Tag Archives: brodeur

The New New Devils

The last two seasons were not kind to Devils fans. After starting the 12-13 campaign in a nosedive, only to pull up with a glimmer of playoff hope before skidding off the end of the season’s runway, 13-14 wasn’t much better: inconsistent play, lack of scoring, sometimes muddled defense and an overall lack of coherence. I was hoping the ownership change would shake things up, and based on the first day of free agency, I am insanely thrilled I renewed the season tickets this year.

Martin Havlat is not a young gun, but he brings a great chemistry with Elias and that’s likely to translate into a better locker room environment. Put him in the right system with the right coach and he’ll score goals, move the puck, and create excitement. Think Jagr five years ago, and then add Jagr and Elias to the mix, and you smile.

I’m also impressed that the Devils didn’t bend and sign Brodeur. I sincerely, honestly, thoroughly hope that Marty decides to retire, rather than suffer through the ignominy of a few weeks of free agency. If you don’t have a deal early on, you’re not getting a deal, and if he waits for an early season injury and comes back to the game after an extended hiatus, it won’t be pretty for anyone. Marty is one of the all-time best, his number should be raised to the rafters amidst much fan adulation and maybe some more Elias sniffles, and that’s that. I also see this as a sign that the Devils ownership is committed to building a team, rather than replaying historical cards that held value years ago.

Then there’s one of my favorite players: Mike Cammalleri. His Canadiens player shirt was the first bit of non-Devils team wear I purchased. He’s tough, gritty, energetic, funny, and a nice guy to boot (yes, I’ve met him, and he impressed the daylights out of me by giving his father a hug before he greeted any other guests including his girlfriend). Think David Clarkson but with significantly better hands and speed. Before any criticizes his two tours through Calgary, note that the Flames were unable to produce much with Jarome Iginla either. Put Cammalleri on a line with Elias at center and you’ll see some of those fancy passing plays turn into goals. Like Gionta, he plays bigger than he is, and every time he played at the Rock, he was on the scoresheet. Maybe the place likes him already.

Free agents have a tantalizing effect on fans: they look shiny, exciting and new, and as the season unfolds you see exactly what your ticket, food and parking dollars are funding. A healthy and head-intact Ryan Clowe, a Michael Ryder with someone who can feed him the puck, and a feisty Cammalleri reshape this team with lots of potential energy – if it produces chemistry, fun, and some wins, we can still be cheering loudly for hockey in May.

Free Agency vs Loyalty

Zach Parise is going to play out his hockey days in the first state of hockey. I’m not sure of the proper nomenclature for an individual on a team that uses a non-plural name – he’s a Wild or a member of the Wild or as my Yiddish speaking relatives would say, a vilde. That’s as far as the name-calling will go; in the few days since the signing was announced I experienced mild anger and then was quickly over it.

The facts are that Parise is a great player and was a solid captain. His grit and fire during the Rangers series contributed heavily to the Devils making it to the Finals. He was a solid scorer during the regular season, and has been fun to watch since his rookie year. He was one of the guys you could count on to sign oddball objects after practice (in the days of open practices at South Mountain), and he had that homey air that made you believe what he said. He chose not to talk to the media after a particularly bad playoff game, then came back and played his heart out two nights later. Actions, not words.

It’s words, however, that stuck with me after hearing of Parise’s decision to leave New Jersey, specifically: winning, money, and family.

Parise repeatedly said he wanted to win, and go play for a team with the best chance of winning. Clearly, as a leader and scorer, he can move the needle on most teams in the league, but the Wild were last in the league in scoring even after bringing Dany Healtey and Devon Setoguchi onto the top line. Winning is a function of all positions on the ice, coaching, and player motivation. Compare the Devils in the first and second halves of the 2010-2011 season.

What bothers me most about his contract is the large up front bonus this year – it’s a hedge against a player lockout, and it’s effectively betting against himself, the league and his peers in the Player’s Association. It’s equivalent to selling your own company stock short because you’re afraid it might go down — my employer (and most others) prohibit such behavior, and my personal attitude is that if you aren’t making the stock more valuable, you’re part of the problem. Even the messaging of this structure has to inject tension where compromise would be in everyone’s best interests.

The draw of family in Minnesota was clearly strong, but part of being a pro athlete is making your home where your team hangs its helmets. Hedberg asked for a two-year deal so he could uproot his school-aged kids and wife and move them to New Jersey. Comparisons to over-compensating sports fathers like Carlos Gomez (father of 100-games-goalless-Scott Gomez), or overly-important sports spouses like Veronika Varekova (the former Mrs. Peter Nedved, who refused to move to Edmonton), are obvious but misplaced – if Parise wanted to play in front of his parents, $90M buys a lot of airplane tickets, nice North Jersey apartments, and dinners with the grandkids. Minnesota is home, it’s a tremendously passionate place for hockey, but the Devils and their fans invested in Zach from the 2003 draft through his captaincy. Home can be cut from that kind of whole cloth.

I can’t dismiss what Parise did with the Devils or his skills on and off the ice. He helped me watch a Stanley Cup Finals with my college-bound son, and there was a lot of joy in the house thanks to his efforts, not just this season but through his career. It’s sad, though, when free agency pits loyalty against self, and upsetting when a team leader doesn’t follow the lead of other players who have benefitted from Lamariello largesse (Elias and Brodeur specifically). If the Wild don’t turn into a contender within a few short years, and Parise’s potential Hall of Fame career is relegated to a few statistical entries, then we can question loyalty over free agency and legacy over personality.

Four Reasons The Devils Will Beat The Rangers

I’m going to invite the evil eye and all other manners of superstitious bad karma by saying the Devils will beat the Rangers to go on to the Stanley Cup Finals (against the LA Kings, who have taken the slot reserved for “One of Gretzky’s Former Teams”). I’m fully prepared to ward off all untoward energies, having packed my playoff towel and my “Chico Eats” t-shirt to enjoy the game remotely tomorrow night. The parallels to 2000 are plentiful: I’m in a Starwood hotel, watching a big game against a hated rival, and I’ll likely be yelling at the TV. In 2000, I got a call from a Westin front desk manager asking me exactly who “Freakin’ Brylin” was and if he could do what he was doing without me hollering. We know how that one ended up (I now stay at another hotel in the Boston area).

Without further historical arcana, here are four reasons the Devils are going deep(er):

Creativity. First the sports press said the Devils couldn’t get by the Rangers’ shot-blocking. Then it was the Rangers defensive scoring prowess. And the Lundqvist meme keeps surfacing like a bad Facebook virus. The Devils are winning by being creative, and for that credit goes equally to the players and Peter DeBoer. On the first goal in Game 4, Josefson set a huge scren in front (in his first playoff game); on the second goal Parise waited for the shot-blocker to slide wide, then fed Zajac. The oft-repeated basic tenet of hockey is to create time and space – time moving with the puck, space moving without it. The Devils are doing both to control the pace of play, and more important, control the shape of play in the attack zone. Leave your feet all you want to block shots — they’ll just skate around.

Responsibility: Parise decided not to talk to the media after Game 3, then came up huge in Game 4. Everyone is focused on the job at hand, and it translates into every little detail of the game. Was I sad to see Petr Sykora in the press box for Game 4? Yes, but the decision to play Josefson was smart. DeBoer is making good calls and the team is sticking with him, his decisions and his style. Elias may not have a point this series, but he’s running the forecheck from center or left wing, driving the power play from the half boards and killing penalties. The Rangers blue line gets the press, but Bryce Salvador has the highest plus/minus rating on both teams at +9.

Poise: The Rangers lost it in Game 4. Hagelin took two dumb penalties on either end of consecutive shifts. Mike Rupp lost any remaining fans he had in the Devils Army when he sucker punched Brodeur. Tortorella can whine about picks and missed calls, but that goes out the window when he races to the glass at the end of his bench, finger wagging, to scream at DeBoer.

Respect. While in the Tortorella vein, the same coach who made a stink about DeBoer starting his scrapper line (in March) sent out Bickel, Boyle and Rupp late in the third period of a game in which they were down two goals. The Rangers have had two players suspended during the playoffs for head shots, and Gaborik received an implicit gift for not having a sit-down with Shanahan regarding his elbow to the head in Game 4. The issue of respect is more than respect for the game or for your fellow athletes; it’s about conducting yourself with a high ethical standard at all times. A number of my regular Devils fan crew have tried to put our collective fingers on what we despise about the Rangers, and I think it comes down to respect – despite a storied arena, a 85 year old Original Six history, and a penchant for buying the premier free agents every season, the Rangers never seem to exhibit respect in any way, and it surfaces as an air of superiority or above-the-law behavior that is tiring even when not echoed by Rangers fans. That lack of respect shows up when Mike Rupp punches his former team mate, or Chris Drury deteriorates so badly he is bought out of his exhorbitant contract, or Scott Gomez forgets how to score goals and make plays (that time and space thing again), or why Bobby Holik believes he is the hockey themed Albert Camus whenever he opens his mouth.

For all that is good, fun, and competitive about a simple game played by simple men: Devils in 6.

Kovulchuk Is A Devil

I’m flat-out delighted that Ilya Kovulchuk will be a New Jersey Devil for the next 17 years. The last time I was this happy was when Elias signed a 7-year deal assuring he’d play in New Jersey until the Bubba graduated from high school. Kovulchuk might be the first player that we cheer through four generations of my family: my parents, me, our kids, and with the length of this contract, possibly some grandchildren. Don’t tell my kids.

Kovulchuk wears #17 in honor of Valeri Kharlamov, whom he was only able to watch on tape, sitting with his father. It’s a story I wouldn’t mind telling to some new leaves in the family tree.

Blogging during the press conference now being streamed on the Devils website

Parise, Brodeur and Elias sitting in the front row, talking like it’s the first day of school and they’re all discussing what they did on summer vacation. Kovulchuk looks relaxed, he’s making jokes, and he said quite simply “there is unfinished business from last season.” He admits to being nervous, and he’s joking from the stage. It’s hard not to like this guy. “I’ll be a Devil for life”. Jersey does that to you.

Do Stan Fischler’s questions add value or only repeat the obvious? I think the question answered itself.

Here is some of my own thinking about this 17-year deal: The Devils are thinking long-term, and are building the value of this franchise. Every playoff game played in the Rock earns the Devils about $1 million (16,000 tickets at an average of $50 plus concession sales net of operating costs). If the Devils play five more playoff games over the next few years, the team could eat the end of this contract and still be ahead on operating margin.

Pathetic Devils Effort

Why are Colin White and Mike Mottau together? On the winning goal, Colin White (a) followed his guy behind the net (b) reached, leaned and otherwise made lazy swipes at the puck and (c) left Mottau to remember to cover the weak side (oops). These two don’t belong on the ice at all, let alone playing first pair defense. The same dumb mistakes re-inforcing each other. It’s like the cyclotron of stupid. The particle accelerator of bad defensive plays. Who needs the Large Hadron Collider when you have these two ejecting pucks to the Flyers at near-relativistic speeds?

Will Elias hold on to the puck? Patty, we love you, but shoot the puck, control it, and more crisp passes please?

I’m laughing that Kovulchuk believes this post-season will help set his market value. It will, but his stock is taking it in the shorts worse than Goldman Sachs right now.

Langenbrunner either needs to step up and get pissed off, like Scott Stevens, or step down as captain. Amazing that the biggest emotional outburst from him all season was when Lemaire sat him for a game. Go listen to some more emo music, maybe that stack of Coldplay albums and Dave Matthews whining will help you find a way to get your teammates to step up.

No shots in the last fifteen minutes of regulation is a sign that either the wrong guys are on the ice, or the right guys are on the ice too long. Stop juggling the lines, let guys know who they’re skating with, and then demand that they produce. Or sit them. Why is it every coach gets this except Lemaire? No forecheck, no pressure, no movement. If you don’t create time and space, all you do is drop back and set up a shooting gallery for Marty – an appropriate description of tonight’s game.

Pair Mike Mottau with whoever else is in the press box on Tuesday. It’s a must-win game, and he’s a must-move player.

And finally, Devils fans – can we please sell out a home playoff game? I know it’s hard to cheer for an effort like the one tonight, but if we come back to the Rock even up, Game 5 matters. Let’s support the team. Then everyone who paid for a ticket can join in the call for White, Mottau, Langenbrunner, Kovulchuk and Lemaire to collectively figure out which end is the one they’re supposed to shoot in.

I don’t mind watching the Devils lose games. It’s a game, it happens. I hate to see them lose games when they look like they’re already packing it in. That’s not what professionals are supposed to do, and the lack of professional effort is flat-out disturbing, from behind the bench to lazy plays behind the net.

Marty looked great. Without him, it would have been a 6-2 drubbing. I know the Devils haven’t won in Philadelphia since my hair was all black, but three of the remaining games are there. Figure it out.

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Powe, Right In The Smacker

Once again Princeton University graduate Darroll Powe put one past Marty, and that’s what it took to unravel a pair of winning streaks. Powe scored on opening night as well, seemingly deflating the Devils out of the gate. Tonight’s goal wasn’t the turning point (it was Van Riemsdyk’s goal that Marty didn’t see in the 3rd), but it definitely showed which was the ice was tilting.

The problem with streaks is that after a while, people pay more attention to the statistics than to the end goals (playoffs, player development, fan attraction, financial management). Better to pick up points consistently than to be streaking one way or the other – averaging 1.25 points per game (or about a 63% points efficiency) is usually enough for a good playoff seeding. I’m not upset the streak of away wins or consecutive wins ended, as the Devils were close to 90% point efficient. You’re going to lose games, although I wish they weren’t to the Flyers.

Much more concerning to me: Darroll Powe basically walked onto the Flyers. Here was a kid playing less than an hour’s drive from the Rock, and the Devils didn’t chase him? He looked like he had the Devils defense scrambling for half of the last three minutes of the game tonight, simply forechecking strongly enough to keep Brodeur in the net. Madden and Rafalski were the oft-discussed “undrafted” players; the Devils draft has produced some huge winners (Parise, Bergfors) but their ability to spot talent outside of the fresh-faced set should be just as good, and it hasn’t produced in the past five or six years.

Even more concerning: schedule compression. Devils lost in their third game in four nights, and fourth in six nights. That’s incredibly tight game timing, and it’s a result of taking a few weeks off for the Olympics. I’m betting it’s one reason there have been a rash of serious injuries to marquee players, and it should be a sign of caution for the banged-up bodies (Niedermeyer, Pandolfo, Martin, Oduya, Elias to a lesser extent, Langenbrunner to a bit) to focus on strong, rather than fast, returns.

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Freshman Week With the Devils

Bubba and I attended the Devils’ opening night game at the Rock, and we’re willing to take the blame for the humiliation personally. We left our Elias jerseys at home (in honor of Patrik’s rehab) and rocked it old school red. Our bad. We’ll skip the Carvel during a future game as penance.

But more seriously — I’ve resisted writing about the Devils so far this season because it was hard to find a starting point. The first two games were a disaster from start to finish: lackluster skating, turnovers, lack of aggression, lack of scoring, and a Marty that looked like
his bicep rehab involved reaching for donuts. And then this road trip was the polar opposite: skating until the final buzzer, puck control along the boards, scoring when it counted and the Brodeur with complete crease ownership.

What do I think? I think freshman week is over, and the Devils are ready to get the semester going.

Rob Niedermayer was clearly a great pick up. There are nights I’m going to miss John Madden, but Niedermayer is more than a suitable win here.

The ZZ Pops line needs to relax. They’re working the puck well, the shots will fall.

Niclas Bergfors is a name that hockey announcers will learn to pronounce with glee.

Jacques Lemaire tells it like it is. He was brutal about Brodeur’s performance opening night, and he’s open about his thinking when it comes to defenseman, lines, and even when Danis is going to get a start.

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Free (Technology) Agents

Had breakfast with a friend this morning who commented on the state of the economy in and around our neighborhood by saying that “there are many free agents available.” He wasn’t talking about the Yankees, Mets, Devils, Rangers, Knicks, Nets, or any other sports franchise that funnels ticket revenue into the hands of free agent players who haven’t delivered a local championship since 2003 (Devils, Stanley Cup). His perception was that with many technology people on the move, the market is ripe for new ideas coming to fruition in new (and old) companies; cyclical unemployment injects strategy and experience into companies that invest in newly available players. Friend’s summary comment: “In two years, we’ll see another wave of breakthrough innovations.” It would be an early indicator of technology helping the economy innovate its way out of the current slump.

Why would this work for technology companies and not sports franchises? Quite simply, the acquisition of a free agent is unlikely to change the basic strategy of a team or the rules of a game. Strategic changes in a game almost always result from a lack of talent, not the sudden availability of creative people.

In this current NHL season, the NJ Devils changed from a defensive-minded style to a goal-scoring, offensive strategy when goaltender Martin Brodeur suffered an injury requiring four months of recovery. Late San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh perfected the West Coast Offense (read Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side for a compelling story wrapped in a West Coast Offense) and forced strategic defensive changes in the game. And the grandfather of several current NBA offensive schemes is Pete Carrill’s Princeton Offense. What do all three have in common? They were designed to deal with a deficit of talent or skill: goaltending and first-rate defense (Devils), rushing (West Coast Offense), and height (Princeton Offense).

The barriers to entry for new ideas have never been lower: you can develop your idea using a wealth of open source software, deploy it to test in a cloud infrastructure and leverage social networking mechanisms to spread awareness. It’s a ripe environment for engineers to give us something (locally) to celebrate.

Weird Week In Review

It was a strange week. Last week was actually stranger, as I had a few rough work days strung together by red-eye, delayed and over-booked flights across the country. But it ended well, if not equally strangely, when the Devils broke their 6-game losing streak by grounding the Bolts. But even for a Devils game, it was a strange day, indeed:

Bubba announced, publicly, that the Devils would end their losing streak as he was attending the game. The Devils have never lost with little Bubba in the (new) building. Not once in 19 tries, and last Friday was indeed a try. When the Devils went down 2-0 Bubba was bent, but not broken. He’s got more of what my grandmother would call koyach (strength, backbone) than his dad.

Before even departing Bubba-dom, I wavered on my jersey selection. Yes, I wear an appropriate jersey to each game. Yes, it looks like I’m 4 months pregnant and wrapped in nylon. Normally, Bubba picks up his Czech Olympic Elias jersey and I wear my Metallurg Elias jersey, but for some reason I went very — very very — old school: The red Koho Devils jersey from 2000, with a crest more wrinkled than the face you make when Rupp takes another dumb roughing penalty. Bubba talked me out of it. Czech mates we were.

As soon as we landed in our seats (last row of Section 21), Chico came by ostensibly on his way to the bathroom. We got high fives. A period later, NJ Devil came by, and gave us more high fives (although in his larger than life state, they count as seven and a halves, I think).

Despite Holik taking (another) dumb penalty, the Devils wrangled a power play out of it when Jeff Halpern came flying in from the far circle to rough up Holik. Halpern? The Princeton guy? Bubba’s quote: He didn’t learn that in Hebrew school.

Shanahan scored on a penalty shot, becoming the oldest player to do so in the NHL.

Throw in the other strangeness of the night — Weekes getting hurt and Marty playing in a game he was meant to sit back and enjoy; two blown leads in the third period; the thrown stick resulting in the penalty shot; Elias coming onto the ice in a suit (nursing a leg injury) to honor Marty — and the net result should have been something bizarre. A goal overturned by Toronto. Holik or Rupp bouncing one in off of Marty’s rear end. But none of that happened; if there was a bottom to be found in the market for Devils wins, we found it. It was good. Weekes isn’t down for the count. Devils won in OT. The Bubba streak was preserved. It may have been a weird week, but upon further review, it ended well.

All-Star Break

Call me quelle stupide but the Devils just embarassed l’habitant du but: Price wasn’t the guardian of the net tonight, he was a regular resident inside the twine. If I still lived in Boston, I’d already be relishing the morning headlines forming puns on the Canadiens nom du plume: Hab A Nice Break. Habbin’ A Streak. Heaven Hab Us, Devils On Top.

So the Devils enter the break in first place, after a 24-hour stint back in second thanks to the Rangers’ scheduling urgency and the Ducks’ inability to convert at the Garden. What can we expect down the stretch?

Will Elias, Parise or someone else break 100 points for the first time in franchise history?

Will the team have a 50 goal scorer, again for the first time?

Can the Devils actually have two of the top ten scorers in the league, during the same season?

Will we see Jay Pandolfo again as time, age and the late season duress catch up with Rolston, Holik or Shanahan?

When Marty is back, will things get even better, and will Sutter finally give Marty the rest and recuperation he needs going into the playoffs?

Elias’ absence from the All-Star Game shows the dangers inherent in starting the process before Election Day and allowing more creative voting than a Florida election. Patrik is the only top-ten forward (statistically) not represented in Montreal this weekend, but as usual he’ll take it in stride and let his stick do the talking until April.