There haven’t been many occasions as a Devils fan where I’ve felt worse about the state of the franchise over my nearly thirty years as a fan than right here, right now. Or at least during the first two periods of today’s game (disclaimer: just about everything other than the last few paragraphs were written before the third period, but my feelings are still my feelings and one period ain’t changing that so I’ll leave this up as a quasi in-game blog). I can only think of one or two that are even comparable – starting with the end of 2010 where the Devils had a horrendous coach, no-showed the first half of 2010-11 after jaking it toward the end of 2009-10 and needed a leadership cleansing before turning it around and having another year and a half of being a good team before a slow slide downward that led to a more complete housecleaning. Really the end of the Lou era in 2015 was the second comparable point – especially when we were embarrassed and run off our home ice by the Rangers as they waltzed to the President’s Trophy while we had an old, talentless, faceless team that didn’t even merit a real team photo giveaway to the fans or a team awards ceremony for themselves. All we got for Fan Appreciation Day was a photo with an empty locker, whether intentionally or not it was symbolic for what was to follow.
Which brings me to today and the absolute evisceration underway this week, again at the hands of the Rangers. As if back-to-back 3-0 and 4-0 shutouts weren’t bad enough following our two-game washout against the Rangers a few weeks back, the Devils gave up another three-spot in the first period after pulling the same trick Thursday. It really does seem like they’re quitting on the season now, which is completely inexcusable for a team full of young guys looking to prove themselves in this league. Right now we look like a noncompetitive rec league team. The actors from Mystery, Alaska would be better I’m afraid. Literally as I’m typing the Rangers are piling up more goals. Our horrendous goalie Aaron Dell looked like he was afraid and ducking out of the way of Artemi Panarin’s top-shelf bullet that made it 4-0. Maybe it’ll be 7 or 8 by the time I’m finished. I know we won’t have squat.
And yes we knew things would be bad after the trading deadline and getting three regulars back, losing two more to injury the last couple of days certainly didn’t help but can you AT LEAST be competitive in these games?! Maybe start by (gasp) scoring A goal? That kind of brings to mind the famous Jim Mora rant about ‘playoffs…I just want to win a game!’. Right now I’m more of the mindset of ‘winning a game? I just want to score a goal’. These are kids for the most part that you either flat out need to be part of the solution or want to compete for a spot to be a part of the solution down the road. I get all the excuses, the roster’s undermanned, young but you’d think we didn’t have six years of rebuilding with two lotto wins to where we should be better than this by now.
And there it is…as I’m typing finally the long national nightmare is over, the Devils have scored A SINGLE GOAL. At least they probably won’t have to see Igor Shesterkin again tomorrow. This is what it’s come to, I know we’re gonna lose all four games and probably badly, I’m just relieved we won’t get shut out in all four. Again I repeat: THIS IS WHAT IT’S COME TO!!! As much as I rolled my eyes at our junktime surge last year after we fell way out of it, right now I’d gladly take that kind of illusory roll. At least fool me into believing there’s a reason to have some optimism going into next year when I have to start going to games again.
Perhaps the only good thing about this season is I can tune out for long stretches without having to waste time and money going to a bunch of junktime games where we’re just rolling out guys who don’t deserve NHL icetime and green kids. In some ways I’ve never been more discouraged though. It’s been six years and we still look two years away from being two years away. It’s one thing to lose with an older roster or a management team that’s been here a while, you at least know there’ll be changes. What is going to change with this team? What really can change with this team?
These are the guys former GM Ray Shero and current GM Tom Fitzgerald drafted, developed and acquired with the exception of guys like Damon Severson and Miles Wood. Shero had a 5-6 year plan and was hoping to be more competitive by now, instead the team didn’t make enough progress, he was fired and a lot of the guys he brought in that were supposed to be THE MEN (a Fitz saying) for these kids to look up to and lean on have been peddled out in deadline deals over the last couple of seasons. So now Fitz – assuming he’s allowed to stay beyond this year – is embarking on rebuild 2.0 and hoping to be more successful than his predecessor.
It’s one thing for guys like Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall to be dealt, it’s another thing if you don’t replace them at all and the kids you hand lineup spots to clearly either aren’t ready or aren’t good enough. After six years and two lotto ball wins you’d think selling off three or four rentals at the deadline wouldn’t lead to this kind of a pathetic meltdown. I would say at least now I have the Mets to watch sports-wise except the Mets never actually seem to play baseball games. My baseball team’s playing games on a traditional hockey schedule, while my hockey team has been playing them at close to a baseball schedule.
I realize it’s early to get on Jack Hughes for not scoring and he has been better than last year when he really didn’t belong in the NHL, but he’s gotta show a lot more – and consistently – for me to think his celing is just a better version of Scott Gomez. Nico Hischier’s gotta stay on the ice long enough to actually develop. Pretty much nothing that happened this year was his fault, but did we really have to make him captain this soon? He’s got enough of a task off the ice in front of him the rest of the season never mind trying to get his own game back in gear on the ice. I know it’s hard for a goalie to be consistent on this tire fire of a team, but you’d like to see more of it from Mackenzie Blackwood. If we’re going to blow him during his hot streaks we can get on him when he’s during one of his long cold spells.
Honestly though there isn’t too many guys I’d keep exempt from criticism. Other than maybe rookie defenseman Ty Smith or even coach Lindy Ruff (though part of that is just my bias as he’s always been a favorite of mine). Ruff does need to make changes on his staff next year. Whoever’s idea it was to keep Alain Nasreddine on the staff, it hasn’t worked with him or Mark Recchi in their respective roles on special teams. I realize actual coaching was near impossible this year, but this special teams is just a joke. Another two power play goals allowed today – so far, which is basically our over-under number every game this year. And eventually we’ve gotta get some real vets with term on this roster and not just rent-a-vets that inevitably get shipped out after another bad season. We’ve shedded more than enough talent the last couple years, replacing it with futures and magic beans.
It’s just hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel at this point though. Even if we changed the GM (which I’m not advocating for), with this ownership group it’ll probably be just another guy who believes in THE PROCESS of endless losing for lotto balls that they tried with the Sixers before the NBA stepped in and made them stop being a non-competitive entity. Or worse, a numbers guy like John Chyaka – who has other issues even besides that. Plus Fitz deserves a chance to do his rebuild, Shero had five years while Fitz has had one partial season and one shotgun trade deadline. Ruff has only had one partial season, I’m not gonna blame him for this mess when he’s won everywhere else he’s been. It’s time for some of these kids to grow the heck up, especially if they’re going to be the group that one day – ONE DAY! – can actually lead us out of this mess. Nothing I’ve seen the last few years is tempting me to hold my breath on that one though.
At this point I’m only waiting to click post to see how this game finishes out, because some crazy miracle comeback would make part of this look silly. Even if the result of one game doesn’t change the long-term outlook. Short-term maybe. Haha and just as I’m jotting this down they’ve somehow gotten the deficit to 4-3 on a couple of 4-on-4 goals. At least Cangi’s getting excited. Which reminds me of something else too, in a season where we’ve had a lot of COVID absences on the ice, it’s even extended to our booth now with both Bryce Salvador and Erika Wachter in protocol for the last week – with no word if either, or both actually have it themselves. Not that I was watching the booth lately but when I do, Sal’s always a interesting listen in terms of breaking down a game and Erika’s enthusiasm always shows through.
I’m actually oddly more into this game now than I’ve been the last few weeks. More listening than watching still. At first it was just rage listening while I was typing but now it’s turned into a bit of house money game. Even losses against the Rangers don’t really matter at this point, as much as I might have wanted to play spoiler a few days ago it’s more about enough of these younger players actually showing something down the stretch and giving me any little thing to grab onto for next year. I did want to actually watch or listen to a couple of these games earlier in the week, but the beginning of Rangers-Devils I coincided with extra innings in one of the Mets’ rainout makeups. By the time I turned it on, it was 1-0 and of course we know things didn’t get better then. I pretty well avoided Thursday’s rout and the first period today. Maybe they needed me to get the carving knives out to get going.
And finally it looks like the game is truly over with the Rangers getting an empty-netter, oh well. Kind of pathetic I’m so relieved we actually made a game of it. Again, this is where we are now. It took more than a few bad periods to get us in this mess and it’s gonna take a lot more than one good one to get out of it. Especially if they follow it up with another dud tomorrow at the Rock where we’re like 4 and 5000 at this point.
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Both my Dad and brother loved your article. I did too. It was no nonsense and truthful. They need to change some personnel on D. Hard to replace what Palmieri and Zajac brought. Hischier staying healthy would help. He’s a good two-way center who wins draws and is trusted.
I like Kuokkanen and Sharangovich of your rookie forwards. Obviously Smith on the D. It’ll hinge on Kevin Bahl, Holtz and Dawson Mercer. They can be difference makers. Improve the backup position so Blackwood isn’t having to play so much.