five Stanley Cup finals—winning three of them—in Lamoriello’s tenure. They move on. They counter.
So, after former captain Zach Parise left for Minnesota on Wednesday, ending days of free-agent drama, Lamoriello, though disappointed, clearly took it in stride.
“There’s no question we’re disappointed. It’s a very unfortunate thing when you have a player of his stature that’s come right through the ranks and then, at this given time, a decision is made to go elsewhere,” Lamoriello said on a conference call.
“You just go forward.”
And so the time has come for this franchise to do so yet again. Though it is an organization in a financial bind, with debt hovering over it, there are positives to cling to as they look beyond Parise’s 194 goals and 410 points.
First of all, the Devils are less than two months removed from winning the Eastern Conference. After missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996, New Jersey orchestrated a surprising run through the Panthers, Flyers and Rangers before ultimately falling to Los Angeles in the Cup finals.
Second of all, while Parise is a huge loss, Lamoriello did secure several of his other free agents, and shored up not only the goaltending situation, but the defence as well.
But there is an offensive gap now that must be filled, clearly. Though forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who could be named the new captain, certainly came into his own as a Devil last season, posting 37 goals and 83 points, the 29-year-old had a chemistry with Parise and the two fed off each other, especially in the post-season.
“We have some outstanding young players here, some who have tremendous potential,” Lamoriello said. “We’ll do whatever we can to go to Plan B.”
He always has.
In 2005, after another former captain—defenceman Scott Niedermayer—left via free agency for Anaheim, Lamoriello struck quickly, signing three backliners on the same day: Brian Rafalski, Vladimir Malakhov and Dan McGillis. The results were spotty, at best, as the Devils could not get past Round 2 without Niedermayer until this season, while Niedermayer led the Ducks to the Cup in 2007. But the point is, Lamoriello answered.
In 2007, two days after losing forward Scott Gomez, who signed with the rival Rangers, Lamoriello signed forward Dainius Zubrus, who is still on the team and was a key cog in this last run to the finals.
So, whether it’s a free agent, or a trade, or a call-up, expect him to do the same again.
“What that is, we’ll have no discussions with that,” Lamoriello said. “We’ll do whatever we can to get ourselves better.”
The Devils were well on their way to that this week … before Parise’s decision. New Jersey, a No. 6 seed that went 14-10 in that surprising post-season run, re-signed goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg, as well as defencemen Bryce Salvador and Peter Harrold.
Lamoriello also locked up the entire fourth line, a makeshift group put together at season’s end that found spring success and featured Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta.
There are forwards available that can help. Washington’s Alex Semin (21 goals, 54 points last season) is a free agent. And Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan (31 goals, 57 points in 2011-12), a New Jersey native, has been made available in trade talks. The price tag may be too rich for the Devils, in their current state, on both of those players. But expect at least one new, unnamed forward on the roster soon enough.
And then, there’s a matter of the captaincy. Parise, who was given the label from coach Peter DeBoer, had it for just one season.
“I don’t want to pin it on anyone,” Parise said. “You’ve got (forward) Travis (Zajac), (Salvador), (Kovalchuk) is going to be there a long time, (defenceman) Andy Greene. Any guy in there would do a great job of it.”
Lamoriello, for one, isn’t worried about it in July.
“That isn’t a thought in my mind right now,” he said. “That’s nothing that needs to be done today, tomorrow, or weeks from now.”
Adding some new scoring punch to an Eastern Conference-champion roster? Well, that’s a different story.
That is a thought in his mind right now.