Readers of this site will no doubt be familiar with Puck Daddy, Yahoo's outstanding hockey blog. Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy's editor, has put together a great site that highlights everything going on in the NHL, and we think he does it with just the right amount of objectivity and natural bias. That's saying something, too, considering that he's an unabashed New Jersey Devils fan, so his natural biases contrast our own. Coming out of the recent Flyers-Devils home-and-home, we asked Greg if he'd answer some questions on the state of the Devils, who have fallen from first in the Atlantic to last overall in the NHL in just one half season. Here's what he had to say.
No, of course not. It’s one thing to be heartless, aged and overwhelmed in the playoffs. But if there was one consistent thing about the Devils in the last decade, it’s regular season dominance no matter how the playoffs turned out.
What the hell happened? I mean, it’s obviously a lot of things, but it’s not often you see a division winner go to the NHL cellar in just one off-season. What’s the short answer on what made the floor fall out beneath the Devils?
The best way I can describe it: Picture your wife telling you she’s moving out because she’s sleeping with your brother and she ran over your dog as she was taking your baseball cards to the dump. Oh, and she’s keeping the condo. In other words, it was a combination of devastating injuries, poor goaltending, worse coaching and players that couldn’t live up to the expectations of their contracts.
When the Devils landed Ilya Kovalchuk in a trade, you were understandably excited. But looking back, was he the wrong piece at the wrong time?
Not at all. Nothing they gave up for Kovalchuk would have made a difference in the playoffs, and he was a point-per-game player in the regular season for them. He freaked out and pressed in the postseason, but I’d have made that trade again. Lou was swinging for the fences.
To us, the move was incredibly out of character for a system-first franchise like the Devils, and the extension was that times ten. What do you think caused the philosophical change in the organization?
I was excited, but I was honestly in a “take it or leave it” place with him. Philosophically, nothing about the Kovalchuk signing made sense for the Devils, from his not fitting the system to his being the third all-star left wing on the roster.
The assumption is that ownership forced the signing, but that’s speculation.
Where people really miss the boat on the Devils is that the Kovalchuk signing was part of a larger, systemic problem with the team. As all-star defensemen kept leaving, little effort was made to replace them with equally talented D-men. Instead, millions were spent on retaining veteran forwards or bringing in new ones.
Lou Lamoriello has indicated that Martin Brodeur won't be among the cargo thrown off his sinking ship, and he also shuns any notion that the team is rebuilding. With the Devils in last place and looking likely to miss the playoffs, if not remain in last, would you prefer to see Brodeur end his legendary career in Jersey black and red, or that the team get as much future stock as they can in exchange for the guys looking likely to depart?
No, I’d rather he retire as a Devil. Sooner rather than later.
If you’re Lamoriello, what moves are you making? Are you willing to call the rest of this season a rebuilding period, even if he isn’t?
I don’t even know how to approach this team or this season. It’s still a shock. Part of you wonders if this is a good team that was simply crushed by an avalanche of different factors and didn’t have a chance to gel. Another part wants Lou to blow up the roster, get younger and rebuild around Kovalchuk and Parise.
The priority is re-signing Parise, longterm. If he’s up for it.
What is the future of the Devils goaltending situation? After years of domination by Brodeur, we’re enjoying some downtime in the Jersey crease.
Well, I’m happy to hear poor goaltending is such a source of enjoyment. You must have been in ecstasy when Kane scored that OT goal …
I imagine when Marty retires, there will be some veteran stop-gaps until they can develop another young goalie (which they don’t have in the system).
A lot of Fans in the northern parts of New Jersey support the Rangers (or in some odd cases the Islanders), and South Jersey is the domain of the Flyers, from the Delaware to the Atlantic. What’s it like to be caught in the middle of New Jersey’s hockey fan identity crisis?
That’s a really odd question. I never thought of it as an identity crisis at all. Jersey’s big enough for different fan bases, in different regions. And it’s an accepted part of Devils fandom that there are going to be NY and Philly fans in your school, in your neighborhood and your arena.
This seems like a question you might have asked in 1991.
I’d get into the challenges for the Devils in drawing fans to the arena, and their own failings to that end, but I’m afraid my fingers might cramp up from the amount of typing it would take.
To an outsider who supports a team that has never won a Cup in his lifetime but is used to a mostly packed building, it seems the Devils will never have truly great fan support at home. Does it bother you to see so many empty seats in the home building of one of the most successful franchises in terms of relatively recent Stanley Cup championships?
Sure. You’d love to see the arena full every night, because it’s a better atmosphere.
But I stopped staring at the attendance figures in the box score a long time ago. It is what it is, and just like it’s been for the last 20 years, it’s up to the Devils to cultivate a broader fan base. Lou and management didn’t feel that was vital during the Cup years, and it’s a never-ending debate for Devils fans about whether a catalyst for that success was the Devils not over-marketing their players and product.
I think for a team that’s competing with roughly 12 other teams for entertainment dollars, they do OK, considering their allergy to marketing and their style of play.
What would it take to change that reality?
More Devils fans. And lower ticket prices during winning seasons, rather than giveaways when the team is ass.