Saturday, September 27, 2008


More of those Devils Previews

With a season rapidly approaching, we got more season previews and we're going to see how some of them see the Devils for 2008-2009. Last time, I took a look at three preview magazines - all of which did not think very highly of the Devils. Today, let's look at some more from Devils fans, Devils fans who have to be more impartial, and from people who are not Devils fans but write about hockey all the same.

First, from anonymous in the comments from the last post, we have this Devils preview that's in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of all places. Yes. It's called the Intelligencer. Anyway, it appears to be a syndicated article from "Sports Network" by Dan Di Sciullo. Di Sciullo's preview is pretty detailed and breaks down the team in each position while having an overall prediction in the end - a good format for a preview as any. He shows an understanding of the Devils organization by stating up front "Detractors will say that those moves show that the Devils are still living in the past, but it's never wise to doubt Lamoriello, after all, he is the man responsible for turning the swamps of Jersey into a frequent home for Lord Stanley." Well said.

Di Sciullo's analysis doesn't tell us much new in the big picture. But he correctly points out that signings of Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik will give the Devils good depth at center. However, he gets some things wrong in the process. Yes, Zach Parise, Brian Gionta, and Dainius Zubrus need to bounce back on the offense, and the signings could help them. But he bizarrely states that the signing of Rolston will free up Madden's role as a defensive center - a role that Madden still did last season and has been since he's been a Devil - and stated that Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner could play on Madden's line. Jamie, yes, I can see that and would like that. But, save for some bizarre Sutter line-mixing, Elias is not going to the checking line. Also, Travis Zajac is usually a center, but he should bounce back after a poor sophmore season. Regardless, he's got a good handle on the defense - bold idea predicting the 6 who will play - and the goaltending is straight forward. I see no issue with his prediction of the playoffs; but I don't think Brodeur's workload being lessened will mean a longer playoff run. The team will have to perform better and work harder as a whole in the postseason - it's not all on Brodeur. Still, it's a solid preview in a place I didn't expect it. Good job, anonymous.

By the by, anonymous (the same one? a different one? WHO KNOWS?) also points out the Devils got a mention in ESPN's 10 burning questions for the NHL Preseason. That's mention in the singular, as Pierre LeBrun just stated that they finally (aside: what's this 'finally' junk?) won't make the playoffs. It's not an actual preview, but just a thought. Here's my thought: Marc Lebrun will be proven wrong.

Let's go to the next preview, from a big name in the world of hockey blogging - Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy. In the past month, they've had a theme of high school yearbooks for their previews for every team in the season. They are detailed, cover all the bases, and are a little entertaining to boot. They even go ahead and note the bloggers and news sources online for each team. Here's his Devils preview which he gets through without being terribly biased.

He interestingly points out Elias as the player to "break out" this season; which makes some sense since he'll be on the same line as Brian Rolston. He's absolutely right in stating that how the offense does will make the difference between an early playoff exit and a run for the Cup; just look at 1995, 2000, 2001, and 2003 for success and the last few years for further, yet sad proof. I am disappointed he dragged out the same tired trope of the Devils not being excited in his coaching section - if you don't find the Devils exciting and state that more goals equals more filled seats, how come some teams who also play the same kind of defensive hockey and rely on a transition offense get those sellouts, like say, some group of blueshirted chumps across a river from Newark? Seriously. I am also questioning why he doesn't think Zubrus won't be better this season. Most of last season featured Zubrus working to get down low, doing all the little things right, do well enough along the boards, but he was unfortunate that he didn't have consistent linemates (but who did?) and that when he got a scoring chance, a defender/goaltender just got a piece of it at the last minute. Now that he's had a full season under Sutter, I think he'll blossom with a given role. Anyway, Greg thinks the Devils will make the playoffs and the only thing that could screw it all up is the only thing that could screw up New Jersey since 1997. It's a good read, like the other previews on the site, and it's not your standard, by-the-numbers preview. And I'm not just saying that because he mentions this blog.

Let's not talk about this recent preview Greg did with The Pensblog, something he doesn't sound particuarly proud of at Puck Daddy. I don't blame him, but not because of it's content. It's because it just plain sucks if only for further fueling the baseless criticism that the Devils are "boring."

So let's look at IPB. They've done something different for their preview, giving individual thoughts for each individual player and pointing out how they are trending. It's a good idea as it sticks out from the other previews. Some of them make sense, like their rationale for Zubrus and the utter confusion surrounding where Andy Greene's career is going (I couldn't tell you, to be honest, he's a firm tweener unless he shows more at this point). Others are a bit of a head scratcher. I agree that Travis Zajac should have a bounce back year, and Gionta in a contract year should provide a better year than expected, and the rest of the forwards should generally do better; but how can those statements be claimed after saying Elias is trending down? Why can't he bounce back as well when he had the same inconsistencies as everyone else, Ookies? Also, I get it, you don't care for Bobby Holik, but he's not going to Lowell - like getting cut in a knife fight, just expect it and accept it. Anyway, it's a good read, but it doesn't go far to say what they think the team will do. Given the general attitude of how they write about the Devils, I'm going to guess they'll be very pessimistic unless the Devils put together some amazing results. Still, it's a different take from other previews and you should read it for that. McKeen's is the only other one where they had something for every player, but that's fantasy-hockey related anyway. Incidentally, IPB did an even more, uh, different take on the team's trend a few days later. It's...a thing. And I have no comment on it.

IPB's Pookie also put together (or at least posted, maybe it was a collaborative work?) a short preview of the teams at ModFan. Literally short, just ten words at most for each team. A nitpick for the Devils, Pookie, Rolston and Holik were also on the 1995 team.

Fourthly, assuming that is a word, I found this through IPB as well, someone by the name of Pam did this preview at Melt Your Face-off. I know it's in the sidebar, but I don't follow the site; but it appears to be an opinion-based Deadspin-esque hockey blog by Deadspin commenters. Anyway, the preview isn't really much of one as 80% of it is about the horrible toss to the Rangers (true) and the saga of Bobby Holik leaving the team in 2000 to sign with the Rangers and how he wasn't fully missed due to John Madden. Needless to say, Pam isn't plussed with the signings. Anyway, the conclusion is an actual preview - rather a repeat of her short prediction last year - and Pam, who both hates and loves the Devils (in a word, what?) believes history will repeat itself. While I agree the team should be competitive, she doesn't offer much in as a reason as to why. Maybe her point is that not much has changed; but I don't see how signing a top six forward and a veteran center for the fourth line could not lead to any change?

Anyway, in the last seven previews I've read and discussed for far too long for little gain, six of them either have a pessimistic tone with the team or a pressimistic prediction. Originally, my point of doing all this was to get a handle of the general sentiment of what others think of this team. Almost all think the playoffs will happen for New Jersey, but few, if any, are confident in how they'll do. It's not that it's all baseless pessimism, most of it is reasoned out and based on actual results last season. I get that and understand it. Considering some of this pessimism comes from Devils fans, we just can't say "everyone else just doesn't respect New Jersey." The flipside to being a strong franchise is that expectations are high, and for some, the Devils just aren't meeting them by doing well in a tough division in a tighter-than-ever NHL. I don't know, maybe I'm missing something to all of this.

As usual, if you've gotten this far, thanks! And if you know of anymore Devils previews, let me know with a comment or an e-mail. Incidentally, I wrote a short one for another blog that should be up soon; but I don't think I'm in any place to critique or complain about my own work outside that it's likely too dang long.

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John, you are so right -- Bobby Holik is like getting cut in a knife fight! That's the perfect analogy!

As for the ModFan preview (pretty much everything over there is a collaborative effort) -- touche! :D

As for the overall pessimism on IPB, most of it is fueled by a desire to be surprised if they win, rather than disappointed if they don't. Yeah, it's childish, but it seems to work. Also, pessimism is easier to write! As far as this season is concerned, writing a preview of what the team will accomplish is nearly impossible. Based on the last few years, the team and players could go in any direction and I wouldn't be surprised.

Thanks for reading our preview and for linking to it!
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