It’s been some time since I promised to write a more in-depth entry regarding the quick end to the Devils postseason.
I needed some time to think about the end result, go through those seven stages of grief, and accept what we have in front of us. First, this post is going to take of any rose-colored glasses, so for those of you who are faint of heart, you may not want to read this. Secondly, I blame everyone. What this means is that the failure of the Devils does not rest with one person or small set, but rather this stems from the players all the way to management.
I’m not looking for drastic change, but I am looking for things to be different. And Lou, you are my number one concern here. It started in July of 2007 and I have to say, I’m not impressed. I’ll leave this for last. I’ll begin with goaltending.
Martin Brodeur. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that he’s still up for a Vezina again proves his worth not only to the Devils but the skill he continues to have year after year. He’s getting up there in age and his playing ability still ranks up as one of the top goalies in the NHL – 15 seasons after his first regular season debut. He’s human, and has certainly made some mistakes. In fact it is possible that a couple of soft goals he gave up could have been the turning point of those games. But don’t worry, there’s enough blame to go around. In any event, he needs to realize that he is not 25 anymore and working as much as he does just isn’t a good idea. Play 60 games at most during the season, and save a little for the playoffs, or try for every 4 games played, take 1 game off. And believe me; this is as much management’s fault as it is his own. They feel obligated to play him as much as possible because he’s physically able to play. They need to take mental ability as well. He is physically strong (despite being overweight), but mentally he’s tired. He needs time off and needs to rest, or else we’ll need to play our backup in the playoffs. His best playoff run in my mind is the 1994-95 season… and what do you know, he only played in 40 games because of the shortened season. Besides, the Devils should be able to play and win games when you are unavailable. If not, the Devils are in more trouble than they realize.
Defense. Let’s face it, Brodeur also had a great defense in front of him for most of his career, and today Defense isn’t really something visible or viable in the NHL today. The days of Ken Daneyko, Scott Stevens, and Scott Niedermayer are long gone and now teams are poking holes through Brodeur that once weren’t available. You look at the three previous names and those were guys who had a presence on the ice. That just isn’t there today. Sure the NHL era that we’ve entered doesn’t necessarily allow for that as much, but those guys would still get notice and make offensemen streaking down the ice think twice before they try to cross through the slot.
Offense. During the last two months of hockey for the Devils, this seemed to have disappeared. Fact is, in the entire NHL, the Devils were themselves in 25th spot of total number of Goals Scored. Oh, and out of the 16 playoff-bound teams, the Devils were second to last, only ahead of Anaheim, who is also out of the playoffs now. The Devils were never an offensive team, but its time to face facts and crack open the wallet; we need offense if we want another Stanley Cup.
Coach Brent Sutter. I like him, but he’s not escaping this rant today. At the early onset of the team, I looked at him as trying to bring a different style of play to the Devils. The team looked like the Devils would be faster playing, stronger fore-checking, and have a better transition between defense and offense. Oh, and Brodeur’s guaranteed spot between the pipes wasn’t so guaranteed. About halfway through the season, this went away. All of it. Brodeur was always in net, the fore-checking was weak, the transition disappeared (along with any hope of offense), and they were just sluggish on the ice. Even simple things like line changes seemed to put the Devils out of position and have several goals scored against them when changes were taking place. Changing up the lines is a great idea, but not the only viable solution, especially when you are now in the playoffs. I remember when the Devils played especially poorly one game early on, Sutter had the team run drills after the game. Although the players probably hated it, I think that got the message home that they needed to play better. And not for nothing, but the Devils were shut out more times this year than in franchise history. Franchise history includes the years the Devils played as the Kansas City Scouts and the Colorado Rockies. That’s just not acceptable, ever.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello. I drink the Kool-Aid, and I believed his philosophy of building a hockey team. I mean, stepping back and looking at the big picture, the Devils have not missed the playoffs in 11 consecutive years. They have been one of only a handful of teams in the NHL that are consistently strong year in and year out. They remain competitive regardless of who stays and who goes. That’s impressive.
This isn’t cutting it anymore. If the end-all goal is to win the Stanley Cup, he needs to do more. Lou has made some bumbling acquisitions in the wake of some departures, and perhaps overpaying guys that don’t do nearly as much as they should. I know I shouldn’t but I still blame him for the loss of players like Scott Gomez, Scott Niedermayer, and Brian Rafalski. And fact of the matter is aside from Martin Brodeur, there is not one other player who sticks out year after year as being a threat, offensively or defensively. Sure, guys like Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias, Colin White and John Madden are just a handful of our top guys that Devils fan could pick out of a lineup, but there isn’t a big name go-to guy which you need if you want to make a serious run at the Cup. Scott Stevens was one of those guys. Scott Niedermayer was one of those guys. I think what I am saying is that the Devils need more talent… or more guys named Scott.
Owner Jeff Vanderbeek. This is not really a problem that caused the Devils to perform poorly – it’s mostly just a gripe from a frustrated fan – but I think it has some type of an impact, and a cause of some concern. It was mentioned by man players, and perhaps even him, that it was a little disconcerting to see as many Rangers fans in the stands at the Prudential Center, sometimes drowning out Devils fans in chants and being way too loud when the Rangers scored goals. But I bet if you really looked at the arena from afar, you’d notice that there was a lot of white and blue in the lower tier and a lot of red in the upper tiers. Fact of it is, the upper tiers were almost always filled night in and night out, and yet the lower bowl, and even many of those luxury boxes you just had to have more of, sat empty so many nights. Speaking as an average middle class Devils fan, I’m not spending $200 to see the Devils play. If that’s my only option, I’ll enjoy the game in the comfort of my couch in front of my High Definition TV listening to the call of the game by “Doc” and “Chico.” I know lower ticket prices aren’t really an option, but don’t complain when the lower tier is a sea of blue when playing against the Rangers.
Oh, and To Whom It May Concern, please bring back the “Hey” song. I understand your reason for cutting it out, but enough teams still use it that I really don’t think it’s truly an issue. Oh, and what song played after goals for all three of our Stanley Cups? It certainly wasn’t Zombie Nation, I can tell you.
I’ll be posting a “Thank You” to visitors, as well as some NHL Hardware updates, in the next week or so.