Monday, August 11, 2008


Expectations & Goals

It's the middle of August and a good few weeks from training camp and the eventual preseason. It's slow for the Devils when your biggest stories right now is the umpteenth re-signing of Pascal Rheaume to the organization (Gulitti); and that the practice rink is now the AmeriHealth Pavillion (official site).

Now, let's get the nickname out of our system. No, it's not "The Roll" or "The Rock Jr." It's named after a health care service, so something like "The Lab" or "The Clinic" (hey, that's not bad!) would probably be more appropriate. In fact, I'm going to call it "The Clinic" if only that's where the players will get their performances right from game to game. Dr. Sutter is in.

However, given where the team is now and that now is as any for some pseudo-navel-gazing, I'd like to state what at least I expect out of the Devils first. Now, I'm fully aware that the main goal is to win the Stanley Cup. That makes sense. That's why general managers across the league make moves for promising young talent, sign free agents to big contracts, hire coaches for their systems, and tweak their teams on a season to season basis. That's why coaches review game film of their players, their opponents, their opponents 2 nights from now, and spend many hours figuring out who makes the team, who's in tonight, and what the game plan will be (not to mention what to do in-game). That's why players spend their summers working out, go to voluntary practices or get that extra rest for the game, use all their emotion and heart and lift all them weights. It's not just the Devils; but that's true for the whole league. For every player, everybody in the organization, and for anyone connected to the team either as a casual fan to your season ticket holder for 10+ years to the guy lives in the area and what's to see a winner; they all want to be a part of being champions. Nothing like being immortalized as being the best in all of hockey - even if it is for only one season. And if you've felt it before, you'd want it again.

That all said, I think that's a rather idealistic view. Teams have re-building eras to become someone again or for the first time (e.g. the Islanders, the Kings, the Blue Jackets, and the Panthers), eras where they are just mired and complacent with mediocre or good-enough hockey, and times where they are great one year and terrible the next. For the Devils, we as fans have been very, very fortunate. Blessed, even. New Jersey is not just one of the better teams since 1997, but contenders. A team that has drafted well, signed well, and has been built around stingy defense, a good transition game, and once-in-a-lifetime-bonafide-LEGEND in net. They didn't get this far by looking only at the top. They've done it step-by-step. And I share this view.

The first goal for this team is not necessarily to score 250 or more goals or to continue letting fewer than 200 goals. It's not to have at least three players with 30 or more goals, or 65 or more points. Believe me, all that would be wonderful. But it's all meaningless unless they hit goal #1. That is, simply, make the playoffs. That's not a gimmie as you may think. The league has shown tremendous parity in terms of talent and salary recently, and even "doormat" teams like the Islanders can give the Devils trouble. Like, well, the Islanders who went and beat the Devils 6 times last season. Just as the Devils finished only 4 points out of winning the division, they only finished 7 points ahead of ninth-place Carolina. This means the Devils need to remain fairly consistent and generally well better than average all season long. This means achieving smaller, more short-term goals in the meantime. Winning against your division, winning on the road, winning from behind, etc., etc.

Do I expect the Devils to meet this goal? You bet. And beyond then, you got me. It'll depend on matchups, how the Devils achieved this goal, how the Devils are health-wise and performance-wise in early April, and other variables that'll determine how far they will go in the playoffs. If Marty gets hot and the team follows suit, then look out. If the team has a fantastic first-round followed up by a difficult second-round loss, do we say that this is unacceptable? Sure, we don't want to see the Devils get mauled - especially early in the playoffs, that wouldn't be good - but how high should we raise our expectations? Do we take a hard stance and say "make it to the Eastern Conference Finals or this season sucked?" Or, "No Cup, no good?" Winning the Cup is, of course, the ultimate goal; but is it really that black and white?

I honestly can't agree with that. I mean, if the Devils fall in 7 games in the second round to a deserving team on some bad luck after a lovely season, I can't say the season was an abject failure or utterly pain/sadness inducing. Sure, immediately after the loss it'd feel that way. But not after a few weeks or even looking back on the season a year or more later. I'd like to think other Devils fans would agree to a point.

Of course, if the Devils lose in the first round to Our Hated Rivals, that's different. That's always unacceptable and painful. Likewise, if the Devils sweep them and that's it, then it can't possibly be a bad season.

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As a fan, I can only have expectations and hopes.
Judging by the offseason aquisitions the Devils have made, I do expect playoffs this year. What I am hoping for is a competitive team in the playoffs (not being played out of the stadium in the second round).
Smaller expectations include an improved PP and a tougher defense.
My final hope is that the Devils do not get shut out as much as they did last season. Devil fans in the past could take pride in the fact that we did not get shut out much. Last season was pathetic at times in that regard.
This. This is true.
I think I'll call it "The Pebble".

John, are you going to be in the same section this season?

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