Dear New Jersey Devils,
I have to say that I don’t think there is another team who can build hopes for a promising post season as much as you can, just to let the wheels fly off and have everything come crashing down.
The playoff dysfunction that you have shown since winning the cup in 2003 has progressively gotten worse. The past three seasons have ended prematurely. Each season you promote competitiveness, fight, will, and discipline. You are one of the best each year throughout the regular season. And once the playoffs start, each cornerstone to what makes Devils hockey crumbles.
Please, everyone, stop looking at goaltender Martin Brodeur. Tonight’s game is a testament to the problems you face. I don’t care if Brodeur gave up one goal or a hundred goals. The fact that you were shut out completely from making a single tally punctuates the lack of cohesiveness you have shown since the post season began.
Lou Lamoriello, you are one the best GM’s in NHL history, but I am beginning to lose faith in you. Since the “new” NHL began after the lockout, the game has changed, and I fear you are not able to compete in this new environment.
I believe your acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk aides in explaining this issue. He is a great player and will be the winner of a number of Stanley Cups. But taking Ilya, which everyone viewed as the Devils move to push for an extended post season run, was a bust. I don’t believe he meshed well with the team, and he seemed to be slightly out of sync with the rest of the Devils. He is a threat when he holds the puck, but he never got to the point where the threat became reality.
In fact, perhaps, nabbing him from Atlanta may have only compounded problems, given the fact that we had to give up some good personnel, such as John Oduya, who were key in keeping the Devils afloat. In fact, this point can be verified by looking at the season as two halves. The Devils first 41 games consisted of 30 wins and 11 loses. The second 41 games was much bleaker, with only 18 wins and 23 loses.
What I find even more interesting is the fact that the second half of the season consisted of the Devils coming back from injuries and the entire team playing as a whole for the first time since the very beginning of the season.
Lou, you said at the end of last season that you felt the team was a good fit, and that you only needed to change a few minor pieces and next year you expected to go far. I believe that was an incorrect assessment. The team is in fact not good as is, and needs a complete overhaul. You will be judged next year based on their performance next year. It is not a threat, but a fact. The media will talk about this.
It would be one thing if the team just wasn’t there, if the team was not consistent, if the team didn’t play well – but fact is you’re competitive. They do play well. They can play good hockey night after night. But the second half of the season dropped. We managed to hang on and take the Atlantic Division title, but it’s a hollow victory when you get knocked out so quickly in the playoffs.
We are officially the first team out of the playoffs this year. The first team not to hold up under the pressure. The first team that showed incompetence against a team who statistically played worse than the Devils.
As a fan, I am upset, yet oddly comfortable in what I saw. Unlike last season, where I feel the victory was stolen by the opposing team, we gave this series to the Flyers. Last season, I was horrified when the Devils lost, and hated the Carolina Hurricanes for their win. This year, I don’t hate the Flyers. They came out and played strong nearly every minute of every game. The Devils did not. The Devils did not compete the past five games. They did not score goals – period. They did not penetrate the Flyers end. They didn’t block enough of the Flyers chances.
I could probably continue with the “did not’s” for quite some time. But it should just be summed up with: They did not execute when they needed to. Year after year the expectations are high, and the ability, capability and potential is there. But they just don’t execute in the clutch.
For now I wish you all the best over the summer. My gut tells me the complexion of the team will significantly change by the time we see them in the fall. This post season has ended too soon, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t see this coming since game three. I wish to conclude by simply saying “thank you” for the entertainment and enjoyment you have given us this season.