Thursday, May 31, 2007
Why I am a Devils Fan
Since it is the off-season and there has not been a lot of major news recently outside of the Stanley Cup Finals between Anaheim and Ottawa, now is a good a time as any to engage in some navel-gazing and answer an important question:
Why be a fan of the New Jersey Devils?
Earlier this year, I wrote a rambling essay as to explain why I despise the New York Rangers.
However, that is only disliking a team. I am not a fan of the Devils because I really don't like the Rangers. Anyone can easily not like the Rangers and hope they fail from season to season without being a Devils fan. You don't even need to like hockey to hate on the Rangers. Likewise, hating all 29 other teams does not necessarily mean one is a Devils supporter. Therefore, I think it's not a bad question to answer - it requires more than just "I want the rivals of the Rangers/Flyers/Islanders/etc. to win."
Now, before getting into matters, I think it's important to consider why anyone would be a fan of any sports team. There are many reasons that come to mind. Location is one such reason. Some people who like a sport may naturally gravitate towards the team from their hometown or the local sports squad. Another reason could be that the team you are a fan of was a part of the first event of that sport (e.g. first hockey game, first baseball game, etc.) and as a result you became a fan as time went on. A third reason could be influence from your family, friends, co-workers, significant others, etc. How a particular team plays or their success may be so attractive that their play or success has literally won your support over. You could simply support a team because of more obvious facts such as your favorite player plays (or played) for them. When I was younger, sometimes the color of the uniform and the logo spurred the initial interest that led to later fan-dom. These are just a multitude of reasons of why anyone would be a fan of a sports team; and I'm confident there are many more that I have missed.
Getting back on track, since this is a personal question, some background is required. I have been a fan of the New Jersey Devils since the 1993-1994 season, when I was about 10 years old or so. It's when I became much more aware of hockey in general (roller hockey and all that in the streets) in addition to the New Jersey Devils in the NHL. I saw the rise of Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens leading a defensive squad in scoring, and the incredibly heart-breaking 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Since then, I've followed the Devils with a strong interest as the Devils answered their critics with a Stanley Cup in 1995 and became contenders for nearly every season thereafter. Basically, that season was the reason I became a big hockey fan and a Devils fan to begin with.
It can be said that my interest really didn't fade that much; which is quite interesting since I'm now 24. Generally, as one grows older, they tend to find new interests, new hobbies, new friends, and so on and so forth. I realized this today while cleaning out some of my room; coming across across some old CDs, among other things. Years back, I would listen to a lot of (really bad) punk and hardcore music; but clearly I did not (and still really don't) care much for the "sounds" of Slapshot (Aside: How can you name your band that, have a logo that is just like the Bruins logo, and have no songs about hockey whatsoever? Seriously, what were you thinking, Slapshot?). Naturally I threw them away - they served no use to me. I imagine it's the same for a lot of people - you don't necessarily listen to the same things, have the same friends, or have the same interests now that you did when you were 19 or 20 or even last year. Therefore, I think this sort of element should be considered along with the initial question. Yes, I remember why I became a Devils fan in the first place; but why am I still a Devils fan?
After some additional thought, the answer to this question and the initial one is one and the same: it all has to do with what the New Jersey Devils stand for. They are not just one of the two major sports teams in this area that has New Jersey in their name; not just the only one to remain after the Nets jump to Brooklyn. There is some meaning in the New Jersey location, Doc Emerick mentions this in the 25th Anniversary commercial that constantly played during Devils telecasts on Fox Sports New York. However, I think it is deeper than than just putting a NJ on the front of the jersey in that sweet design. In my opinion there are three characteristics (and I think you may know where I'm going with this) about the New Jersey Devils which are not just reasons as to why they are successful but why am I still a fan and will likely remain a fan.
First and foremost, the Devils make discipline a priority. They generally are one of the league's least penalized teams, and while that is definitely an advantage to stay out of the penalty box, discipline means more than that in the Devils organization. It's about adhering to a team-first style of play that plays to their strengths. The Devils are not a run-and-gun squad that rolls four lines of offense. They know defense is their strong point, they know they have Martin Brodeur in net, and they know they are going to stick with winning with defensive hockey and creating turnovers. Unless there is a massive personnel change in all areas of the organization, this will not change. Sometimes it may sound daft to enforce players to only have facial hair for the playoffs or to constantly perform line matching with the opposition, however all of these things combine to result in a team that is relatively happy and quite successful in the last 13 years or so. Discipline matters and those who do not fit that mold (e.g. Mike Danton) or do not want to be in it (e.g. Petr Sykora) are gone. Those who do are contributors to the Devils' success (e.g. Jamie Langenbrunner, etc.). Discipline is clearly inherent in the Devils' style of play and it seems to me so ingrained as to who the Devils are that changing it would be absolute folly.
Second is the fact that they bothered with defensive hockey to begin with. The common lament after the 1995 Stanley Cup win was the fact that the system (the Devils) beat a more talented team (the Detroit Red Wings). Naturally, many other teams found that the neutral zone trap Jacques Lemaire initially implemented with the Devils in the 1993-1994 was a pretty good system. I shouldn't have to say that the Devils used that system better than most other teams - due in part of their high level of discipline. Many have complained that the Devils made hockey boring, which just blows my mind - as if hockey could be boring. In any case, despite the criticisms both within and outside of the hockey realm, the Devils did not change their defensive-first ways. The whole league was locked out for a season, new rules were implemented that led to faster and more high-scoring hockey, and yet the Devils were still a top team generally playing the same way they had before the lock out. The Devils truly do not care what others think, they go on the ice to play their style of hockey and are generally successful as a result. Definitely admirable and a testament as to how well the Devils understand what they can and can not do.
Third and lastly is the constant improving of the team. The Devils traditionally do not look for big names in free agency or in trades (Doug Gilmour excluded), but they do not stick with a roster for long. As I have mentioned many times in response to a dumb article by Mark Everson of the New York Post
, Lou Lamoriello and the Devils organization continually seeks to improve themselves. Some teams find it best to be terrible for awhile, stockpile high draft picks, select prospects with high upsides, and hope they can reach those upsides and improve the team in the long-term. The Devils have not done that; last selecting in the top 10 back in 1991 (and they got that #3 pick in a trade, if I recall correctly) and the team last "earned" such a high spot throughout the whole draft back in 1989. The Devils are content on giving the undrafted players a shot (e.g. John Madden, Brian Rafalski), developing lower draft picks into solid players (e.g. Paul Martin, Brian Gionta), trading for talent at the trade deadline to help the team try and win the Stanley Cup (e.g. Arnott for Langenbrunner sticks out in my mind) and letting players who demand a lot of money walk. Bobby Holik, the big shutdown center at the time, left for NY for $9 million per year; yet the Devils did not panic, they filled that slot with John Madden who has been there since. Scott Neidermayer leaving the Devils for free agency hurt the team, but it did not doom the Devils as they have won the Atlantic Division in the first two seasons since his departure. Some of the signings and trades have failed (e.g. Andreas Salomonsson, Vladimir Malakhov, etc.), sure; but the Devils did not and will not just settle with just any roster. They will likely need to reload this season and just like every year so far, they will address where they need help and will likely contended for a third straight division title (among other things).
It is these three qualities that make me still proud to call myself a Devils fan: their discipline, their adherence to their style of play, and their attempts to continually improve themselves. The Devils clearly are sure of who they are and how they want to succeed in the NHL. With 3 Stanley Cups in a 9 year span to go with multiple Atlantic Division titles, the Devils have been successful with their ideas and their philosophy. Simply admirable traits and I imagine all fans of all teams would want these three aspects (The NY Giants could definitely use the discipline, for example).
In short, it is what the Devils stand for that continually reminds me that there is a lot to be proud of in being a Devils fan. Their successes are direct examples of it, but understanding some of the crucial aspects in how they have achieved their successes so far is also worthy of respect and a source of pride for fans. Especially in knowing the Devils seemingly have no plans of changing these three core characteristics. Therefore, it is just as easy for me to be a fan of the Devils now and likely in the future. How I became a fan was simple enough; the 1993-1994 season saw the Devils grow into contenders with their style of play. The Devils continuing to succeed based on these three characteristics, in my opinion, is what keeps me as a fan.
This was quite a long, rambling essay as to why I'm a fan of the Devils. I must emphasize that I don't think I'm any more of a fan than anyone else nor that my reasons are better than your own. For all I know, I thought way too hard about something that should have been more instinct than anything else. In any case, I'd like to know why you are a Devils fan; I'm genuinely interested in the all kinds of reasons you support the best sports team in New Jersey.
Monday, May 28, 2007
While this is primarily a New Jersey Devils blog, I would like to point out that today is indeed Memorial Day.
I apologize that I can not put this in more descriptive terms; but I'd like to state my gratitude to veterans and current members of the U.S. military. I would like to thank all of the veterans both living and deceased as well as current members of the U.S. military for their service, their sacrifice, and their willingness to do what is necessary to protect the nation and fight for those who need to be fought for. It's because of their brave efforts in all conflicts, this is a free land.
Thank you and I wish you success in doing what you need to do.
Bits and Pieces, 5/28
Sunday, May 20, 2007
The Trenton Devils
The New Jersey Devils ownership, who bought the ECHL franchise the Trenton Titans earlier, has re-branded the franchise with the Devils name. They are now officially the Trenton Devils. Adam Kimelman of the Times of Trenton has the story about the re-branding
; as well as a quote from Lou Lamoriello that pretty much should end rumors that the franchise will move up to the AHL.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Notes and Notes, 5/17
I'd like to apologize for the week-long lack of posts. But I won't because there really is nothing Devils-related to make a post about. Such is the deal with the off season, especially with the Stanley Cup Playoffs still on-going. From where I sit, it looks to be an Ottawa-Detroit final. The Red Wings thoroughly owned, pwned, and qwned the Ducks in Game 3 and with Anaheim short one (1) Chris Pronger, Detroit can make the series their own with a win tonight. The Senators are playing on another level, nearly completing a comeback to sweep the Buffalo Sabres last night. If/when the Senators get their fourth win, does that mean Buffalo's style of play is not suitable for the New NHL™?
As far as what I'll do, well, posting is going to be more sparse short of any Devils-related news. I'm sure things will pick up when the Stanley Cup Playoffs end, since there's the NHL Draft in June and then free agency begins on July 1. Somewhere in between all this, I'm confident Lou Lamoriello will decide on a new head coach for the team. Hopefully sooner rather than later, since I think the coach should have some idea (and some input) as to what moves the Devils should make.
This isn't to say that I'm taking off completely. I plan on writing about other matters; thoughts about the NHL, fights, the Devils' off season (once the new salary cap limit is announced - supposedly it's going up another 2 million or so), and the past.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
The Offseason: The Lockers Are Empty Now
Rich Chere and Colin Stephenson of the Star Ledger both report that the Devils cleaned out their lockers at the Continental Airlines Arena yesterday. OK, that's not really news. Talking to Scott Gomez about his future situation is of note, however.
Gomez will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and reading this makes you wonder whether or not he'll even leave:
"I've grown up in this organization and with the people around New Jersey," Gomez said. "I love it here. I'm not leaning toward anywhere right now. People are going to speculate about the West Coast, but I love this area. I consider this place home. The thing is, we've gone this far, it would be foolish not to see it through. I think both sides know that."
Though his agent - not his dad, as in an actual agent - has a more interesting quote.
"There have been no meetings or discussions with me so far. There's the possibility that could happen," Pulver said. "Right now, Scott is open to anything. Time will tell. He hasn't ruled out anything. He hasn't ruled out returning to New Jersey. Lots of different factors will go into the final decision as to whether Scott Gomez remains a Devil. Team success, location and finances are all factors that will go into his decision."
(Emphasis is my own) Presumably from this, Gomez doesn't just want to get paid to be anyone's #1 center. I would imagine he would want to go to a team that is a contender or about to become one very soon. Team success and location being factors helps New Jersey, should they look to keep him, I would guess.
Regardless of the factors, I hope Gomez makes a decision prior to July 1. When Scott Neidermayer was a UFA back before 2005, he waited to make a decision on whether he would stay a Devil or go to Anaheim. He went to Anaheim, but while he was deciding, other defensemen on the market were being snatched up by other teams. The Devils ultimately had to fill the hole Neidermayer left with free agents Vladamir Malakhov and Dan McGillis. Needless to say, these signings were not successful. I don't want to see a repeat of that at center for the Devils. Patricia at 2 Man Advantage isn't confident that Scott Gomez will remain in New Jersey, I can't really disagree - especially if Gomez is asking for more than $5 million a year. More so when there is an Associated Press article at TSN stating that Gomez intends to "test the waters" of free agency.
Rich Chere's other article in the Star Ledger was more enlightening, delving in deeper into the other issues raised by Patricia's post at 2 Man Advantage. John MacLean is definitely interested in becoming the head coach of the New Jersey Devils. Given that he was an assistant coach last season with Larry Robinson and Lou Lamoriello, not to mention this season with Claude Julien and Lou, I have to think he's got to be a candidate for the position. I think Pat Burns would be the best fit, a no-nonsense coach who already understands how the Devils operate given his time with the team back in 2003. I certainly hope his health will allow him to coach anywhere, though.
This article also states that unrestricted free agent defenseman Brian Rafalski wants to return to the Devils. So does Brad Lukowich and Jim Dowd, something that I'm sure Patricia will be happy about. Erik Rasmussen is a possible returning Devil; and Paul Martin wants a deal before training camp.
As far as free agency as it stands, all the restricted free agents need to be signed first. They include Zach Parise, Martin, and Johnny Oduya. Those three in particular have done very well and will likely make up the core of the Devils for years to come (OK, maybe not Oduya but definitely Martin and Parise). They need to be signed long-term and kept happy. Afterwards, the decision should be made as to whether to keep Gomez or Rafalski. If Gomez is intent on going into free agency, I say let's cut any losses and get a cheaper option to center the first line while using that money saved to sign Rafalski and get any other upgrades at defense. I wouldn't re-sign Lukowich in that case. I also would not re-sign Rasmussen or Rupp, giving those roster spots to David Clarkson and another young winger from Lowell. I wouldn't mind Dowd remaining on the team. But again, this is just what I would do; I think Lou Lamoriello truly knows best.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Parise in Russia: World Championships Update
I admittedly have not been following the IIHF World Championships because of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the New Jersey Devils now eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, two players have been added to their respective rosters in the competition. Currently, the competition is in the knockout stages. You can view the quarterfinal match ups here at the IHWC website.
The IIHF has also announced the Victoria Cup - a three-team competition between two top European teams and a NHL team. The winner gets a million (Swiss francs)
and the IIHF is hoping that the series will take off well enough such that the Stanley Cup winner will eventually be playing in this one. I can't see the NHL terribly interested in that. The Stanley Cup is regarded as the
top trophy in hockey, having it essentially be second place to this Victoria Cup doesn't really help the NHL out. The benefits for the European clubs taking part is obvious: increased exposure, increased competition, etc. For the NHL side, I'm not seeing much. But this is a work in progress. As an aside, both articles from IHWC also note the goal of creating a European Champions League - a hockey version of the wildly popular Champions League by UEFA. At least the NHL team will face the best Europe has to offer when it begins in September 2008.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Everson Knows Nothing
I was reading through HFBoards
and someone pointed out this incredibly dumb article by Mark Everson of the New York Post.
Many there have referred to Everson as "Neverson" due to his inaccuracies and "selective memory" for his coverage of the Devils. I think this article is a good representation of why many Devils fans do not think highly of him. Since it's the offseason now, there's not a whole lot to cover, so let's go through this bit by bit.
The opening paragraph already leads the reader with a number of assumptions:
THE Devils' GM is finally taking a spanking from the usual genuflectors, and rightly so, for having the gall and ego to fire coach Claude Julien, then failing to take a second-round team any further than Julien probably would have.
Who are these usual genuflectors? Surely they can't be from rival teams. The Flyers didn't make the playoffs, the Penguins and the Islanders lost in the first round, and the Rangers last exactly one game longer in the second round than the Devils. I can't imagine any of those genuflectors being fans of the other 14 teams who didn't make the playoffs and the 6 teams who lost in the first round (especially Tampa Bay). Right from the first sentence Everson argues and assumes that there are genuflectors (of some origin) who usually criticize the Devils over the firing of the coach.
Not that the team's poor effort on the ice had anything to do with it, Everson ends this long sentence by assuming that Claude Julien would have taken the Devils to a second-round loss. To his credit, he did say "probably;" but no reason as to why he or anyone else would think that. I don't know and Everson won't tell - going on as if it's like common knowledge. The reason for the coaching change, as I understand it, was to ignite a fire under the then floundering Devils. We can not even assume whether they would have finished second in the Eastern Conference or even get past the first round.
The issue again is whether these are the Devils or the New Jersey Lous - whether this Team Concept Lou Lamoriello preaches so often and genuinely actually applies to him, too.
Their identity was once Jacques Lemaire and his trap, but it has since become that of Lamoriello, the CEO/president/GM/interim coach/chef/cook/bottle washer. Lamoriello insists he made the Julien decision as a matter of duty. On a team no one man should have that much duty, power, or independence.
The trouble with Lou is that he has been so good for so long, so right so often, and kept his team competitive so long past its expiration date that people believe he is nearly infallible, that past performance is an indication of future returns. He operates as if he nearly believes it, too.
Really? That is the issue? Nothing else? Not the way the defense resembled moving cones for the better part of the last 3 games? Not the way the offense couldn't get out of their method of dump-and-chase following slow breakouts? Not even the coaching - which is certainly worth criticism, but Lou's job as GM is the issue? Really?
And Everson's point of "the issue" is that Lou's been too good and that people trust his decisions based upon that? Well, color me confused. If a decision maker has a history of making smart decisions and yielding success, then wouldn't it be perfectly acceptable to generally accept their decisions or to be confident in them? I mean, 3 Stanley Cups in the last 12 years is nothing to sneeze at; some teams have had longer droughts than 4 years.
What he has done is very, very difficult: refusing to "rebuild," instead retooling as he went, remaining competitive and often contending. But the long-predicted price has come due, and not even his glare behind the bench made any difference as the Devils fell in five to the Senators in the second round Saturday - the third straight season they didn't win more than one round.
Retooling as you go is rebuilding. It's different from what most people consider "rebuilding" in sports; wherein a team tries to focus on the future, play younger players, and use the draft to bring their team back to power. The Pittsburgh Penguins of the last 5-6 years are a good, current example of this. However, what Everson does not realize is that Lou Lamoriello is known for upgrading the Devils year-by-year precisely to keep the team contending. He didn't rest on the laurels of the 1995 team and blew it up in, say, 1996. He kept who would be good long term and improved through variety of ways as the 2000, 2001, and 2003 team all went to the Stanley Cup Finals. How Everson can cover the Devils for so long and not realize this is beyond me. If the long-predicted price for this is losing in the second round to a very good team, I'm sure there are about 20 teams or so who would love that price. It's disappointing to lose, but it's not nearly as bad as Everson makes it sound.
The Golden Era of the Devils was largely built on three of his early actions: His refusal to accept Curtis Joseph and Rod Brind'Amour from the Blues for their signing of Brendan Shanahan, and winning his case that Scott Stevens was the appropriate compensation; his trade of Tom Kurvers for the Toronto pick that turned into Scott Niedermayer; and his down-drafting of Martin Brodeur.
Everson is right here, but he doesn't go far enough to give Lou credit. Yes, those three moves were very crucial to the Devils' success. However, Everson ignores additional moves such as the hiring of Jaques Lemaire, who put together the neutral zone trap, which was so vital that Everson deemed Lemaire and the strategy as the face of the Devils earlier this column. Lemaire's coaching and his tactics were brilliant in 1995 and was a huge reason the Devils won the Cup then. Everson forgets to mention the awesome work Lou and David Conte had during throughout 1990s, drafting talent such as Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, Scott Gomez, Jay Pandolfo, Colin White, and many others who became important components of later teams that were successful. The Devils were contenders mainly because of their success at the draft and in player development. There's probably more that I and many others Devils fans can name with trades, coaching changes, etc.
In real-estate terms, those three moves were: Location, location, location.
More was needed, such as his acquisitions of Bobby Holik and the Jay Pandolfo draft pick for Sean Burke and Eric Weinrich; Claude Lemieux for Sylvain Turgeon; and signing a "washed-up" Bobby Carpenter. After that first Cup, the Devils won one round the next four years, yet he resisted rebuilding.
Ah, my mistake, he did mention additional moves that helped form the 1995 team. But no mention of getting Neal Broten or Stephane Richer, other crucial players in that Stanley Cup run? Odd. Anyway, we return to Everson's inability to understand that rebuilding can be a continual process. Ask any Industrial Engineer (or an IE student) and they'll likely tell you that continuous improvement must be applied to a process for it to remain successful. I'd argue that the Devils are a successful example of continuous improvement in hockey given that they have been contenders since 1994 (1996 notwithstanding). Apparently, Everson does not recognize this and considers this as a fault.
He retooled by signing John Madden and Brian Rafalski as undrafted free agents, trading for the pick that landed Scott Gomez, and dealing the rights to Henrik Lundqvist for the Brian Gionta pick. He drafted Zach Parise, in part, because he doggedly prosecuted the Blues' tampering with Stevens.
For the third time, this is also rebuilding. But he fails to mention a number of important events that have happened between 1995 and 2003 (when Parise was drafted). Namely, two Stanley Cups, three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, five 100+ point seasons out of the last six (that was back in 2003, now it's 9 out of the last 10 years), and trades that saw Jason Arnott (the center of the A line!) come (for Bill Guerin) and go (for Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner). Given that Arnott was crucial in 2000 as was Langenbrunner in 2003, I'd say that's rather important.
Also, we see a glaring inaccuracy from Everson: the Devils never had the rights to Henrik Lundqvist. Look at HockeyDB, they list all the players the Devils have drafted since 1982
- no Lundqvists are on the list. Not that the Devils could have done that, as Henrik was drafted late (205th overall) in 2000, whereas Brian Gionta was a third rounder in 1998. Also, the Devils did have the 22nd pick in the 2003 draft (a Stanley Cup winning year which means nothing to Everson here, apparently) as the final year of compensation for the Blues' tampering with Scott Stevens. Everson is right there, but not fully. The Devils traded that pick along with an additional pick with Edmonton to move up to 17 to select Parise. A good move by Lou, don't you think? Not that you should trust Lou now for some reason, according to this article.
But there have been no acts of the Stevens, Brodeur, Niedermayer magnitude. The Devils' biggest stars in these playoffs were Gomez, Parise and Gionta, while Brodeur began looking like a 35-year-old who has played 891 regular season and 164 playoff games. The Devils no longer have the greats required for Cups. Instead, the new greats have gone to the franchises that put their teams in the toilet, and drafted high.
I'd like to remind Everson that Brodeur is still playing with the Devils and Scott Neidermayer is doing very well in Anaheim from the looks of things. Everson can't be that stupid to consider Brodeur be a shell of his former self after this season, can he?
OK, first silly statement first: the one about "new greats" going to teams who have stank up the place for a few years. You know, the rebuilders. I wish Everson gave an example of one of these new greats to base this off of, but I think I know why he didn't specify any of them. Sidney Crosby and his Penguins was a first round casualty; the Washington Capitals failed to make the playoffs; Ilya Kovalchuk, Kari Lehtonen, and Thrashers were swatted down by the Rangers in round 1; and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers just exited the playoffs yesterday. (Given Lundqvist was a late pick I can't imagine the Rangers being bad led to his drafting, but Everson couldn't mean him. Then again, he thinks the Devils had his rights at one point.) So far, these "new greats" have not done better than the Devils. Again, if only Everson had an example, he may have a point. Instead he has nothing there.
Now to the second silly statement: the one about Brodeur looking like a 35-year old goaltender. I think the Ottawa Senators would disagree with your assertion that Brodeur was showing his age, Mr. Everson. Especially considering Games 2 and 3. Brodeur wasn't a superstar yes, but he didn't cause his team to lose the series (goalies don't score goals) nor was he utter garbage.
It's a New NHL because of the salary cap, young free agency and the supremacy of skill and speed over hitting and checking. Lamoriello had trouble dealing with the cap; he has underestimated the sea-change of style required.
The Devils did have problems with staying under the cap this season, this is true. Yet the Devils won the division the last season (complete with a playoff sweep of the Rangers) and this season. I don't think the style is out of place, considering a majority of teams (such as the Rangers) set up a 1-2-2 system in the neutral zone. I don't think Lou of all people has underestimated the style of the New NHL based on these successes.
If it's not Pat Burns, whose ability to stay on will always be a health question, what respected coach would trust Lamoriello not to pull another Julien-ing?
I do not know. We'll find out later this offseason, Mr. Everson. I have a feeling there will be plenty of candidates for a position with a hockey team that has been contenders for the better part of the last 12-13 years. Most head coaches like having good chances at the Stanley Cup, as I understand it.
No. The answer is that after 19 seasons, a great Hall of Fame career, it's time for Lamoriello to turn over the GM job and concentrate on his CEO and president crowns. The Devils need someone who understands the way the cap drives the car, and gets ahead of the way the go-go league skates, instead of resisting it.
Here we have the coup-de-grace. The summation of Lou Lamoriello constantly improving his team to contend every year, doing well at the draft, overall doing well in trades and in free agency, and the Devils winning three Stanley Cups (last one being in 2003) all means nothing to Everson. Everson believes that Lamoriello, the man who took the Devils from mediocrity to respectability and to champions, should no longer be GM because the Devils lost in the second round for a third straight season.
The drafting, the deals, the level of professionalism, the way the franchise is run, and the fact that the team has consistently been contenders isn't good enough for Mr. Everson. How has Lou resisted the salary cap or the NHL style? Because they are not Buffalo? Because the Devils did not tank for 4-5 years, get lucky to get the #1 pick in the "New Great"sweepstakes, and get into the playoffs and lose in the first round? This must be a joke, I can't imagine anyone would actually argue for the ousting of a GM because of a coaching change that did not have its complete intended effect and that the team did not win the Stanley Cup. Notice how Everson had no idea as to who would be a more ideal candidate or why they would be an improvement over arguably one of the greatest general managers in the history of hockey (if not all sports).
Ladies and gentlemen, if you have read this far, I thank you for your patience. Now you have learned why many Devils fans regard Mark Everson so little. Everson apparently believes a second round loss = new GM. Silly, so silly, it's just dumb.
JOE SAYS IT IS SO, UNFORTUNATELY: Joe Betchel of the great 2 Man Advantage blog is leaving the site.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Rd. 2, Game 5: Ottawa 3 - Devils 2
The 2006-2007 season ended last night with a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils by the hands of the Ottawa Senators. As always, NHL.com has the official score sheet
and the official super stats
of the game, linked respectively.
I apologize for the delay in this recap as I actually went to Game 5 and saw it all live and in person. If you heard someone yelling rather loudly in section 236 around row 21, congratulations, you heard my increasingly hoarse voice. Not that it means much now, it's over. The playoffs for the Devils, the Devils' season, and professional hockey at the Continental Airlines Arena. Good on the folks of Interchangeable Parts for live-blogging Game 5
, by the way.
The loss was disappointing to say the least. The first period displayed the Devils doing everything that I and probably you wanted them to do. They skated hard, they took it to the Ottawa defense on offense, they scored first, they were aggressive on defense, and they played better than Ottawa in those first 20 minutes. They even exploited Ray Emery's penchant for rebounds, with Scott Gomez powering one home for the early 1-0 lead. Only downside would be the poor power play. But that's OK considering they did so well after two poor performances in Game 3 and Game 4. I was pleased, you - the Devil fan - was also likely pleased.
And we were both pleased how the Devils started the second period. They forechecked the Senators defense so well, forcing turnovers in their own end. If it wasn't for some unfortunate bounces and last-ditch defensive work, the Devils could have easily extended their lead. However, Ottawa decided to wake up in this period and the whole game changed with their game-tying goal. Tom Preissing took advantage of a terrible clearance (I believe by Brad Lukowich) that was thrown behind the net and bounced to the other side. Preissing was wide open and figures that he should shoot it in the traffic that has gathered in front of Brodeur. Antoine Vermette tips it in for the game tying goal and the entire game took a 180 spin. As the period went on, the Devils played worse and worse with the Senators moving from strength to strength. The Senators capitalized on a rare Jay Pandolfo call (goaltender interference) with Jason Spezza making good use of a screen for the leading goal. Things did not improve at all for the Devils. Before the period was over, the Devils defensemen resembled moving cones and Daniel Alfredsson walked right in and beat Brodeur for a back-breaking third goal.
The Devils started by continuing the good work they did in period 1 and collectively forgot what they did earlier after 5:19 into the second period. The defense being the most exposed, with the Senators putting 19 shots in that period alone. 19! In a period! Horrible, just horrible - it reminded me of Game 3. As did most of the crowd, booing heavily at the end of the period. The third period was equally frustrating. OK, the Senators did not play as heavily on offense, looking to protect their lead. The defense wasn't so miserable, but the forwards (and the defense on the point) needed at least 5 minutes for a shot on goal in the third. I understand that rushing the offense could lead to costly turnovers, but when you're down by 2 with time running out - urgency is not only expected, it is necessary. The Devils did not take advantage of their speed and the Senators defense had no trouble setting up to clog passing and shooting lanes. The effort finally broke through at the end when Gomez put home a rebound near the end of the game and kept possibilities of a miracle last-minute comeback alove. It was too little, too late, unfortunately.
I spent a lot of words getting to my overall summary of the team's performance in Game 5: It is as exactly as I described in the game preview
, the Devils needed to step up collectively and give a strong performance and they only did that for one period and a 3 minutes into the second. They went up early and looked good early due to the fact they played like a team that wanted to win and was willing to work as hard as possible to do so. After Vermette's tip-in goal, the Devils looked listless as they did in the last two games and the ultimate result reflects that: a loss.
I must echo the thoughts of Patricia at 2 Man Advantage.
The Ottawa Senators are a very good team with depth and talent in all four key areas: offense, defense, goaltending, and special teams. The Senators played very well and took it to the Devils for the majority of the series. Obviously, their four wins were all deserved and I congratulate them for moving on into the Eastern Conference Finals.
It'll be an important off season of change. First and foremost, as stated in Tom Gulitti's initial post after the loss:
the Devils are on their way to Newark to a brand new arena. A new home, a new start, and a new city (and an actual city) for the Devils. There's more to it than that. As Gulitti notes in an earlier post two days ago
, Lou Lamoriello will not be the coach of the team next season. At the least, there will be a brand new head coach. A number of key Devils like Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski will enter unrestricted free agency; while Zach Parise will enter restricted free agency. Given that situation in conjunction with the salary cap (which has been an issue at times this past season), this off season will clearly be crucial in terms of who to keep and who to sign. Given that the Devils are moving to a new home, the Devils clearly want to have their first season be as successful as possible. The off season will obviously have a big impact on that. Throw in the NHL entry draft and there's plenty to do for the Devils to re-load for next season.
I wish the Devils won last night, obviously. Even if they lost Game 6, the East Ruthersford era would have ended on a high note. As I stated earlier though, the Devils did not do enough as a team do it and the Senators deservedly got the win they wanted. Now the Devils have to move on without playing until preseason begins in September.
Labels: 2007 Playoffs, Devils Postgame
Friday, May 04, 2007
Rd. 2, Game 5: Ottawa @ Devils
The New Jersey Devils are in a must-win situation on Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators.
GAMETIME: 8:00 PM, EST
Local TV: Fox Sports NY
Local Radio: 92.3 FM, FREE FM
The Ottawa Senators Lead the Series 3-1NHL.com Preview
Everything that is done in the game of hockey is done as a team.
I need to repeat this in bold and italics.Everything that is done in the game of hockey is done as a team.
If there has been one thing apparent in this series so far, is that the results have reflected how the Devils have played as a team. In Game 1, they collectively played one of their worst hockey games in one period and collectively scrapped to try and complete a comeback. In Game 2, they collectively played much better and won. In Game 3, everyone not named Martin Brodeur played average at best and easily lost. In Game 4, they collectively gave too little too late.
There are many other things I could cover for this game. For example, Ray Emery's poor rebound control should easily lead the Devils to crash the net like college students going after free things. As a second example, the Devils have yet to use their speed to their advantage, something they used to throw Tampa Bay off and helped in winning in the first round - and now is clearly the time to at least try that. A third example could be to be more aggressive on the power play; taking advantage of the Senators' poor discipline. The Senators have given New Jersey 3, 7, 5, and 5 power plays respectively in each game of the series, after all.
But above all this the most important thing for the team, and I think the fans as well, is that the Devils must collectively raise their game to new heights. It's not a matter of whether the Devils have the talent or not. This is the team that beat the Buffalo Sabres strongly back in February.
Hell, this is a team that beat a loaded Sabres squad with 16 active skaters back in March
; they definitely have the talent. It's effort and desire, two things that the Devils did not have enough of (and in the case of Game 3, none at all, excepting Brodeur) in the past two games. The Devils will need to leave it all out on the ice and play like the end is nigh. Otherwise, it obviously will be the end - the Devils' playoff run will be over and they move to a brand new arena.
I must emphasize that this must be a team effort. This includes Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta - to be the fearsome force that they can collectively be when they are "on." This includes Zach Parise, who has been invisible as of late. This includes the third line of Jay Pandolfo, John Madden, and Sergei Brylin - who have not been the shutdown line they have been all season this playoffs. This includes guys firing pucks from the point and taking lead passes, such as Brian Rafalski, Paul Martin, and Andy Greene. This includes defensemen who are expected to block shots, throw hits, and win pucks along the boards, such as Richard Matvichuk and Colin White. This includes Martin Brodeur to be himself. This even includes the fourth line to provide some energy in what little ice time they will get. Everyone needs to do it.
For the Devils to have any semblence of a possibility of a chance of winning Game 5, the team must give a firey and committed team performance. If they falter, if they flounder, if they fail and lose Game 5 and the series with it, it will be because of the team effort - the loss will be the fault not of Elias or Brodeur or Gomez or some other scapegoat, it would be a team loss.
I must make a confession: I don't want to talk about the off season. Writing an entire season-in-review post does not interest me at this point. I don't feel like looking ahead to a new coach, the NHL Draft, free agency, and Newark. I want to do all these things in June, not May. I don't believe you want to read that yet. Most importantly, I'm sure the Devils aren't particularly enthused with the idea of not playing past this week.
The Devils need to win to avoid all this. The Devils need to win to continue playing hockey. The Devils need to win. They must do so collectively as a team. Just like they did all season.
Labels: 2007 Playoffs, Devils Game
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Good News for Next Season
Empty seats will be scarce -- perhaps non-existent -- when the New Jersey Devils debut at the Prudential Center in Newark this fall, Devils principal owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek said Wednesday.
"Based on the response that I've been seeing, there's a decent chance that we sell out every game," said Vanderbeek, whose team is battling the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup playoffs. "Even my optimistic self has been overwhelmed by the demand for the premium seats."
If team owner Jeff Vanderbeek is this excited, then there's plenty of reason for the rest of the Devils fan base to be happy. For the last few seasons, one of the biggest sources of complaints about the Devils from detractors and critics (also known as "haters") was the Devils poor attendance. If you hang about on a general hockey or sports board, like HFBoards
, this usually comes up when discussion about the Devils occur. Laments about how New Jersey doesn't deserve a team as high quality as the Devils or how the Devils' style of play keeps fans from coming to games.
If you're nodding your head at any of the above, than the possibility that the Devils could sell out every game at the Prudential Center should make you smile. As should the possibility of the team turning a profit in the next season. While I'm grateful at the late Dr. John McMullen for purchasing the Colorado Rockies and moving them to the New Jersey Devils, I'm becoming quite fond of Jeff Vanderbeek as the team owner. Moving to their own building in Newark is proving to be a win-win for everyone involved. Except for the NJSEA, but who cares about them?
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Rd. 2, Game 4: Ottawa 3 - Devils 2
The New Jersey Devils tried a little harder in Game 4 but could not complete the comeback in a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators. As always, NHL.com has the official scoresheet
and official super stats
of the game, linked respectively.
The Devils played like garbage for the first half of the game. The second half was better, but the offense was still lacking, the defense was still too passive, and Brodeur being beaten by a fluke goal from Dany Heatley to break the tie halfway through the period didn't help. Neither did the four guys in Devils jerseys not closing down Mike Fisher prior to his long shot beating Brodeur (a weak one, admittedly). Richard Matvichuk did play, but wasn't a major factor. David Clarkson replaced Mike Rupp on the fourth line, but that didn't mean much in the big picture. The second line was invisible for this game, the checking unit did not shutdown many Senators (though Lou Lamoriello eventually stopped trying to match lines at points, which was wise, I think). At least the EGG unit showed up with a power play goal (the first goal) and a strong flurry in an attempt for an equalizer. Good on the Devils' Paul Martin for his slap shot and Jay Pandolfo for his tip. Nevertheless, it was too little, too late by then.
Of note, with respect to offense, I would like to point out that Ray Emery gives up rebounds like it's the hip new trend among goaltenders. Problem is that the Ottawa defense has been adept in getting to those loose pucks first. Especially Anton Volchenkov, who has also been adept at being in the right place and the right time to block shots from the Devils. They need to work harder for the puck. Not just in rebounds, but also along the boards on defense and in the neutral zone when a play breaks down. It's a desire issue as well as a bit of luck, from what I've seen so far this series. Ottawa wants those pucks more, and lo and behold, they get them.
Ottawa gifted the Devils plenty of power plays early, but they only threatened and converted on one (Elias driving to the net, and Gionta following him who put home a rebound) - that needs to improve. The Senators continue to out shoot and out skate the Devils in their own zone, and that clearly needs to happen less often. If you want to point out a particular player for this loss, fine; but I won't join you. The Devils didn't play as bad as they did in Game 3, but they were definitely not good enough to win this one.
Now they have to collectively raise their game to a new heights to simply survive. I certainly hope they do so on Saturday.
Labels: 2007 Playoffs, Devils Postgame
Rd. 2, Game 4: Devils @ Ottawa
The New Jersey Devils will have a chance to tie up the series a second time in Ottawa when they play the Senators in Game 4 tonight.
GAMETIME: 7:00 PM, EST
National TV: Versus (HD)
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Ottawa Leads the Series 2-1NHL.com Preview
In my view, the Devils need to play the complete opposite how they did in Game 3. Well, check that, everyone not named Martin Brodeur needs to have a complete 180-degree turnaround in their games. Brodeur is more than welcome to stop Ottawa all night long. The penalty killing units are also welcome to prevent Ottawa from setting up their power play.
On defense, positioning is not enough, the Devils defenders need to get in Ottawa's face. This means not standing around and letting the Senators control the puck in New Jersey's end. I'm not looking for hits on every play, but the Devils need force the Senators forwards to make decisions prior to them setting up. Close down on the skater and have them force the puck blindly into the slot and in the corner. Being more "hungry" along the boards will definitely help in winning possession there; since most battles for the puck against the glass really comes down to desire. With respect to tonight's game, Tom Gulitti's blog has noted that the Devils held a full practice yesterday; and Johnny Oduya may return to the line up.
While Richard Matvichuk was a big and consistent factor against Tampa Bay, he hasn't been a consistent one against Ottawa so far this series. It isn't an idea I'm completely against.
For the forwards, they need to show up among other things. They need to play with something resembling urgency and fire, two things they lacked in Game 3. This applies for all four lines, not just one or two. More than anything, I'd like to see some effort on offense rather than playing passively and hoping for a brilliant gaffe by the Ottawa Senators. That leads me to something else I think the Devils need to do on offense: stop passing the puck so much. We saw this in Games 2 and 3 where the Devils forwards would literally pass up a good shooting opportunity. In those cases, if those passes go through, the chance for scoring goes from good to glorious. But the vast, vast majority of those passes - blindly throwing the puck into the slot, drop passes to no one, cross-ice passes from sideboard to sideboard, etc. - did not get through cleanly or otherwise. Clearly, the Ottawa Senators defense has done a great job at blocking passing and shooting lanes - making it more crucial to take any opportunities possible.
As an added note, a commenter (Ethan, in the post-Game 3 post
) noted that Emery has been giving up huge rebounds. I completely agree and I think it's high-time Brian Gionta returns to his rightful place of creating havok in the slot. Unless I'm mistaken, I haven't seen Gionta do that much and with Emery not handling the puck particularly well, I think there's definitely opportunities for goals. It's worth a shot. I've also noticed that Emery isn't very fast in terms of lateral movement; but I think the Devils offense needs to improve in taking shots (both in selection and execution) before specifically trying to get Emery moving left-to-right and vice versa. If they can do it, great. That said, the offense needs to work real hard and play with desire above all else.
This leads me to what I want to see head coach Lou Lamoriello do during the game: I would like to see him abandon matching lines if they are failing during the game. The checking line of Jay Pandolfo, John Madden, and Sergei Brylin have been a solid unit all year long. Yet, they have not been as effective in shutting down the other team's top line in the first round series against Tampa Bay and now against Ottawa. If Pandolfo, Madden, and Brylin are getting burned by Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, and Jason Spezza; then it's time to stop matching the two lines up at every opportunity. I understand that matching lines has been a successful strategy this season for New Jersey. However, from where I sit, continuing to match lines where it does not favor New Jersey makes no sense regardless of how well it has done in the past.
Above all of this, I'd like to see the Devils give an improved performance tonight. Losing this game brings the Devils into a precarious position in the series. Coming back down 3-1 to win 4-3 against Ottawa is incredibly unlikely. Tonight, they have a chance to tie up this series, avoid this fate, and begin to turn things around in their favor. I certainly hope they succeed, but they need to bring their "A" games to do so. GO DEVILS!
Labels: 2007 Playoffs, Devils Game
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
NHL Awards Finalists Feature Two Devils
Because I can, I'd like to take a crack at predicting who will win each award. Keep in mind, these are regular season awards; the playoffs only factor into two awards: the Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP) and the Stanley Cup (the most important trophy). Here, from NHL.com, is the complete list of nominees:
CALDER MEMORIAL TROPHY (outstanding rookie): Evgeni Malkin, Penguins; Jordan Staal, Penguins; Paul Stastny, Avalanche.
FRANK J. SELKE TROPHY (outstanding defensive forward): Rod Brind'Amour, Hurricanes; Samuel Pahlsson, Ducks; Jay Pandolfo, Devils.
HART MEMORIAL TROPHY (most valuable player to his team): Martin Brodeur, Devils; Sidney Crosby, Penguins; Roberto Luongo, Canucks.
JACK ADAMS AWARD (outstanding coach): Lindy Ruff, Sabres; Michel Therrien, Penguins; Alain Vigneault, Canucks.
JAMES NORRIS MEMORIAL TROPHY (outstanding defenseman): Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings; Scott Niedermayer, Ducks; Chris Pronger, Ducks.
LADY BYNG MEMORIAL TROPHY (sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct): Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings; Joe Sakic, Avalanche; Martin St. Louis, Lightning.
LESTER B. PEARSON AWARD (most outstanding player as voted by fellow members of the NHLPA): Sidney Crosby, Penguins; Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning; Roberto Luongo, Canucks.
VEZINA TROPHY *** (outstanding goaltender): Martin Brodeur, Devils; Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames; Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers; Roberto Luongo, Canucks.
First, the easy ones: Evgeni Malkin will win the Calder Memorial Trophy by virtue of leading all NHL rookies in points with 33 goals and 52 assists. He's done very well in his first season with Pittsburgh. I'm amazed that there were four finalists for the Vezina, apparently there was a tie for third place among votes. While all four have had spectacular seasons, it should not matter, though. Martin Brodeur had the third best goals against average (2.18 GAA), led the league in shutouts (12), clearly was the MVP of his own team and the reason why they are where they are, and most importantly he set a NHL record for most wins in a season with 48. If the win record alone doesn't get Brodeur the Vezina, it would be a travesty. For the Lady Byng Trophy, while I'm sure Joe Sakic is a favorite to some (and it doesn't hurt he had a 100 points last season) - he had 46 penalty minutes - more than Pavel Datsyuk and Martin St. Louis. I think the winner will be Datsyuk by virtue of having fewer penalty minutes among the three. For the James Norris Memorial Trophy, I believe it'll be Nicklas Lidstrom taking this award home: he's the very definition of a dominant defenseman and there is no reason to believe he wasn't just that this season.
Now for the more difficult ones. As much as I am pleased that Jay Pandolfo has gotten consideration for the Frank J. Selke Award, I don't think he'll win it. Rod Brind'Amour is a center who has the second best faceoff winning percentage (59.2%) in the league and plays a ton of minutes (23:19 per game). As is my understanding, I believe the center has more defensive responsibilities than the wing having to play where most of the action is at both ends. Pandolfo and Pahlsson are wingers, so I think Brind'Amour is the favorite and will win partially due to that. It doesn't hurt that Brind'Amour has won it before. All three are certainly worthy of consideration. All three candidates for the Jack Adams Trophy are also worthy of the award. I personally think Michel Therrien will win it (just ahead of Lindy Ruff) for guiding the Pittsburgh Penguins to the playoffs in a very tough Eastern Conference.
Lastly, the two MVP awards. I believe Sidney Crosby will win both the Lester B. Pearson Award and the Hart Memorial Trophy. I can't believe Roberto Luongo is a finalist for both, he's not even the best goaltender in the NHL - much less the most valuable player. I definitely think Martin Brodeur is the Devils' MVP and he has had a Hart-worthy season. However, I also think the Penguins would be completely nowhere without Crosby; maybe more so than the Devils without Brodeur, the Lightning without Lecavalier, and the Canucks with Luongo (they did make the playoffs with Dan Cloutier of all goaltenders in the past). My heart says Brodeur, which is obvious since I am a Devils fan, but my head says it's the NHL's leading scorer (36 G, 84 A) and Pittsburgh's top man: Sidney Crosby.
We'll find out who won what and how wrong I am after the playoffs.
OTHER THINGS: Middletown, New Jersey native and top 2007 draft prospect James van Riemsdyk has a blog going on at NHL.com.
Apparently, it's in this new section called NHL Connect. Hopefully, he does well as he finishes his current studies prior to the draft.
Speaking of the NHL, they have announced a deal with Voxant
to distribute video clips of highlights, news, and bloopers throughout the Internet via TheNewsRoom.
Interesting idea to have a weekly "best of" show just be done over the Internet; as it is, there isn't a show like that on TV for hockey. However, if this takes off, that may not matter. I have my doubts, to be honest, as to whether it will catch on for a number of reasons. But to paraphrase the Great One, you can't score if you don't shoot.