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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Devils' Diagnosis

Rangers fans have been in a noticeably good mood lately. We have smiles on our faces, peps in our steps, and we’re less likely to flick off obnoxious drivers on the road while yelling expletives out of our car windows. One look at the NHL standings can tell you why. No, it’s not that the Rangers are doing particularly well; we’re still dealing with inconsistent efforts, low goal production and untimely mental mistakes. The source of our giddiness can be seen at the bottom of the standings. The New Jersey Devils are in last place!

Statistically awful, winless at home (when I wrote this) and riddled with cap issues, our friends from New Jersey haven’t seen this terrible a team since they last watched a Nets basketball game. Needless to say, it isn’t what their fans, nor we as their rivals, expected to see out of this perennial playoff participant… not that we’re complaining! Far from it, in fact. Watching the Devils perform this poorly gives Rangers fans the chance to openly mock and ridicule their franchise and fans. I haven’t felt this empowered since our 4-1 playoff series win in 2008!

But before we get ahead of ourselves and declare a season-long victory, we must understand WHY the Devils are so embarrassingly awful this year. To remain confident, we must know our enemy better than they know themselves. We must always be one step ahead of them, both on the ice and in their heads. So I’ve decided to present you with this segment I like to call, “Dr. Parade Diagnoses the Devils”… On with the show!

Symptom: 16 games in, the Devils are winless at home (ok, sue me. They won tonight against the Oilers in overtime. I already wrote the blog, cut the kid a break.)

Cause: New Jersey’s failures at The Rock are surprising indeed. Strong teams usually defend their home turf well, and given the stadium’s proximity to the Newark headquarters of the Latin Kings, they’ve never had problems intimidating opponents before. Now it seems that they are the ones who are scared. Franchise players like Patrick Elias and Jaime Langenbrunner look like shells of their former selves and the team’s young players aren’t stepping up to produce in their absence. Couple that with the atrocious attendance numbers and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the Devils suck at home. It’s because they don’t think anyone’s watching! Whether it’s the veteran players who coast through games knowing their best is behind them, or the younger players who don’t feel responsible for pulling the team’s weight, it’s clear that the Devils feel like they’ve got nothing to prove and no one to prove it to.

Cure: Even though the Prudential Center stands are always half empty, it’s still a bummer to booed by your home fans. Due to the pressure and expectations of their hundreds of fans, I expect the Devils to bounce back on home ice soon; tonight’s game against the AHL’s Edmonton Oilers was a good opportunity, and they made the most of it, barely. Thankfully, if the Devils get better on home ice, it will hardly affect the Rangers because we outnumber their fans 3:1 at games in NJ.

Symptom: Rookie Coach Having Trouble Managing Expectations

Cause: Rookie coach John MacLean has been a giant question mark for this underachieving Devils team. With known genius and Kiss superfan Lou Lamoriello in the GM’s pressbox, he must be feeling the heat. Back in 2007, Lou fired then coach Claude Julien and took control of the team himself… when the Devils were 2nd in the East and on their way to setting a franchise record for wins in a season! Cutthroat Lou is all about winning, and John MacLean isn’t giving him much to smile about. If the Devils are still in the basement come January, don’t expect MacLean to be behind the bench.

Cure: Fire John MacLean. Duh! I mean let’s be honest, Lou Lamoriello is the envy of every Rangers fan. He drafts well, he commands respect, he sees the big picture and he gets results; he’s everything that Glen Sather isn’t. Admittedly, he sold the soul of his team to acquire Ilya Kolvalchuk, and the only way to make up for that is by assuming the head coaching role and personally turning the team around. But hey, if it needs to be done in order to win, Lou will do it. Unless it involves dancing. Lou does not dance. Not with the stars, not with his wife, not ever.

Symptom: Zach Parise’s Future

Cause: The Devils made a clear statement when they signed Ilya Kolvalchuk to a 15 year contract this past summer, and that statement was, “We don’t really care about Zach Parise”. The Devils are riddled with cap problems, and often don’t dress a complete team because their cap space won’t allow it. With money and years tied up in various places, the Devils will have very little to work with when it comes time to resign Zack next year… if he even wants to come back. Given the hockey they’re playing and the state they’re playing in, I cannot imagine that Parise is hell-bent on spending the rest of his life in Newark with the Devils. He’s a great player (as we were all forced to acknowledge during the Olympics last year as he rocked it wearing the red, white and blue), and he’s coming into his prime. He can make a lot of money elsewhere and contribute to a cup contender if things don’t work out in Jersey. I also heard he’s a very religious guy and has qualms about playing for a team that glorifies Satan.

Cure: The only cure for this problem is Lou Lamoriello. If there’s one guy who can convince this future superstar to take less money and pledge his allegiance to the franchise, it’s Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings. But if there’s two guys, the second would be Lou Lamoriello. Best case scenario, Parise realizes he’s an American stud who should be playing in the biggest American market, N-Y-C. If Glen Sather can recreate the signing of ex-Devil star Scott Gomez, it would piss Devils fans off to no end. Plus, it would completely make up for Sather’s decision to draft Huey Jesseman rather than Parise in the first round of the 2003 draft; Jessemen is the only player from that draft class never to play in a regular season NHL game. Awful. Also from my hometown.

Symptom: The Once Greats are Now Only Goods

The Cause: When the Devils reaquired Jason Arnott, I wondered if they were trying to recreate a “2K Nostalgia Team” or something. Brodeur, Langenbrunner, Arnott, Elias… The core of this team is the same as it was ten years ago… but now they suck. With the exception of Brodeur, not one of these reliable veterans has truly pulled their weight over the last couple years. And now Brodeur is old (see picture). If kids like Parise and Zajac hadn’t excelled at a young age, this team would be just like the Rangers: a mediocre team with trouble scoring.

The Cure:
Start over! Tank the rest of the season, go for good draft picks. Do it again next year too, for good measure. Wouldn’t that be awesome, just years of trouncing our cross town rivals to the point where it’s no fun anymo…oh wait, we already have that covered with the Islanders.

A shorter post, I know. But I like getting more and more of these out there, and sometimes the topic doesn’t lend itself to long-winded diatribes. In the interest of writing something Ranger related, I leave you with this haiku entitled, “The Two Ranger Russians Are Very Different, So I Guess I Don’t Believe in Stereotypes Anymore”.

Anisimov owns.
Playing hard and making plays.
Frolov is pure suck.

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