Scott Gomez in better times (during the 2000 SCF)
For the first time today, it feels like hockey’s just around the corner to me – which it is, with Devils camp opening in less than two weeks on the 15th and the preseason schedule beginning a week later on the 22nd. Labor Day always seems to mark a turning point in the calendar between the beginning of the NFL and the end of summer – although you wouldn’t know it by the weather this week. With the arrival of the fall comes the beginning of hockey, which is especially welcome this year for local fans that haven’t had much to cheer for with their baseball teams. And as much as I’m looking forward to the NFL (even if I’m antsy – to put it mildly – about the Jets’ secondary issues) it IS only sixteen games plus playoffs and the national party day known as Super Sunday. Hockey’s a marathon with six plus months where there’s a game nearly every night and another two months of postseason action. Locally there’s a certain level of excitement with the defending
Wales conference champion Rangers again expected to be a contender, the Islanders finally under new ownership with the move to Brooklyn imminent and a now-healthy John Tavares back in the fold.
Then there’s the Devils…truly, the more things change the more they stay the same around here. Although clearly one of the big stories in the first couple of months this season is going to be the changing of the guard in net with Cory Schnieder firmly entrenched as the starter after signing an eight-year extension this offseason, and Martin Brodeur still in professional limbo wondering what the future holds after two decades of being in the net for New Jersey. On defense, the Devils retained Andy Greene with a five-year extension, Marek Zidlicky with another one-year deal and also have captain Bryce Salvador returning, but they let Mark Fayne walk in free agency and bought out Anton Volcheknov to make room for youngsters Jon Merrill, Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas. Clearly there is going to be change in net and on the back end. Maybe even more change is coming considering Gelinas hasn’t signed a contract yet and with rumors swirling about a camp holdout or even a trade, the Devils have been in touch with former Leaf/Canadien/Bruin Tomas Kaberle and seem ready to offer him a tryout conract.
Up front, the motto seems to be more is better. In the case of UFA signings Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat, they’re being looked at to provide more scoring which is badly needed. Aside from forward Ryan Carter still being unsigned though, every other forward from last year’s team has returned leading to a situation where we have fourteen guys signed to one-way deals. Right now it would seem that Steve Bernier and Jacob Josefson would be the odd men out of the lineup given the fact they have the lowest salaries on the team plus the fact that Bernier was publicly scolded for his bad year last season while Josefson’s been mostly in the doghouse during the last two years. Despite that, the former first-rounder signed a two-year deal this offseason so clearly he’s hoping to play at some point. Our forward lineup would be enough of a story without Carter waiting around for a contract – and just recently saying that he will attend camp despite still being unsigned. Clearly it seems as if he’s waiting for someone to get moved. If someone is moved, my money’s on Brunner being kicked overseas since he’s also been on the outs with this staff at times despite playing most of the season last year.
And that’s not even including our other camp invite up front…it seems like every season GM Lou Lamoriello will bring back at least a couple of former Devils, it’s become a running joke to the point where one-time defenseman Anssi Salmela remarked when he was traded that he’d be back someday – and he was! Bringing back unexpected 2009 savior Scott Clemmensen to finish out his career in Albany and be insurance for Keith Kinkaid as Schnieder’s backup is one thing. However a few days ago in a move that was alternately astonishing and not surprising, the Devils invited Scott Gomez for a tryout as well. Astonishing because quite honestly Gomez hasn’t been a good NHL player in five years…people that have been comparing this to Petr Sykora a couple years ago are missing the obvious point that Gomez is much farther removed (timewise) from being a useful NHL player than Sykora was two years ago. And not surprising because this is what we do. No matter how acrimonious the departure – whether it’s Sykora, Bobby Holik, Claude Lemieux, John MacLean – Lou always brings guys back cause it’s what he’s comfortable with, and they know the system/how things work.
Still, arguably no other ex-Devil was more hated and jeered than Gomez. Our venom toward Holik was close (of course both guys had an obvious common demoninator – leaving the Devils for the Rangers), but the Devils won a Stanley Cup the year after Holik left so that quelled some of the venom while Gomez did what few others have accomplished and punked us the year after he left in the playoffs. Although after 2010 Gomez became more mocked for his poor play than anything else – at one point going more than a calendar year without scoring a goal. It’ll be interesting to see the crowd reaction during the preseason this year if Gomez does get into a game at home this preseason…our first three preseason games are on the road though so who knows? If nothing else it adds yet another layer of intrigue to camp.