Unsettled camp adds to questions surrounding Devils’ 2021 season

With hockey finally set to return in the next couple of days, I should be excited to see my team play for the first time in ten months. In general there’s always a lot of optimism going into a season when everyone is still undefeated and usually when you have a new regime there’s an added feeling of anticipation. I certainly don’t want to bring anyone else down, I’m glad the majority of fans can enjoy hockey’s return and on a certain level I’m still looking forward to Wednesday night as well.

Unfortunately on the whole, I’ve never been so passive or felt the same feeling of dread as I do now going into this Devils season.

Clearly there’s stuff more important and more dire going on in the country which probably contributes to my general malaise, but that’s not really a matter for comment in this blog. Except to the extent that the COVID vaccine really needs to get distributed faster and more efficiently in the next several weeks, and that’s certainly contributing to my general bleh mood on the eve of the Devils’ return to play. Looking at all the games getting canceled around the NBA give me pause about this NHL season. I thought the NHL and NBA would be able to get through their seasons because baseball and football have, but the virus has only gotten worse despite the vaccine starting to be publicly available and I’m starting to doubt whether that can happen, at least not without another big pause.

But let’s say for argument’s sake the NHL somehow, someway gets through a 56-game season and playoffs all the way through – then we get to the macro worries about the Devils themselves. For a camp that only lasted two weeks, the Devils had more than their fair share of drama and considering this team’s already precarious position they could ill afford it.

First of all, franchise center Nico Hischier came into camp with a still mysterious leg injury, where all we know is he’s week to week and not skating. So he won’t be on the ice in the near future, yippee. Then there was the senseless Jesper Bratt holdout, which finally concluded a couple of days ago but with Bratt still in limbo because of visa and quarantine concerns, he’s still likely weeks from playing a game. Why Bratt thought he was worth some big contract after three promising but still uneven seasons where he hasn’t put up more than 35 points yet is beyond me, and why Fitz let the holdout get to this point with months to negotiate only to settle for the bridge deal way after the deadline to get Bratt in for the season is also beyond me. This was the rare holdout where nobody won. Bratt missing for weeks was really worth trying and failing to get a long-term deal and/or getting a few pennies off the next two years where we don’t have cap issues anyway? Garbage.

Then you have the Corey Crawford disaster, where apparently at the beginning of camp and on the eve of the season he had a change of heart about playing and abruptly retired. Crawford was supposed to be if not our starting goalie, certainly a viable 1A which we didn’t have last year. As angry as I am with him for leaving us in the lurch (especially given he never did a thing for the Devils to begin with, this isn’t someone like Travis Zajac hanging it up on the eve of camp), I can’t ultimately blame him if his heart wasn’t in it. I suppose it’s better to leave now than to have him play a half-hearted season before that point. After Crawford’s abrupt exit, GM Tom Fitzgerald probably felt like Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer after his ex-fiancee gives the reasons why she dumped him at the altar.

So we’re out two top six forwards and one half of our goalie tandem going into a season where we were already rated no higher than 7th out of 8 teams in a stacked Patrick Division plus (the hell with all of the NHL’s new corporate names they’ve gotten for their temporary divisions). With a new staff and a team that hasn’t played an actual game in ten months. Not exactly ideal. It’s anyone’s guess what we’re going to do in goal although they claimed Eric Comrie off of waivers to compete with one-time draftee Scott Wedgewood for the backup job. Of course that’s a fluid situation.

At this point in the blog I’m wondering why I still have any anticipation at all for Wednesday’s season opener. I haven’t even really watched any of the scrimmages though it’s always difficult to know what to ‘root for’ in scrimmages anyway.

With all the things that actually happened which have short and long-term consequences, I can’t even get annoyed over things like P.K. Subban and Miles Wood’s infantile fight during the team’s final intrasquad scrimmage, or the forced bro-hug posted on social media after it. At least I suppose it’s a good thing two of the bigger disappointments last year are coming out like they actually give a crap about rebounding.

If you’re still reading you might be wondering if there is even any good news in Newarkville? Well by all accounts the best player in camp is 22-year old Yegor Sharangovich, a 5th rounder in 2018 who was off to a hot start in the KHL this year with 17 goals in 34 games and has kept up that scoring touch in camp. I suppose it should be pointed out it’s easier for a guy like Sharangovich to shine in scrimmages (and perhaps early in the season) considering he’s one of the few players on the ice that’s been playing regularly, but with his KHL season so far you’re allowed to have some optomism we might actually be adding a legit scoring forward. God knows we can use one.

It also seems like 2018 1st rounder Ty Smith will finally make the NHL roster although whether he actually plays on Opening Night is still a question mark considering the Devils have kept eight defensemen on their active roster, which doesn’t even include the recently signed Sami Vatanen who’ll likely replace one of the other guys like Matt Tennyson after he clears his protocols to come over. It’ll certainly be a roster filled with youth and a couple more of the younger guys will get an early chance to play with Hischier and Bratt still missing.

I wish I could get more excited, especially with a lineup of younger guys looking to prove themselves. I’m just not feeling it right now. Who cares whether the lineup’s younger guys or older guys if they’re just getting their face kicked in? And how invested can I get if we’re headed straight for another March pause?

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