Sunday, December 28, 2014

That's So Lou

In case you missed the news over Christmas weekend 2014, the Devils made a coaching change and created a unique coaching situation. Out is head coach Peter DeBoer and assistant (and ex-Devil player) Dave Barr. Back in are Hall of Fame GM and former interim Devils head coach Lou Lamoriello to oversee things behind the bench (technically, interim head coach) and former Devils assistant coaches (from the DeBoer era) and Hall of Fame players Adam Oates (to run the forwards) and Scott Stevens (to run the defense).

It creates a unique situation because Lou isn't going to be behind the bench forever, and he's really observing more than he is running things. Oates is the offensive coordinator and Stevens is the defensive coordinator, with it basically known that the two are co-coaches (rather than what they were under DeBoer or in any other conventional coaching situation). Lou doesn't want to commit to one over the other...yet (Oates left the Devils in 2012 to become head coach in Washington, where he lasted 2 seasons and Stevens wants to be a head coach come day, and left the Devils in 2014 over philosophical differences with DeBoer). Lou has gone so far as to say that this situation isn't guaranteed past the end of this season.

It's thinking outside the box, which is something Lou is somewhat known for. I'll use the term "that's so Lou". Heck, the original hiring of Lou in 1987 was "so Lou". He's an outside the box thinker. After the initial firing of DeBoer was announced, it really shouldn't have surprised anyone that Lou would create this unique situation. Lou might have been asleep at the wheel since, well, (at least) since DeBoer was hired in 2011. But Lou's back, and probably for a final big bang with this organization which he built into a winner.

So back to this situation. I will preface this by saying that I've been calling for DeBoer to be fired for almost 2 years. Lou's fired coaches of Devils teams going to the playoffs. He fired MacLean, an ex-Devils player, after almost half a season in 2010-11. I don't know how he let DeBoer get away with missing the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. And then again in the full 2013-14 season. So bringing in not one but two coaches to fix things shows just how bad of a situation DeBoer created in New Jersey. And I don't disagree with that statement, that two coaches were needed to fix this. I don't think either of these guys, as a singular head coach, could have done the job alone.

I used the terms "offensive coordinator" and "defensive coordinator" earlier. That's a football analogy, for those that don't follow that sport. And employing that in hockey is a bit different, it's not a new concept to coaching, just something outside the box for hockey. But I think it's the right thing. First, they have problems in both areas. Second, in football, sometimes, an offensive or defensive coordinator makes a good head coach, and sometimes they don't, finding themselves back in the familiar role with another club. Adam Oates had his first chance as head coach in Washington, and it didn't work out, and Scott Stevens is looking for that chance somewhere, and after seeing another ex-Devil who was groomed for the job here not work out (John MacLean), I'd be a little gun shy about doing that with Stevens too. Maybe one of them will make a great Devils head coach, and maybe they won't. Trying to salvage the season isn't exactly the place to find that out. But these are the two coaches who can try to fix the Devils enough to make a run with the players they have in just over half a season.

I think this situation could even work long-term. But, they would need someone other than Lou to tie it together (nothing against Lou, he's clearly an interim in that role). Maybe that falls on Oates. Maybe that falls on Stevens. Maybe that falls on assistant coach Mike Foligno, or on someone from outside of the organization. But someone needs to be in charge, on the bench, even if it's just a figure head.

Heck, maybe this is even a new paradigm in hockey coaching. Maybe a lasting legacy of Lou. Because that would be "so Lou".

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Devils Fandom is at a Crossroads

Fridays's news got me thinking...differently...about my Devils fandom. Let me put this out there - I am NOT thinking of jumping ship or even dropping my season tickets - but for the first time in my time as Devils fan (which dates back to somewhere between 1987 and 1995), the Devils have pretty much hit rock bottom.

After Lou Lamoriello took over as GM (among other roles) in the summer of 1987, the Devils made the playoffs for the first time in their history (which dates back to the 1982-83 season) in 1988, after which the Devils had only missed twice before the summer of 2011. They've missed the playoffs 3 times in 4 seasons since then, with the chance of making it 4 in 5 if they can't turn things around in the next 3 1/2 months. I never knew the days of struggle. And I really didn't know much of the Devils life before their first Stanley Cup. This is foreign territory to me.

For the first time since I was even aware of the New Jersey Devils, people are saying that Lou Lamoriello's time has come and gone. He's a Hall of Fame GM whose time to leave was maybe as much as 10 years ago. So there's the potential for a new era in my Devils fandom. For the first time since I became a full-on Devils fan, Martin Brodeur isn't with the club, which is certainly a new era in my Devils fandom.

And another first in my time...and maybe it will never be publically's time for rebuilding the franchise in New Jersey. We got new owners in 2013. Lou's closer to the end than the beginning. And one thing we've learned by the firing of a bad coach was that there's a lot of player problems too (too old, young kids not developing, lost talent).

It's definitely a crossroads for my Devils fandom. Time for the team to take this coaching change, and maybe this season, and turn the corner.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Say it ain't so, Marty

You are now a St. Louis Blue. I don't really know how to feel about this. There is a small part of me happy for you because you seem to have gotten what you wanted...another game to test out that competitive fire. A chance at going for 700 wins.

But Marty, you have committed treason. Okay, treason in a hockey sense (nobody will actually die because of this and no government is being overthrown). I won't use the word "traitor"...that one is reserved for you if you join the Rags. But this still isn't right. Seeing you play in an NHL game for anyone besides the New Jersey Devils is a betrayal.

It hurts me to say this, Marty, but I've thought you should hang up your goalie pads and mask since last season ended. You received a nice sendoff from Devils fans, many of whom knew it was your last game as a New Jersey Devil, even if we were a bit unsure exactly what was going on. But you didn't end last season well. Your skills diminished late in the season. It started with that outdoor game. Why tarnish your career stat sheet after 21 years by sticking a team that isn't the New Jersey Devils on it, if just for a few games? Why risk a little bit of ego trying to play when you just might not have it anymore?

But on Saturday afternoon, I'm going to head out to Long Island to see this act of treason in person. Maybe it's like wanting to slow down as you pass an accident scene. Maybe there's some unfinished business on my end because there is some on your end. And maybe it's to raise a charge of "TreasoNJ" (a bad attempt to blend the word "treason" with "NJ") in person. I don't know. But I have to go see it.

Why all this over Brodeur? He's the Franchise. Now in another uniform.
Say it ain't so, Marty.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Maybe it's time for some changes

The Devils are off to a better start than last year (5-3-2, 12 points through 10 games, good for 3rd in the Metro division this year versus 1-5-4 for 6 points through 10 games last year). It's a pace for 98 points where 93 made the playoffs in the East last year (the Devils finished with 88). But there are still a lot of reasons the Devils need to make changes.

First, they're somewhere between measures for a .500 team ("NHL .500" is referred to as an average of 1 standings point per game, which the Devils are slightly above, at 1.2; in pure wins and losses, ".500" is wins in half of the games, which the Devils have exactly that). But the really need to be better. It's early in the season, so the standings are somewhat volatile right now. Three teams are only 2 points behind the Devils, and they're tied with another team at 12 points. And that's just in the division where only the top 3 teams make the playoffs. They're also a point out of first. 5-3-2 would be out of the playoffs if they were in the current Atlantic Division. I expect things to shuffle a bit this season. Status quo isn't going to be good enough.

The Devils wins were also bunched up (3) at the start of the season, and the team blew leads in 4 straight games (including an OT win) before winning without leading on Thursday night. Twice in 10 games things got bad enough where the goalie was replaced.

I've long been a critic of Peter DeBoer and his mis-management of the players he's given, from frequent chemistry-killing line changes (both in game and between games), not managing the young players well (example: Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Jacob Josephson), as well as a lot of some basic hockey things that should be handled during practice (like passing that his team doesn't seem to grasp and penalty kill). He's also missed the playoffs in an un-Devil-like 2 seasons in a row (I almost consider the 2012 team, the only playoff appearance in 4 seasons, but the first under his watch, as a fluke), and there are a lot of these little things that could spell out a third.

Look at the last game, against Winnipeg on Thursday night. The team looked uncoordinated (not the first time in his term that I've noticed it) for most of the game. Sloppy passing, veteran defenseman getting beat. Things turned when Salvador was benched in the 3rd period. Salvador's skill level has been slipping for some time now, and maybe it's time for him to take a more regular seat (he can still be a presence in the clubhouse if that's where he gets praise) to allow more playing time for Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson, or even allow another young defenseman from the Albany team get into the lineup.

Speaking of Albany, I went to see them play last Saturday night. The Albany team hasn't lost in regulation this season (6 wins and a shootout loss, which I think reads out to 6-0-0-1). They looked coordinated. There wasn't one dominant player that should get an immediate call up (though Boucher did because of injury, and one or two of the defenseman are on the "watch" list) like I noticed with both Merrill and Gelinas when I saw them play last year. Everybody playing was playing well. They didn't look tired in a back-to-back like their parent club did that same night.

There was even one point in the game where I saw Peter Harrold (the 7th defenseman in NJ for some time, now playing in Albany) keeping the puck in the zone, and I said to my friend that in NJ, that puck would have gotten out, even with the same Peter Harrold playing in the same spot. I meant it somewhat as a joke, but there's a lot of meaning behind it. I think the Albany team is a lot better coached than the NJ team is. Now the NJ team has a lot of veterans who should know how to play hockey, but the coach is there to make them play as a team and to keep them sharp and to keep them from tiring out with his management of ice time both during the game and practice, knowing the demands of the schedule. What do they work on in practice anyway? So many things I've seen in NJ that need a lot of practice.

So I think it's time for some changes. DeBoer needs to go. I wonder if Rick Kowalsky would be the right guy to come in this season and replace DeBoer (or even next season as not to disrupt the success in Albany while using an interim coach in NJ). With more young players playing who played for Kowalsky in Albany (Gelinas, Boucher, Merrill, Larsson, Josephson and quite a few more in the pipeline), it might be better to have their coach come up too. I also think Salvador should remain on the bench in favor of Larsson and Gelinas. If Larsson proves to be a bust, there are more players in Albany that can make the move.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

You've Got to Fight. For Your Right. For MAR-TY

That title, if it didn't come across well, is a play on the title of the 1986 Beastie Boys single (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!), but with a twist to Marty Brodeur.

We've been through this drill once or twice before, but TODAY really really really really could be the last game as a New Jersey Devil for the Devils franchise goalie. I'm actually trying not to get choked up writing and thinking this.

I've got some scattered memories of the Devils going back to the late '80s in the years before Brodeur, but I've never followed the Devils on a day-to-day basis without Martin Brodeur being the goaltender. Sure there have been a couple of times when Marty was out with an injury, but we knew that eventually Marty would be, as a mother might say to a young child talking about a boo-boo, "all better" (giving rise to the chants of "Marty's Better"). Only during this season's trade deadline did the sudden and non-April reality come close to being a possibility that Martin Brodeur might soon no longer be a New Jersey Devil.

And here we are at today. The final game of the 2013-14 season. The Devils are missing the playoffs (for an un-Devil-like 2nd straight season). And with his contract up, with his playing time at an all-time low, and his skills seemingly diminished from his Hall of Fame career-prime, the reality sets in today that MARTIN BRODEUR COULD BE (AND VERY LIKELY IS) PLAYING HIS LAST GAME AS A NEW JERSEY DEVIL.

I think I would feel better about this situation if Marty had come out and said that he is retiring at season's end and doing it as a New Jersey Devil. But that's not necessarily going to be the case. Brodeur's contract with the Devils is up. But he still thinks he can play at a high level next season (everything I've heard talks about just one more season) and he wants to have more playing time than the split-season arrangement that he's had with Cory Schneider this season. And the consensus is that these things won't happen next season as a New Jersey Devil. He'll test the free agent market (he gave us quite a scare 2 years ago testing the market and then re-signing with New Jersey after 2 days).

I can't fathom seeing Brodeur in another NHL jersey next season. To quote Simpsons character Ralph Wiggum, "that's unpossible". I also don't think he has the skills left in his goalie pads to play well playing even as much as the half season he played this year with the Devils. That in itself is sad to think about. But I believe it and a lot of other Devils fans I've spoken with believe it too. But Marty still thinks he can go somewhere, play well, play more than he played this season, and make an impact. And I think someone needs sit him down and give him a good talking-to. Marty needs reality to set in over fantasy. Because I just don't think Marty is going to find what he's looking for. And sadly, he's not the best option for the New Jersey Devils after today either (and I think they know that).

So this can go down one of a couple ways
  1. Marty decides that this is it, go out a Devil, and don't test free agency (the preferred option)
  2. Marty tests the waters in free agency, and finds nothing to his liking, and retires (also acceptable when looking at his final hockey card)
  3. The Devils bring Brodeur back next season
  4. Marty finds a job somewhere else next season, and it turns out to be a bust, meanwhile tainting all of his career marks because they no longer happened in one uniform
  5. Marty finds what he's looking for with another team, and reaches the 700 win mark in another jersey (least desirable scenario)

But soon, the reality is going to set in MOST LIKELY going to be Martin Brodeur's last game as a member of the New Jersey Devils.

In 2011, I bought season tickets to the Devils, up in the balcony on the end where the Hall of Fame goalie defends the goal twice every night. And the big reason I did it, aside from the great price, was that I wanted to see the end of Brodeur's career, however long it may be, in person. I'm not saying I'll drop my tickets after next season (I'm already paid in full for 2014-15), or after "Marty Brodeur Night" when the number 30 is raised to the rafters (initially over the goal on the end at which I sit). But after today, that might be the next time we in the arena get to chant "MAR-TY, MAR-TY". Still sad to think about.

But for today...
  • (to the same beat as "Let's Go Devils") "Marty Legend"
  • "Mar-ty! Mar-ty!"
  • (to the tune of "We Love You Conrad" from Bye Bye Birdie) "We Love You Marty/Oh Yes We Do"
  • (as noted in the title of this post) "You've Got to Fight For Your Right For Mar-ty"
and whatever other chants you can all think of.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Devils Announcers at the Olympics

This is an updated post from one I did in 2012.

Before I begin, I want to note that this may be an incomplete list, since I don't even have a complete list of Devils announcers.

With this Winter Olympics underway, I decided to take a look and see which past and present Devils broadcasters have worked at the Olympics. I found a few more than I had expected. It wouldn't surprise me if there was an omission from this list.

  • Steve Cangialosi - In his third season as the primary TV voice of the Devils, and his 8th overall with the club, Cangialosi has called two Olympic games for NBC, having worked soccer (calling matches from New York) at the 2008 (Beijing) and 2012 (London) games. He also called the Modern Pentathlon for the London games.
  • Mike 'Doc' Emrick - Doc was the voice of the Devils for 21 of their 30 (or 29) seasons, and Doc's been the voice of Olympic hockey for 3 networks, calling Ice Hockey at the 1992 (Albertville), 1994 (Lillehammer), and 1998 (Nagano) games for CBS & TNT, the 2006 (Turino) and 2010 (Vancouver) and now 2014 (Sochi) games for NBC, including the Gold Medal contests in each of those years except for 1998. Doc has also called two Summer Olympics for NBC, reprising a role in 2012 (London) that he had in 2004 (Athens) calling Water Polo.
  • John Davidson - Records are incomplete, but based on one or two very old Devils broadcasts seen on MSG Vault, J.D. called at least a partial schedule of Devils games for MSG back in the team's early days, along side Doc Emrick. J.D. is one of the best hockey TV analysts, and was the in the top spot in 1992 (Albertville), 1994 (Lillehammer), 1998 (Nagano) for CBS, 2002 (Salt Lake City) and 2006 (Turino) for NBC.
  • Gary Thorne - Gary Thorne was the TV voice of the Devils on SportsChannel from 1987 until 1993 and was also part of SportsChannel America's coverage of the NHL from 1988-1992 before joining ESPN as their lead NHL announcer in 1992. Thorne called Ice Hockey at the 2002 (Salt Lake City) games for NBC and called Speed Skating at the 1998 (Nagano) Winter Olympics for CBS and Rowing at the 2000 (Sydney) Summer Olympics for NBC.
  • Peter McNab - Peter McNab was a Devils TV analyst for 8 seasons starting in 1987-88 on SportsChannel before moving on to the Colorado Avalanche. McNab covered Ice Hockey for TNT in 1998 (Nagano), 2002 (Salt Lake City) for TSN (as a studio analyst), and 2006 (Torino) for NBC.

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