How Do You Fix The Trenton Devils?

The headline is a bit misleading.  You can’t really fix something that arguably was never really working to begin with.

The Trenton Devils are 42 games into the 72-game ECHL season, and are 15-23-1-3.  Their 34 points are last in the Eastern Conference and second to last in the league, with only the Ontario Reign’s 32 points keeping them out of the basement.  Things have particularly fallen apart as of late, as the team’s two wins in their last ten games are the fewest among any team in the league over that stretch.  Their 157 goals against are the third-highest in the league as well.

Trenton sits 10 points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference, and show no signs of making a run to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2008-09 any time soon.  But can they turn it around?  And if so, how do they do it?

Last season, when it was the American Conference and there were 12 teams and not 11 in it, it took 77 points to crack the top 8.  That would, based on last season’s results, mean Trenton would need to post 43 points out of a possible 60 over their last 30 games to get back into it.  Based on this year’s pace, it won’t be much easier.  Kalamazoo, who currently is in eighth place, is on pace to put up 75 points (rounded down from 75.42), which would require 41 points from Trenton out of a possible 60 in their last 30 games.

Historically, over the past two seasons, Trenton has been a second half team…which has always been somewhat puzzling given you’d think that would be the time you’d expect some of the first-year college players to wear down given they haven’t played that far into a season before.  But anyway, the Devils went on a remarkable 22-10-1-3 run over the last 36 games in 2008-09 (18-8-1-3 over the last 30) to challenge for the division title and charge into the postseason.  Last year, Trenton was in a similar hole and went 21-14-0-1 over the final 36 contests (19-11-0-0 over the last 30), but fell just short of a playoff berth.

This season, however, it’s hard to believe a second half turnaround will take place based on what’s happened in the first half.  Their longest winning streak this season?  Two.  They’ve done it just twice, and they’ve done it entirely in regulation once.

There was a lot of optimism around the team at the beginning of the season, and it was justified.  Maybe I’m still too close to the forest to see the trees, but I do believe this is a talented group.  Did at the beginning of the season, do now.  The amount of depth in the organization seemed to be a real strong suit, and it seemed hard to believe that the team would be underachieving as it is now.

All the built-in excuses are there: call-ups, injuries, etc.  Fact is, this group hasn’t produced.  But blame can be placed all across the board.  Let’s start with the front office.

Any attempts to bolster this club have often come way too late and from players off the street.  Only Brad Miller was acquired via any sort of a trade, with the team instead choosing to bring in spare parts such Mike Potacco, Chase Watson and Kyle Kucharski in off the free agent market.  Shane Connelly, whose acquisition seemed like a wise one at the time, has simply not panned out as the team had hoped.  While other teams around the league are improving via trades — well, realistically, plucking players off of other teams for cash considerations — the Devils have largely stood pat.

A large part of the 2008-09 turnaround was the team bringing in players like Brett Pilkington, Dan Eves, Jeff Prough and Gerald Coleman in via trade.  With no disrespect to Miller intended, as he’s been a nice fit, it’s going to take a lot more than bringing him in to completely turn things around.  And making those moves will be difficult.  A lot of players are on AHL deals, and the organization won’t move them at the sake of improving the ECHL team.  Prime free agents at this level simply will not sign with Trenton, as their options for progressing their careers are limited due to only being able to be called up to Albany and nowhere else…surely, that’s played a large role in the lack of any outside veteran presence on this team since the colossal failure of Mike Harder.  Perhaps the only hope of help this team has would come too late, as you may recall Myles Stoesz came over in an NHL deal at the trade deadline two seasons ago.

This group, especially the forwards, is a stale one right now.  Making just one move — the right move — could really infuse something into this team that they haven’t had.  So let’s move to the players in the blame game.

Largely, the effort has been there with this group.  But it hasn’t been there 100 percent of the time.  And anything less than a 100 percent, 60 minute effort every night will keep this team in the cellar.  Nobody likes to lose.  These guys don’t like to lose, I don’t like covering a losing team, and the fans don’t like seeing a losing team.  It isn’t fun for anyone involved.  But somebody needs to step up and take an on-ice leadership role with this team.  Someone needs to make sure these guys are finishing their checks, playing aggressive but smart, playing desperate but within their limits.  Play like your job is on the line, because for a lot of these guys, it should be.

This team doesn’t always play like a confident group, and maybe the coaching staff has something to do with that.  Kevin Dean is brutally honest with us, and that’s really all any reporter can ask for.  Nobody wants to be fed a line of BS, and Dean certainly can never be accused of that.  However, constant reminders of how fragile his team is can’t sit well with his group sometimes.  You can’t blame him for being frustrated either, but I’d have to assume these guys aren’t going out there thinking they’re going to lose.  And let’s make this clear…while there are quite a few parallels between John MacLean and Dean (rookie coach whose team got off to an awful start) I don’t have any reason to believe anyone’s job is in jeopardy.  Dean is making the best of a bad situation, and there’s only so much someone in his position can do.

So what do you think?  Any chance they turn things around?  Where do you place the blame for why the first half has gone so poorly?  And how do you change it?

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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16 Responses to “How Do You Fix The Trenton Devils?”

  1. chiarams Says:

    Honestly? I’d say it would take 5 forwards, 4 defensemen, and a goalie.

    Swap out the garbage for 10 new guys, and you might have a team that can compete with the top Eastern teams.

    Sorry, but even with Elmira playing awful, Trenton has barely gained any ground. There’s nothing simple that can fix this group. Would be nice to see what Dean could have done with a team with talent top to bottom.

  2. Langhorne Devil Says:

    So which players would you keep, and which would you ditch?? (Just interested)

    I dont really think any of the forwards are flat out terrible. They are just all to similar in style. I also think that we do not seem to play to their strengths. We try and play rough along the boards hockey with probably the smallest/lightest forwards in the league.

  3. chiarams Says:

    Take this with a grain of salt – I’ve technically only listened to games this year…

    I think I’d keep:

    Forwards:
    Hayes, Prough, Kell, Ginand, Charleston, Akeson (who can be a solid two way guy when he wants to)

    D-men:
    Thomas, Coutu, Miller, maybe Leaderer.

    That’s about it. Wouldn’t keep any of the goalies, though maybe they’d have a fighting chance with some improvements on the blueline.

    I do agree with you though that Trenton has about a dozen 5’10” 190 pound playmakers.

    So add to the want list a couple bigger bodies and a quality finisher, along with a few d-men, and bang – you’ve got yourself a contender.

  4. Langhorne Devil Says:

    Even though you have only listened to the radio – you seem to have it down.

    Id keep

    Hayes Ginand Berube
    Charleston Vokes Prough

    Im sorry i dont see the Akeson thing – i know Mike likes him also but i just dont see it.

    D men – if you could find 6 new men so be it.

    One thing id like to see more of is Pender on the forward line. it just added some strength up there but with two of the better forwards as I just think it may work.

    D

  5. chiarams Says:

    I’m a sucker for a two-way forward – Akeson would be great as a third line banger as long as he’s not expected to do much on the offensive side.

    Forgot about Vokes. So they only need four forwards then…;-)

  6. GT Doot Says:

    What’s the point of talking about changing players and who to keep and let go. You won’t get anyone that’s good willing to play for this team with such limited opportunity to move to the next level. That’s what needs to change. And by the way, these guys aint that good. Chiarams is lucky he only listens and doesn’t see them play. Get the Devil out of Trenton!

  7. trentondevilsfan Says:

    Pender at forward has been interesting. Kell’s been a disappointment. The goalies need to go. Vichorek is a bust. I’d give Dean another year, IMO he’s nowhere near a Maclean style disaster. This group just can’t seem to focus for a full 60.

  8. chiarams Says:

    I really think Dean can be a decent coach – plus, he’s shown enough of a yes-man attitude to keep him in the Devils org for at least another year.

  9. Titans04 Says:

    I was excited to see Akeson back but he’s come up empty this year imo. Same with Tony in my eyes. The only D I would keep would be Thomas the rest can all go. Dean was hard on them two weeks ago on the radio show grading them a D but was talking as if they had turned things around this week. Prough up until recently has been underwhelming and Kell pretty much the same. Berube got off slow but picked it up, I was expecting more when it came to dropping the gloves. Ginand was on fire but the went MIA. Hayes a pleasant surprise which indicates in some respect how small the rest have come up. He barely had a spot on the roster going in. Sadly Vokes is Poli II.

    To me it’s not like any of the forwards are horrible with the exception of the scrap heap guys. In fact if you looked at each one individually you would say they’re a keeper. Unfortunately as a group they stink. That said I don’t think the forwards are the problem.

    The D and the lack of having a true number 1 goalie is again imo. Never got Coutu, Leaderer is stuck in reverse, Miller doesn’t play D, Taylor the softest 6’8″ guy you’ll ever see. Thomas has struggled. Nolet and Southorn are just eh. Pender the worst of the worst, big deal he has a hard shot. All his pre-season talk about playing tougher was just that talk. He’s a disaster.

    Caruso hasn’t been good, Sieve Connelly (who were stuck with Saturday) is dreadful more often than not. Lerg nice kid (actually I’m sure they’re all great kids) but doesn’t impress me one bit, he flops around like a fish out of water exposing 80% of the net.

    I too had false hope coming into the season based on the roster but it quickly went away. To me they shouldn’t be as terrible as they are but on the other hand with the D and goalie issues why I expected them to be better was only pre-season wishful thinking.

    They won’t make any major moves because there is zero urgency to win, THAT will never change and it becomes more and more apparent with each passing year.

    This will be 3 out of 4 years they missed the playoffs, correct?

    Add that to missing 11 out of 12 at the AHL level and what more do you need to know.

    As I posted before their tone now is one of moral victories and the acceptance of it is what it is. Bad bounces, tough calls, out worked them, don’t really ever get outworked, playing our system blah blah blah. No mention of hell we’re two points away from being the leagues worst not just the conf door mat.

  10. Titans04 Says:

    Funny Reading figured out a way to beat the super power that is Wheeling.

  11. Shtikl Says:

    Off topic, but make sure you see the goalie fight between DiPietro and Johnson.

    Supposedly the first goalie fight in the NHL in 10 years. Not a smart move by DiPi to deck Cooke…

  12. LousTaint Says:

    Eviction.

  13. Bob Smyth Says:

    Hindsight is always 20-20, but I wonder, if Vinnie had gotten the head coach job, would be things be any different? Maybe Dean just can’t relate to the players at this level, whereas Vinnie has been here awhile. The point about the front office is right on – this group seems not to care about the team or getting fans. You can bet that the players would ratchet up their efforts, if 3000 – 4000 fans were there.

  14. Justwantateam Says:

    Dean can’t coach his way out of a paper bag!! Some players can’t coach. All there is to it. A good coach doesn’t let a player take 3 stupid penalties or a major at a crucial moment in the game then continue to play him. Sit their rear end down to think about the hole they’ve put their team in. He talk about go to guys ginand, Hayes, Berube. Well they were minus 2 the other nite & he puts them out for last 90 seconds. Makes 1 scratch the head. He goes on at nauseum about accountability but what about him.

  15. chiarams Says:

    You have to keep in mind that Dean is handcuffed by the Devils organization. Any sign of exuberance, any outburst, or any show of excitement is totally frowned upon.

    Bob – I don’t think Vinny would make a great head coach. I don’t know why I think that (I’ve generally always wondered if he’d get a chance outside of Trenton), but he’s never struck me as a leader off the ice. But that could also be part of living under the Devils regime.

  16. trentondevilsfan Says:

    Is Vince in charge of special teams?

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