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.