The700Level's Interview With Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski on the State of the Devils

The700Level's Interview With Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski on the State of the Devils

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.

At any point in the 2010 playoffs, which were obviously a disappointment for the Devils, or in the off-season, could you have imagined the team in dead last place halfway through the next season?

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.

Philadelphia Union announce 2017 broadcast schedule

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Philadelphia Union announce 2017 broadcast schedule

CHESTER, Pa. (Feb. 21, 2017) – Philadelphia Union today announced their 2017 Major League Soccer broadcast schedule, with all 34 of the club’s matches available live, on local and national television. A total of four matches will be featured on local broadcast television via 6abc, with 20 matches on The Comcast Network (TCN) and five on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia (CSN). The Union are also slated to be on national television five times in 2017, appearing on ESPN four times and FS1 once.

Union supporters can catch the club on 6abc in four marquee fixtures: Saturday, April 22 vs. Montreal; Saturday, June 24 vs. D.C. United; Sunday, October 15 at Chicago; and Sunday, October 22 vs. Orlando on MLS Decision Day.

Additionally, the club will be on national television for the following games: Friday, April 14 vs. New York City FC (ESPN); Sunday, June 18 vs. New York Red Bulls (ESPN); Sunday, July 2 vs. New England (FS1); Sunday, September 17 at New York Red Bulls (ESPN); and Sunday, October 1 vs. the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC (ESPN).

See below for a full summary of the Union’s 2017 MLS regular-season schedule, including all broadcast information:

Philadelphia begins the 2017 campaign by playing at Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sunday, March 5 (TCN / 9:30 p.m. ET) before returning to Talen Energy Stadium for the 2017 home opener on Saturday, March 11 against Toronto FC (CSN / 4:30 p.m. ET). In addition to Season Tickets, fans can now purchase Partial Plans and Group Tickets for all Philadelphia Union matches at Talen Energy Stadium.  For the first time, the Union will be offering a Fully Flex 9 Game Plan where fans can select their games along with a Tiered Flex 5 Game plan. Fans can purchase or find out more info by visiting PhiladelphiaUnion.com/tickets or calling 1-877-21-UNION.

DeSean Jackson is playing the Eagles against the NFL

DeSean Jackson is playing the Eagles against the NFL

The Eagles sure could use a wide receiver, and DeSean Jackson is a free agent. Jackson even said it himself in an interview that ran on Tuesday: a reunion with the Eagles would be a good story.

Or perhaps a story that's almost too good to be true.

Don't get me wrong, Jackson could very well wind up back in an Eagles uniform once everything is said and done. He can become a free agent in March. There's an obvious need at wide receiver. Jackson never wanted to leave Philadelphia in the first place, and the person responsible for that — Chip Kelly — is long gone. It makes perfect sense.

So much sense, Jackson can use what is considered common knowledge around the NFL for leverage in contract negotiations with 31 other teams.

Jackson is a smart, calculating guy, especially when it comes to business. He doesn't even have to say he wants to play for the Eagles for people to presume the interest is there, and more to the point, he hasn't.

When a bunch of Philly reporters pressed Jackson about his impending free agency in October, he said there were no hard feelings with the Eagles. When confronted again in December, the three-time Pro Bowler responded that you never know what can happen. On Tuesday, Jackson flat out admitted he's thought about a potential return — while describing talk of it as "a lot of speculation."

There are reports the Eagles will pursue Jackson should he hit the market on March 9. The 30-year-old speedster will be happy to field their call.

Along with the rest of the calls he'll get from around the league.

Unlike the Eagles, Jackson has come right out and said he wants to remain in Washington, and as recently as two weeks ago. Whether the interest is mutual on the Redskins' part remains to be seen, particularly at Jackson's contract demands, but that's a lot stronger than any suggestion he's made to the contrary.

Another report emerged on Tuesday that indicates the Buccaneers are a potential landing spot for Jackson as well, citing a pre-existing rapport with quarterback Jameis Winston. In other words, at the very least, there are more teams competing for his services.

Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa Bay, the West Coast, wherever — this is ultimately going to come down to which one can or is willing to make the most attractive offer.

That might be strike one against the Eagles already. They don't have a great deal of room to maneuver under the salary cap as of now, and while additional money could become available, signing Jackson for around $10 million per year or more would be a strain no matter what.

Keep in mind, Jackson is simply answering the questions he's asked about the Eagles. He's not running around from one media outlet to the other trying to create a market there. And in all honesty, his answers have been lukewarm at best, essentially amounting to, Sure, I'll listen if the Eagles call. Why not?

In the meantime, that puts the rest of the NFL on notice. The Eagles can be very competitive in free agency when they choose to be, and if they really want Jackson — and there are people in high-ranking places that probably wouldn't mind that — they will be players. Even if the Eagles have no serious intention of chasing Jackson, the perception is out there.

Jackson certainly understands that, and he hasn't had to put much effort into keeping the fire burning. He's more or less let the flames fan themselves.

Ultimately, Jackson to the Eagles isn't the least bit unlikely. Yet the idea that he's going to show the club any more deference than another doesn't seem quite as plausible when his comments, this entire situation are placed under the microscope.

Words are cheap. Signing Jackson, on the other hand, will not be. Not for the Eagles. Not for anybody. Not while he's expertly pitting his suitors against one another in the DeSean Jackson Sweepstakes.

The winner isn't going to be based on sentimental favorite or nostalgia. It's who's going to make the best deal for Jackson.