I’m a little bit bummed the Devils re-acquired Jason Arnott.
One thing that’s always impressed me about the Devils is that, for the most part, they hold no players sacred.
The franchise respects talent, but more often than not, they’ve either traded it away or let it walk away.
That’s because, more than players, GM Lou Lamoriello has always believed in the Devils. In the system. In the coaching. And in his own ability to shape a team.
The players were his tools. And if a tool left, he found a comparable one, either in his farm system or on his roster.
The parade of players out of New Jersey has often seemed to kill the fans. Not only would the team lose stars like Petr Sykora and Scott Niedermayer, but no attempt would even be made to replace them. Lamoriello would simply promote from within.
And the system has worked. Sure, the Devils have had a lot of playoff trouble for a few seasons, but they’ve never had a regular season where they weren’t a superb, competitive team.
But now it seems Lamoriello is re-thinking his faith in the Devils.
It started two seasons ago when Lamoriello signed Brian Rolston, the one-time Devil he had traded away almost 10 years earlier. A season later he hired Jacques Lemaire, the one-time Devils coach, to coach the team again.
Lamoriello was peeking into his past, looking for answers in the team’s history.
It seemed slightly out of character for him, but it made sense in that he had needed a center and he had needed a coach, and Rolston and Lemaire were both strong candidates.
The trend continued last week when Lamoriello tagged John MacLean, another one-time Devil and current assistant coach, to be the team’s new head coach. MacLean is qualified and deserves a shot, but it was Lamoriello once again reaching into Devils history to help solidify the team’s future.
And finally, over the weekend, we saw Lamoriello trade for Jason Arnott, the one-time center for the famous Devils A Line. That dominant line featured Arnott, Sykora, and Patrik Elias and was unceremoniously broken up by Lamoriello for reasons no one ever really figured out.
And now, eight years later, it looks like Lamoriello wants that A Line back.
The Devils have a need at center and Arnott fills that need. The Devils also have a lot of money and cap space invested in Elias, who struggled last season. Arnott could be a way to get Elias going.
But Arnott is 36 years old. Surely there were younger centers available, either through trade or free agency.
For Lamoriello, no other player would have the appeal of someone tied to Devils history, like Arnott is.
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see Lamoriello reaching back like this. The 2005 season saw him do something similar, signing Vladimir Malakhov and Alexander Mogilny, both one-time Devils. Both signings were disastrous.
I don’t think the Arnott trade will be the train wreck the Malakhov/Mogilny re-signings were, but I’m not sure Arnott has the speed and finesse to be a top two center. And even if he does, I’m not sure that’ll be enough to get Elias back to his younger form.
When Lamoriello isn’t sure what move to make, he seems to go the nostalgia route. It’s not a bad reflex if you’re putting together a touring band, but it isn’t super helpful if you’re trying to put together a competitive, contemporary NHL team.
The Devils have always found success whenever they’ve build from within, acquiring the few outside pieces needed to complete their winning team (feel free to ignore last season’s Ilya Kovalchuk experiment here).
Now, Lamoriello is once again building from the past. It’s great that he has such nice memories of previous Devils teams, but great NHL teams aren’t built on reminiscences. They’re built on great players. Players who are great now. Not players who were great five years ago.
It’s a subtle distinction, but one that seems to be eluding Lamoriello.