Every time you think things can’t possibly get worse for the Devils they find a new low, such as their current ten-game winless streak which has crested in back-to-back regulation losses to the worst teams in the NHL at Colorado and Arizona. Truth be told there’s been nothing worth either watching or writing about the Devils for weeks. My last full game watched – or even close to one – was the back-to-back blown lead home fiascoes against the Rangers and Canadiens that I attended almost three weeks ago. Though I couldn’t help watching the end of last night’s game which was kind of hilarious all around. After their AHL lineup with preseason motivation surrendered a 4-0 lead to the Coyotes, the Devils put on the ultimate tease getting to within 5-4, and having the GREAT Taylor Hall have an opportunity to tie the game on a penalty shot late in the third period. However, if you’re a Devils fan and you’ve been paying attention at all to this team or to Hall’s dissapointing lack of goalscoring the last few months (seven goals in 42 games), you just knew he was missing this one too, which he did. And with what little the games mean at this point I couldn’t help but laugh.
Honestly to a degree I feel a little sorry for Hall, who must have thought he was finally escaping purgatory getting out of Edmonton only to get trapped in a purgatory just as bad while the Oilers are on pace to break their long playoff drought without him. But only a little, Hall certainly hasn’t helped the cause much since early in the season and is floating around just as bad as anyone else during this stretch. Granted he’s a good playmaker and you can only control a little bit how often your fellow stonehands forwards put the puck in the net, but on this team he’s got to initiate a little more, the way he did early in the season during the Devils’ 9-3-3 start (that was really this season?!). Since then, the Devils have gone 16-28-9 as the team has crash-landed at last place in the entire Eastern Conference. In a sign of the times, just above them in 14th place is the Detroit Red Wings. Not too long ago the Devils and Red Wings were both the gold standard for winning and consistency. Now it’s all about who can win more ping-pong balls.
More than anything else this is the reason I just don’t watch later in lost seasons. I don’t get into actively rooting for THE TANK. Yes it’s better at this point for the Devils to lose and get more ping-pong balls in that sense but what people overlook in their myopic focus on the draft (besides the fact it is far more of a lottery than it was 5-10 years ago and just as variable as the NBA’s draft now) is that the more the team stinks now, the less one single draft pick is going to fix all our ills. Especially in a non-generational player draft. And this idea that people just want to see the young players play well and still lose is a canard…it doesn’t work that way folks. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you’re losing this much down the stretch it means the young players you have aren’t doing the job, and that the vets who aren’t getting traded anytime soon anyway because of contract status/NTC’s aren’t being part of the solution either – or enhancing the little trade value they do have.
In that sense, perhaps the most dissapointing development in the 2015-16 season is the lack of it from most of the young forwards including Pavel Zacha (who granted was playing well before his concussion a couple weeks ago, but has been listless since his return to the lineup), along with the regression of Miles Wood after he set the world on fire his first few games here, his development’s stagnated. Not to mention the neverending inconsistencies of the young defensemen, such as Damon Severson. Granted he actually had a good game last night with two assists and 29 points in 67 games is fair production overall, but given that point total his – by far – team worst -26 is doubly dissapointing. Among all the rookies, only defenseman Steven Santini doesn’t look like he’s been trapped in the vortex of suck afflicting 90% of our roster right now. However even he’s not going to drive play on the offensive end with seven points in 31 games, Severson himself is the only defenseman that can consistently contribute offensively but he’s been horrid defensively.
While the kids’ lack of development is troubling, so is the horrid play of the few vets we do have. I’ve already gotten into Hall, but even his goal shortage doesn’t compare to Mike Cammalleri, who’s scored a pathetic one goal – ONE! – in his last 37 games. This is a guy who scored 27 goals (in 68 games) as recently as two years ago, with nearly a point a game last year. This year, there’s just no nice way to say this…he’s been a pile of trash with just ten goals and 30 points in 55 games, and most of that production came in an eight-game binge between November and December when he actually as nine of those goals and 14 points. In his other 46 games? ONE goal, and 15 assists. For a guy I’ve always thought of as a pro’s pro, this fall from grace evokes memories of late-career Jamie Langenbrunner, but even Langs was never the force offensively Camm was in his prime.
There’s hardly any vets you can point to that are playing well though, other than Travis Zajac, but you can’t exactly count on him for consistent offensive production either. Adam Henrique’s continuing his pattern of a bad season following a good one. Andy Greene, well perhaps other things have been influencing his down year given his dad’s recent passing. And Cory Schneider…sigh. I almost broke my recent silence to vent about big-game Cory again blowing late leads in the back-to-back meltdowns against the Rangers and Habs last month that ended my last vestige of caring about anything this season. He’s clearly given up on the season too with another indifferent performance in Arizona last night, followed by overdue frustration boiling over after being pulled.
Assuming Cory still has the trade value he might have had coming into this season, the Devils may have to take a long look this offseason at whether keeping Cory around is best for either him or the team in the long run. If you’re not going to make a big step forward this offseason in terms of bringing in talent via trade/FA, then what’s really the point of keeping any of these vets around merely to improve to 8th/10th in the draft lottery in the process? Other than Kyle Palmieri – who barely counts as a vet – who of these guys has really had a positive influence on things this season? Sure at least none of them embarass themselves on Twitter or off the ice but at some point you need more from these guys on the ice and in the locker room.
And you need more from the coaching staff in terms of getting these guys ready to play and developing the younger players. I don’t want to kill John Hynes for this recent stretch, every team that’s out of it (when reality sets in that they are indeed out of it) goes through a period like this where they just don’t want to play anymore. Clearly coaching isn’t the source of the problem but at the moment it doesn’t seem to be part of the solution either. Especially when Hynes does minor-league things like not calling a timeout late in the Habs game after his players on the ice went through a long shift before an icing, presumably to save it for the video review that may or may not have happened in the last three minutes of regulation with a one-goal lead. It’s one thing to save your timeout in the first two periods but with three minutes left in a one-goal game, really?
With almost no time left at that point your priority’s protecting the lead, not worrying about a hypothetical that may or may not happen.
Just like with my football Jets in the second half, now this season’s become a crawl to the end, hoping for a better draft pick and no serious injuries while I pay as little attention as possible. Although as a season ticket holder who is going to have more trouble selling tickets in these futile last weeks, I may have to go to a few games just because. Tuesday won’t be one of them though, even if the NHL dictates the game be played despite the doom and gloom weather forecasts. Devils-Winnipeg in late March isn’t exactly worth braving a snowstorm for whether it turns out to be 6 inches or a worst-case scenario of 18 inches of snow. Nine of the team’s last fourteen games are going to be at the Rock, in an ideal world I’m maybe at three or four of those games – one I’m already going to with a friend and the home finale on April 8 being two – but that depends on how many tickets I can sell/find a sucker to go with. Either way it just isn’t really worth watching when the team’s asthetically horrifying to watch, and when losing is more meaningful than winning.