With the Devils’ season set to open in less than twenty-four hours against the Flyers I have to admit it’s hard to feel excitement at the moment, not really knowing what to expect from a still young and unproven group. Anxiousness might be a better word, although to be honest it’ll be nice to have something else to watch sports-wise (besides some more Sundays with the NFL) in the wake of my baseball team’s shameful final week and a half of the season. Not to mention actually being at the arena for a real game Saturday is definitely something to look forward to. Maybe in that sense the fact the beginning of this season was so staggered out helped me, it would have been more difficult to get amped up for a Devils game on Monday or Tuesday after the Mets’ Wild Card embarrassment.
I’m not really going to offer much of a preview, I already did that during the preseason. Nothing earth-shifting really happened between then and now…goaltender still looks like a committee with the split of games TBD although at least both our main guys looked solid during the preseason slate. On defense, Kevin Bahl won the sixth (or seventh) slot on D while up front the only real consternation is Nico Hischier missing most of camp with his hamstring injury, though he returned to practice this week and could play tomorrow night, or Saturday for the home opener.
For the moment the more important story in Devil-land is saying goodbye to an important part of our recent past, as former captain Andy Greene returned to Newark to sign a one-day contract and retire as a Devil after spending most of the first fourteen years of a sixteen-year NHL career with the Devils. It’s almost hard to believe Greene started his career so long ago his first NHL games were at the Continental Airlines Arena. Ironically Greene’s first full season as a Devil is when the team moved to the Prudential Center while after joining the Islanders following the trade deadline in 2020, he saw them move to a new arena in Elmont this year after a long sojourn at the Barclays Center.
It’s unfortunate in a sense you can’t really measure Greene’s impact with stats or championships. Stats-wise his best season was probably 2013-14 when he had thirty-two points while being asked to play a shutdown role, though his highest point total was actually in 2008-09 with thirty-seven. As far as championships, unfortunately Greene joined the club just after their salad days and though the franchise still had its share of first place finishes, our only truly deep playoff run was in 2012, as Greene was by then a first-pairing D for an unheralded team that got all the way to Game #6 of the Stanley Cup Final. After years of losing toward the end of his tenure here, Greene had a couple more chances at lifting the chalice for the Islanders and old GM Lou Lamoriello, but ultimately came up short two years in a row against the powerful Lightning in the Conference Finals. While I can’t say I was rooting for the Islanders either of those years, on some level I wouldn’t have exactly minded classy ex-Devils like him or Travis Zajac winning, Kyle Palmieri too for that matter.
Whatever Greene’s career may have lacked from a tangible standpoint – intangibles, class and dependability are just some of the adjectives I could use to sum up what by any measure was a distinguished NHL career. You wouldn’t think an undrafted free agent who spent all four years at Miami of Ohio would wind up having a career good enough to merit playing 1057 games but Greene did. He wasn’t always an important piece early on but after a couple seasons in and out of the lineup, he had his breakout season in 2008-09 and eventually earned his way up to first-pairing duty – with workmanlike Mark Fayne during the team’s 2012 playoff run, and soon after with 2011 #4 overall pick Adam Larsson.
It wasn’t long after 2012 that the team began its slow descent into irrelevance, but Greene remained a dependable figure on the ice and a well-respected one off it, so much so that he became the captain in 2015. Whatever I might have thought about the team during almost all of the seasons Greene was the C, he himself never embarrassed the franchise one time and always endured the team’s travails with grace and dignity. Yes the team did make the playoffs again in 2018, but by the time of the trade deadline in 2020 it was best for all parties to move on, though Greene being traded to the Islanders meant he didn’t have to completely uproot his family – which proved even more important once the pandemic hit shortly after.
After a down year for the Islanders as a team last year and a transitional offseason, Greene was at a crossroads – try to chase a ring for a year or two as a bit player and uproot his family to go elsewhere, hang around for a year or two either here or there to play some more games without any real hope of a championship, or just make the clean break now and move on to the next phase. Obviously he chose the latter, and the team will deservedly honor him before the home opener on Saturday.
His career probably doesn’t have enough tangible in it to merit a number retirement, but being honored before the home opener and what should be a full house or close to it is the next best thing. It certainly adds to the excitement for me attending the home opener on what should be a pretty nice day outside for mid-October.
Before that comes the season opener at Philly tomorrow, and their new coach John Tortorella. Even with a Flyers team in transition itself, that game probably won’t be easy. With eight of its first ten games against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year, a good start is imperative though as we found out the last two years not necessarily a harbinger of good times ahead either. For right now, we can only worry about baby steps…making sure our solid goaltending in the preseason carries over and getting the current captain back in the lineup, hopefully in time to celebrate the former captain.