Though New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello is never short on confidence, he will admit that it took a while for him to believe his team could make the run it has, all the way to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals
"You like to think every team you ever have has a chance," Lamoriello told the assembled press at Media Day in Newark. "I don't think we ever did until halfway through the year."
Lamoriello has run the Devils with what some would call an iron fist since 1988, and has already built three Stanley Cup winners, so he knows what it takes to win. When the coaching staff, led by Peter DeBoer, gained total credibility with his team, Lamoriello knew there was the potential for something special.
"The communication they had with the players and the way the players bought into the system, both veterans and young players -- anytime we had any adversity, [we] came out of it quickly, no looking back," he said. "It's probably one of the best teams we've had as far as chemistry."
It's no coincidence, perhaps, that the team coming together halfway through the year has a lot to do with the trades he made around that time, acquiring forward Alexei Ponikarovsky from the Carolina Hurricanes, and defenseman Marek Zidlicky from the Minnesota Wild.
"What we saw when we got to halfway through the year, we didn't really have the depth on the lower end of our lines," Lamoriello said. "No disrespect, but to do maybe some of the things that you could take ice team away from the veterans. We had our veterans killing penalties, maybe giving too many minutes. Our focus was how can we get our fourth line better, where they could take some of the top minutes away if we could continue to use our top players."
"Poni was available at that time because of where Carolina was," Lamoriello said. "We knew of him. We certainly saw enough of him in Toronto. We thought he would be a perfect fit as far as a player that would go up and down in weight, size and strength. Bernie, we knew we had in the minors.
"It was just a case of getting him here. We had signed him. He was in great shape and he was hungry. He committed himself to go to the minors and prove it, then he broke his wrist. Then he became healthy, we got him back once he was healthy. We felt good with that because we had [Jacob Josefson]. Then [Josefson] gets hurt and we have to have a center. We went the safe way, Gionta. So he's come in seamless. Now we have a fourth line."
Bringing it all together is another move that Lamoriello is now getting a lot of credit for, hiring a then out-of-work DeBoer as somewhat of a surprise choice to coach this team. Lamoriello says that despite DeBoer's record in Florida and having never made the post-season, he was impressed.
"We played against Florida a lot over the three years," Lamoriello said. "It was always remarkable how they competed no matter where they were in the standings. I knew he was a very hard coach on his players because he didn't want to accept anything but the best out of them. That to me was a positive because he might have wanted success, maybe didn't have the talent to get there."
There's no doubt Lamoriello and DeBoer have a team that has shown it has the talent after surprising most of the prognosticators and coming within four wins of a Stanley Cup.
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