Top Shelf: DeBoer may take fall for Devils

Philadelphia, PA ( - There are few people who would place the blame for the New Jersey Devils' lackluster season entirely on Peter DeBoer.

But, at this rate, there may be no other solution than making him take the fall for it anyway.

Only two and a half years removed from leading the Devils on a run to the Stanley Cup Finals, DeBoer is surrounded by speculation that he is fighting for his job.

I say "speculation" because nobody every really knows what Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello is thinking.

Is he close to firing his head coach for New Jersey's brutal start to the season? Or is Lou saving the blame for himself and giving DeBoer a pass?

There is no question the Hall of Fame GM needs to take some lumps for the way this current edition of the Devils is built.

While it's been a blast for NHL fans watching Jaromir Jagr stay relevant, the fact that New Jersey's most important offensive player is going to be 43 years old in a few months is kind of sad and it points to a larger problem with the Devils.

After all, Jagr isn't the only greybeard on New Jersey's roster, as the team is only the NHL club with an average age over 30. In a sport dominated by young stars the Devils are counting on guys like Patrik Elias (38), Bryce Salvador (38), Marek Zidlicky (37), Dainius Zubrus (36), Michael Ryder (34), Scott Gomez (34), Martin Havlat (33) and Mike Cammalleri (32) to do the heavy lifting.

But an even bigger issue for the Devils is that when they've tried to go young, the results have been less than impressive. Outside of Adam Henrique, a third-round steal for Lamoriello in 2008, the club's draft preparation over the last several years has simply not approached his own lofty standards.

Adam Larsson, a defenseman who was selected fourth overall in 2011, is the poster boy for the club's recent poor drafts, but he is hardly alone in generating disappointment among the Devils fan base. Eric Gelinas, Jacob Josefson, Stefan Matteau and Damon Severson are all former first or second- round draft picks who have yet to show they can pull their weight for a successful NHL club.

Let us not forget the 2013 draft either. That was the year Lamoriello surrendered New Jersey's first-round pick (9th overall) to land goaltender Cory Schneider from Vancouver. Schneider has found it difficult replacing a legend like Martin Brodeur as the No. 1 option between the pipes, but he is hardly the biggest problem for a team that is ranked 26th in the league with a paltry average of 2.21 goals per game.

All the poor drafts have forced New Jersey to rely on older free agents, who, let's face it, are on the downside of their careers. And all of them put together don't seem to add up to former Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, who "retired" from the NHL after the lockout season of 2012-13 to ply his trade in the KHL.

But the Devils can't use Kovalchuk's decision to leave them in the lurch as an excuse any longer. New Jersey's icy reception from the home crowd at the end of its most recent loss, Wednesday's 2-0 setback against Ottawa, shows the fans aren't in the mood for excuses.

Some representatives of the Devils, including Elias and DeBoer, felt the team had outplayed the Senators and was unfairly booed at the Prudential Center.

"They were disappointed. So were we. Trust me," Elias said. "But we didn't deserve that today. The effort was there. We were the better team. We understand it, but it wasn't deserved tonight. I didn't appreciate it."

It may be true that New Jersey was the better club Wednesday, but the fans are right to be disgusted because results are all that matter for the Devils right now. Since the effort against the Sens didn't result in a win or even a point, it's difficult to expect the fans to see it as anything other than another failure to get the job done.

Better efforts, and results, are especially needed at home where the Devils have only played 12 games so far. The building otherwise known as "The Rock" will need to be a source of strength if the 11-16-6 club has any chance at returning to the postseason for the first time since 2012.

The positive results better start coming soon or DeBoer will eventually have to take the fall for a team that is mired in its second five-game losing streak in a matter of weeks. Whether it's the GM's mistakes or DeBoer's faults as a coach that is plaguing the Devils, or a combination of both, something needs to be done and fast.

Around the league, it seems DeBoer is still more associated with the heights of his first season with the Devils in 2012 than the depths the club has reached this season. And for that reason, Lamoriello likely knows DeBoer would be plucked by another team rather quickly if he gets fired.

Then again, if scenes like Wednesday's game in Newark become the norm, he may have no choice other than sacrificing his coach to the masses. And if it somehow manages to get worse, keeping the coach around any longer would not only be cruel to the fans, but to DeBoer as well.