It’s just about four weeks since the Devils’ season ended and I’m finally rational enough to write rationally about it. I think this was the most uneventful, non-season in the decade I’ve been a season ticket holder, and therein lies the problem.
Lou signed Ilya Kovalchuk, but Lemaire couldn’t figure out how and when to manage him, and how and when to let him freelance, so an opportunity was wasted.
When veteran players were hurt (Clarkson, Martin, Elias) the young guns from Lowell played well, and the team had a fine November. The fire and energy seemed to disappear after Christmas. In particular, Paul Martin looked like he was afraid of contact, puck control, speed, and possibly the groundhog’s shadow after he returned. Disappointing, and you wonder what the deeper root causes are for such a tail-off in performance.
Whatever happened between White and Langenbrunner at the start of the season didn’t do much for White. I’ve never seen a veteran defenseman stand around, miss his man, and generally be useless in defensive situations. And then Lemaire put him in front of the net on the power play, which sums up Lemaire’s attempts at coaching this team. During the last game versus the Flyers, the Devils spent an entire power play passing the puck along the perimeter, without anyone moving to create space, or create time to a shooting lane to open up. When someone with a USA Hockey Level 2 coaching card recognizes this problem, you have a huge problem on both sides of the bench.
After the first of the year, the Devils just looked like they were mailing it in. Inconsistent play, random defense, and the constant juggling of lines and player head games were disgraceful. You can’t blame just the coach or the GM or the players; it’s a combined team effort from the front office to the guy who drives the Zamboni on the practice surface. Everyone has to want to win, and has to work like that every single day. Perhaps the Devils have just become complacent; playoff apperances and division titles are nice and everyone collects paychecks with a reasonable summer vacation. Look at what Mike Cammalleri has done in Montreal, where he came in with a great attitude, a love for the game and the city, and pissed off at some previous employers: They’re in the Conference Finals and Cams is leading goal-scorer in the playoffs. That’s what wanting to win does.
The fans don’t like this. The players shouldn’t like this. And I’m pretty sure that the Devils money-losing season means that the ownership doesn’t like this. I’m expecting wholesale shakeups in the off season, and the signings of Tedenby and Josefson are great starts. What they lack is a coach that will let the captain lead the team, and an intimidating presence like Stevens, and some mutual trust between players, coaches, and leadership. We can only hope that we’re able to see beyond our current, collective impression of the Devils and let the youngsters lead the way to an improved state.