Even as I start this blog I’m still conflicted over what I want to write one day before Christmas. I should be delivering some message full of hope and happiness or at least attempt one of laughter, the holiday season now is upon us after all. And for however much I may complain over things I can and can’t control, I still have reasonably good health, supportive parents and a few amazing friends. Of course 2016 personally could have been better in a lot of areas and as a whole was a year most people would like to just see end asap – referring to the new year as watching 2016 die has in fact become a Twitter meme. Between worldwide terrorism, what seem like an inordinate amount of celebrity deaths coupled with a nasty election cycle that never ended with fallout that’s just beginning it seems like no matter how old or young you are, you can’t escape the reality that there is too much in life we have little to no control over.
Sports is a perfect example of this, everyone reading this blog and millions that aren’t are happy/joyful when the teams they root for do well and angry/frustrated/depressed when they don’t, I’m no different than most if not all sports fans in this regard. I’m not writing this to do a case study in why, people a lot smarter than me I’m sure have done this already. There’s no real accounting for what each being decides to care for. Of course while non-sports fans may look on sports fans as wasting too much time caring about grown men play a kid’s game, don’t we all find so-called shallow things to care about? If you don’t care about sports, you still care about your favorite show, reality TV, fashion, politics, playing video games or any number of other things people could complain we as a society spend too much time over. Any of these interests are just a way to relax, let off some steam or escape from real life for a time.
I’m sure fantasy sports are so popular – besides being legalized gambling for some – because sports fans who are passioniate can feel in control of their teams when playing fantasy in a way they don’t have control over the pro teams they root for. I do a number of fantasy leagues myself, though until this year I never did any of them for money. I find having to play against a player against your real-life team (or having one of your real-life’s team’s players play against you) as a conflict of interest I’m fine with in free leagues but wouldn’t want to experience if I had actual money on the line. That said I finally took the plunge and did a pay fantasy football league this year – a 16-team standard league with a $20 entry fee where you get $30 for winning the division, $50 for winning the conference championship and $100 for winning the championship. With four-team divisions and eight-team leagues I figured I had a shot, even with an inherited team. Though I narrowly missed winning the division title prize I got revenge on the division winner in the playoffs, won the conference for the $50 last week and am playing in the championship this weekend.
While that league gave me a nice carrot (possibly a bigger one after tomorrow) I still do the majority of my leagues for fun, and have been trying deeper leagues in all sports for more of a challenge. Though I don’t do many leagues in each sport I do play three in football I’m hoping to cut back to two next year, a deep dynasty league in baseball with sixteen teams, 40-man rosters and protected farm systems/prospects where I took a last-place team to division champion in one season, and a league in hockey that I run which is a 14-team 23-man roster league where you start four centers, four LW’s, four RW’s, six D and a goalie like real life. The hockey league I’ve been in first place since the second day of the season, and am trying to get over the hump this year after finishing in second place four straight seasons old-time Buffalo Bills style. I probably spend too much time on my assorted leagues these days but with podcasts you can listen to in your car and apps making them easier to manage you only have to spend a couple minutes on your phone setting your lineup if you don’t want to overdo making moves in a given day or week. Ironically I did less prep work for my hockey draft this season than usual, felt rushed with a shorter time limit between picks and had my best draft in ages, perhaps an affirmation sometimes paralysis by analysis is a real thing.
At least fantasy gives you a reason to still pay attention to a particular sport you like to watch and get into when the team you root for decides to stink up the joint like the Devils the last two months. I know this is a hockey blog and I’m supposed to stay on topic but it’s Christmas Eve, nothing’s going to be normal the next few days through New Year’s. Even the NFL’s moved up to Saturday night (for the most part) this week, though the NBA still gives us Christmas games up the wazoo tomorrow as usual. Besides, the less said about the Devils right now the better, especially after one of the handful of least enjoyable home games of my existence as a fan Tuesday night when the Predators did what so many teams have recently – beaten us down without a fight. Although if you’re looking for a pink slip for coach John Hynes‘ Christmas stocking you clearly have the wrong idea according to GM Ray Shero, who recently delivered a scathing rebuke of the team in a 50-minute state of the team address with the media.
While this and other stories have the bullet points, what the crux of the issue comes down to is (bleep)ing work harder. And I agree with that basic point, though there are also other problems with the team I’ve gotten into in prior posts. Yes this is the ‘dreaded vote of confidence’ that’s supposed to be the prelude to the inevitable coach firing, but I actually take Shero at his word. When you give an empty vote of confidence to the coach it isn’t usually accompanied by a 50-minute discertation of how the players have failed and specifically mentioning two guys signed long-term in Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri, who’ve both been struggling and at times dropped down to lower lines this season. Plus let’s remember Shero’s dad was a famous NHL coach, maybe he actually sees the coach position as something that’s not just a piece of disposable Kleenex the way Lou Lamoriello did at times. What’s particularly discouraging is that Shero’s call to arms lasted exactly one game – a convincing 4-0 win over the Flyers on Thursday at the Rock where for one day all the problems of the season were forgotten.
Fittingly it was one of the few home games I had to miss this season. I also didn’t watch last night’s beatdown in Pittsburgh, more cause I still had no faith in this team’s ability to make what happened on Thursday stick against a great team in their building. And I was proven correct as the Pens dominated early and clamped down late with little resistance in a 4-1 game that apparently was worse than the score. So if you take Shero at his word there’ll probably be big-name players traded coming in the next couple months, a la Lou dealing off 2/3 of the A line within two years of winning the Stanley Cup in 2000. If you don’t take Shero at his word then Hynes’s seat is getting hotter with blowout loss after blowout loss. Either way this path of no resistance can’t continue indefinitely. You can’t have the kids playing in a toxic environment such as this, where losing’s become accepted.
Right now things are particularly bleak with the Devils being just one point out of last place in the conference, with the worst goal differential of any team in the East. I don’t want to hear the excuse that we would still be in the playoff hunt if we were in the West, tough – you have to play against the hand you’re deal. Besides it’s not like any of these teams in the East (and specifically the Metro) are going anywhere anytime soon. However bad this season gets though – and with 28 home games left it’s going to get bad as a season ticket holder – there are still things to be thankful as a hockey fan. Ultimately I did want to keep this post as positive as possible so here are things I’m thankful of as a Devil fan:
-A mostly uninterrupted run of excellence from 1994-2012 that’s better than a lot of other fanbases in a lot of sports get, certainly my other franchises can attest to that (though lately the Mets have picked up the mantle for standard-bearer clearly above the Jets/Devils atm).
-Easy travel to and from the Prudential Center. I frequently get home in 35 minutes and before 10:30 at night which is no small consideration on weekdays.
-Having a number of arena friends I can talk to at games. The only reason I stayed at all for the last ten minutes of the Nashville game was to stick around and talk with my friend and her cousin before the holiday, since I wasn’t going to be at the game Thursday.
-The fact we actually do have hockey for Christmas, which you can’t exactly take for granted in a sport that’s seen three seperate lengthy lockouts including a nearly eighteen-month period without any Devils hockey at all from April 2004-October 2006.
-For whatever I may say about the players or coaches in regards to on-ice play and effort the Devils at least aren’t an embarassment off-ice in terms of being in trouble with the law or being so egocentric as to be a public joke. Of course hockey in general has good character guys, who are the norm compared to some other major sports.
So I’ll end on an upbeat note after all. Hope all our readers and everyone have a Merry Christmas, and be back soon with more hockey thoughts and musings – maybe after New Year’s or just before it.