With the beginning of September, some are thinking it's the end of the summer. Not me. I'm thinking about last year's September. Back on the old Blogspot site, it was in this month where I essentially reviewed previews about the New Jersey Devils. I tried to find as much as I could - getting them from other bloggers, hockey reporters, and printed magazines. The idea was to get a general consensus on what could the Devils do in the 2008-09 season and what were the concerns people had about the team. Also, I wanted to offer my opinion about each of them, really.
With another round of season previews coming (or already out!) about the Devils, I think it's a good idea to see how well people did last year. Remember that the Devils won the Atlantic Division last season, set a franchise record in wins in a season, and finished 3rd in the conference and 5th in the NHL with a record of 51-27-4 for 106 points.
No, I didn't grab every preview possible; but I think I got a good cross-section of varying opinions. In compiling them all prior to the season opener, I was able to come up with the following common points:
- Martin Brodeur is the strength of the team
- But he's getting older.
- The defense doesn't have any big names, but they do a decent enough job.
- Scoring/forwards needs to be better
- Signing Brian Rolston was an excellent decision.
- Doubting Lou is a bad choice. (Duh)
With the benefit of hindsight, let's see if anyone hit the mark - what some got absolutely right and what some got absolutely wrong. (Hint: I wasn't right!)
Before jumping to conclusions, here's a list of all previews I commented on. I've tried to link to the original article as well as my own post (the optimistic/pessimistic, etc.). I don't have direct links to the magazine previews, so I included the post I did about them then. And to put myself out there for hindsight criticism, I've included the two I did for Faceoff Factor and Pensburgh. And now, a big list of links.
NHL Yearbook - Fourth in Atlantic, Ninth in the East / Pessimistic
Sporting News NHL Preview - Fourth in Atlantic, Playoffs??? / Pessimistic
McKeen's 2008-2009 Yearbook - Fourth in Atlantic, Tied for Eighth in the East / Pessimistic (and a bit odd)
The Hockey News Yearbook - Seventh in the East / Pessimistic
My Preview at Faceoff Factor - 2nd in Atlantic, 5th in East / Optimistic/Admittedly Biased
My Preview at Pensburgh - 2nd in Atlantic, 4th in East, 6th in League / Optimistic/Admittedly Biased
First and foremost, no one got the Devils finish right. Granted, a significant number of the previews didn't even predict the team's final position. Hence some are statements of "they'll make the playoffs" or not. Among those who did, Mirtle and Heika overshot it (they thought), Wyshynski and I underestimated them a bit (and offered different positions), and the magazines had no love at all for New Jersey. While not many doubted that they would make the playoffs, the sentiment at the time was that the Devils weren't as strong as they once were within the conference. Another year, another division title later, and we all look a little foolish.
Second, nearly everyone overestimated Brian Rolston's impact. Rolston was seen to be a center, a proven scorer, a top-six/first line forward, and someone that would make his mark right away in New Jersey - myself included. Yet, who would have forseen that A) Rolston was more of a winger (something I totally missed then), B) he'd get injured early in the season, and C) he'd play the rest of the season not on a scoring line. I say nearly because IPB looks prescient (well, only for Rolston) with their pessimistic view of expecting 12-15 goals; Rolston scored 15 last season.
Third, out of all these previews, Wyshynski's preview at Puck Daddy actually nailed most of his confident predictions about the various personnel, in my opinion. I'd say everyone basically agreed that Brodeur was the man, Parise was an upcoming talent, the defense was good but not spectacular, and the forwards have to step it up to help out. All true then - but Wyshynski and his bold statements look real good in hindsight. He named Patrik Elias to breakout and Elias had a point-per-game season. He said "Travis Zajac failed to take the next step in his sophomore season, but will get back to his offensive game in Year 3." and he was absolutely right with a bounce-back season of 20 goals and 42 assists. Wyshynski noted that Dainius Zubrus' contract was poor (right to a point). Most impressively, and pay attention here Montreal fans, was proven right on Gionta, "Last year's numbers [22 G, 31 A] might just be what Gio gives you, and if that's the case then he's not a top line player for this team," as Gionta put up 20 goals, 40 assists on the second line.
Interestingly, Wyshynski also brought up the then-nightmare-inducing possibility of Brodeur getting injured. Which did happen last season and...oh, wait, the Devils didn't crumble. They continued to succeed! The inferred disaster from that preview didn't occur. But still, he was bold enough to raise the possibility and perhaps that should be a lesson to all the other preview-writers: be bolder.
Now, I could continue to point who got what right and what wrong down to each detail. However, the second-most important lesson to take from this look-back is to take a season preview with a grain of salt. Again, not one of these were supremely accurate in how the Devils would do overall next season. Not from hardcore Devils fans like me, IPB, or 2MA. Not from hockey journalists James Mirtle and Adam Heika. Not from bloggers like Wyshynski or Kevin Schultz. And not from magazines like THN, McKeen's, or the Sporting News. No one is perfect and none of us are psychic.
This isn't to say that previews are a waste of time. Previews are good for getting a general opinion about the team going into the next season. You can get an understanding of the sentiment surrounding a franchise as well as summing up the big issues surrounding a team in one spot. The best ones make the arguments for why a player/team will do as well as predicted (e.g. all these expectation posts I did for the Devils players). It's also great for conversation and debate prior to a season. In fact, I plan on doing this for this September as previews come out for the Devils. (my guess: Expect a lot of "LEMAIRE IS GOING TO TRAP WHATEVER WILL THEY DO"-like comments) I'm just saying don't take a preview as if that's all the team will do in the coming season.
The most important lesson? DON'T DOUBT THE DEVILS.