Our thanks to John for taking the time to give us his insight to the Devils down the stretch.
1 - The last time I posed three questions to you, the Devils were slumping and Martin Brodeur's absence was part of it. Marty's back, but now Ilya Kovalchuk is out for a few weeks. Does the team have the depth and the leadership to hold on till he returns? Did I see Bryce Salvador may be hurt again?
Salvador picked up a minor injury, but he will be playing tonight. Leadership isn't in short supply, but Kovalchuk will be missed simply because he generates a lot of shooting attempts at evens and on the power play. His offensive skill set is second to none, though his shooting percentage has been low like many on the team. That's what really drove the slump and scoring going to be their big problem going forward.
If the even strength S% stays in the low 7s, then short of Brodeur & the D playing out if their minds, wins will be hard to come by. Now, if others not named Andrei Loktionov get hot, then the team may be fine as Kovalchuk recovers. We shall hope for the latter tonight.
2 - The Lightning are going through coaching transition now. In that context, please talk about how Pete DeBoer is doing: Does he continue to have the confidence of the organization and the fans? Do you personally think he's doing a good job? Strengths/Weaknesses?
The Devils are one of the best possession teams in the league. The defense has had rough nights, but it's been because of errors by the players and not a system. The team slumped but they didn't take it out on their coach. DeBoer will remain as coach for the time being; if his spot was truly in doubt, then I'd be utterly shocked.
Fans have griped about some of the personnel moves but that's whatever. If the team's S% was higher - and coaches can't fix that - the Devils would be in a far safer position for the playoffs now and everyone would be more pleased with the coach. Me, I think DeBoer is doing a fine job but undercut by luck.
3 - Today, the Devils signed Jon Merrill to an ATO (Amateur Tryout
OAgreement). Why not a standard 3-year Entry Level Contract? He was selected 38th overall in 2010, that's one spot behind Justin Faulk, a proven NHLer in Carolina. Can you fill in the blanks on this decision?
It's common for college players who are done with the NCAA to sign an ATO. This allows a player to play at the AHL level for a bit even after the trade deadline. As far as I understand it, a player who comes out of college or junior can only sign an ELC for the following season, so ATOs are common. As for Merrill, he just signed one - something he couldn't do while at Michigan. It'll begin next season. So he'll be with Albany on an ATO for this season and then his contract kicks in the fall of 2013.