As a fan, I sat here watching the final game of the season with a sense of pride and happiness. When the post-season ended abruptly last season, it was like hitting a brick wall, and I, as well as many other fans, we extremely angry over what felt like a collapse of the team.
But today, the Devils ended their season knowing that today was the last game for them until October. And the fans at the arena felt the same way. As the clock wound down to zero the fans stood, cheered, and showed that, despite all odds, despite a rough season with more downs than ups, we will stick by them.
Wife, earlier in the season, said in a fit of frustration, that she was done with the Devils this season. But I knew that the Devils are a very lucky franchise. I look at the last time the Devils missed the playoffs – 1996, the last time the Devils finished under .500 – 1991… to me that’s an impressive statistic. It’s not record breaking, but it is an impressive feat, and something the team and it’s fans should be proud of.
It has been announced that Devils coach, for the second time in two years, is retiring. Jacques Lemiar retired at the end of last season, but came back just before Christmas to replace rookie coach John MacLean after the Devils had their second worst start in franchise history.
Jacques, thank you. In a season of unquestionable despair and an unexplainable stretch of losses, he was one of the main factors that turned this team around. I hold no ill will against John MacLean, but he didn’t have the knowledge or experience to deal with a team that had pretty much convinced themselves that they were completely and utterly broken.
With that being said, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has in my opinion three priorities.
The first is to find a new long-term coach. Someone who you can, barring any major disasters, see behind the bench for at least three to five seasons. The Devils need some form of stability. Starting with a head coach who can show the team some form of consistent coaching style for the next few years would be great. Having a new coach every other year means players must learn new methods to conform to the plays the coach wants to see.
Next priority, with primary net minder Martin Brodeur nearing the end of his career, veteran captain Jamie Langenbrunner now off the team, and other higher priced contracts nearing their end, the Devils had a semblance of a fresh start. Forwards Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are the new stars for the Devils. The Devils need to solidify their defense, and that includes looking beyond the era of Brodeur and start looking out for a new number one net minder. Johan , who played a great game this afternoon against the Bruins, is only a year younger than Brodeur. While he makes a great solid backup, the Devils must look for a new goalie that can be with the team for a number of years.
Lastly, as hinted in the last paragraph, the Devils must sign Zach Parise. There is a reason why he didn’t play after his one game back with the team – he wasn’t ready. You take off the season, you need more then one week to get back in to playing shape. But the Devils knew they needed him with a few games experience should they make it in to the playoffs. On his return, the Devils lost, but that now permits him to continue to rest for a little bit, get back in to shape properly, and be 110% for training camp in September. Zach is the future captain of this team – everyone including stars like Kovalchuk and Brodeur have stated that – but he must be resigned if that is to become the reality.
There will be a number of off-season news stories over the next few months, but for the immediate time being the Devils and their fans have some time to rest while the playoffs get underway. We went through an interesting season, with a very tough start, but in the end they put up a great fight, making a push to make the playoffs, and brought fun, not to mention a sense of accomplishment, back in to the Prudential Center.
Thank you New Jersey Devils.