Let's be frank. The New Jersey Devils have been bad this season. Very bad. Back in September, we were expecting yet another good season and just about insistent on playoff success. It's now December 9, the team sits in fourteenth in the Eastern Conference, and has a record of 8-17-2 after 27 games played.
For those of you who are unaware, here's a quick summary. The Devils have been shut out 4 times, they still do not score an average of 2 goals per game (it's 1.78 per game); the power play is converting at a miserable 12.8%; the players have been burnt repeatedly in their own zone due to errors like leaving opposing players wide open while standing about; the goaltenders have been left out to dry; the coaches look mindless or helpless; the captain of the team is repeating himself after games; and the second period has been miserable. The team has exactly 4 wins at home, 4 wins on the road, and can lose to anyone in by any manner. I could go on, but I really don't want to.
Needless to say, it has been a disappointing season so far. Incredibly, extremely, and ingloriously disappointing.
As a supporter of the team, I'm not going to leave this team behind. However, with all of this losing, I sense that some are just going through stages of dealing with it. It's like the Kübler-Ross model, a defined process for how people deal grieve or undergo tragic loss,. The model is discredited for such serious issues namely because people just don't feel in stages or in a process. Perhaps for something as our favorite hockey team being terrible, which is not nearly as serious, the model would be a better fit. So I've taken a stab at defining the five (or so) stages of dealing with a such a disappointing team.
Stage 1: Disbelief
You know things haven't gone well until you see something terrible. An atrocious play. A horrid line combination. The sight of 5 Devils pinned in their own zone, unable to get the puck - and unable to do more than just dump or ice it when if they do get it. You sit there, really questioning what you're seeing. Wondering whether you're really watching a professional ice hockey team get beaten on fundamentals, or get destroyed in yet another second period.
Example Remarks: "Really? Devils, is this really happening? This cannot be happening. Not again. I refuse to accept this." ; "Ilya Kovalchuk being double shifted with Adam Mair and Rod Pelley? Really? MacLean?"; "Another brutal second period, I can't believe it - this team just doesn't learn."
Stage 2: Frustration
You may consider this to be anger, but it's truly out of frustration. You've seen this mess before. You know you're going to see this mess again. You know whatever hopes you will have will be dashed. You know that change may not be coming. And it's just about infuriating. You spent all day working or at least looking forward tot the game, and you get this for your money. It sucks and you feel that way about everything and it just adds to the frustration.
Not just the performance by the players on the ice or the coaches. But also the people around you who chatter away during the game, the fools who keep yelling "SHOOOOT" everytime the Devils have the puck, the cost of the ticket, the cost of going to the game, the management of the team, the atmosphere at the games, the loudness of the PA, the (now colder) weather, the posts by Gulitti and Chere after the game, and the recaps by bloggers who know nothing about anything (and they may even disagree with what you saw). Forget about whether it's really a problem, it all sucks and it all needs to be changed. Fire everything, even the inanimate objects and concepts.
What you see over and over just adds to the jar of frustration you internally hold, built up from whatever else you've been carrying. Frankly, the Devils games just about put you over the top of that jar; and they make you want to scream (and when they do, they come with monster piles of expletives and invective)
Example of General Sentiment: "ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!!!!!!!"
Stage 3: Nostalgia
The New Jersey Devils have been one of the best teams of the last 15 years. Since 1994, they've been contenders and three-time champions of the NHL. You sit there, watching the 2010-11 Devils and begin to look to the past, where making the playoffs was never in doubt and the goal for the season was seriously to go for the Stanley Cup. You feel that if Scott Stevens was the captain, this wouldn't be happening because bad things never happened when Scotty wore the "C." That if the defense had Scott Niedermayer and/or Brian Rafalski, there would never be so many simple errors. If only the offense could look to the 2000-01 team and be built that way. You lament that former important players who justifiably weren't re-signed by the Devils at the time are with other teams and are not bad. You consider making impossible bargains for this year's team to re-capture what went right in prior seasons. The coaches of the past wouldn't put up with this garbage.
Rightly or wrongly, you feel something is missing today that they just had in the glory days. Because the present is so hard to watch, you retreat to the past with all of the fond memories and achievements.
Example Thoughts: "If only Scott Stevens was in the locker room, then he'd surely set Jamie Langenbrunner straight."; "Oh, why didn't Lou re-sign Brian Gionta?"
Stage 4: Dejection
At this stage, you are becoming numb to the poor play, the lack of goals, the multitude of goals against, and the losses. Instead of getting frustrated or angry at something going wrong, you just sit there in silence, sort of staring at the ice or TV screen. You fret over talking with people who know you're a Devils fan, since they will probably ask you, "How are the Devils doing?" or "What's wrong with the Devils?" and you have no actual answer for those questions. (If you did, please contact the Devils). You consider leaving games early or skipping them entirely; and perhaps you actually do that. If you write on message board posts or on blogs about yet another loss, then you just sit there wondering what to write this time about what you just saw. Your spirits at a fan are just at a low. You may have been there before, but it always feels like you never have before now.
When some people feel sad, they sing the blues to feel better about their troubles. But if you're like me and you have no musical talent, you may resort to deprecating humor or rationalizations to cope with the dejection. Yet, the bad feelings just don't go away as the losses mount for New Jersey.
Examples of Deprecating Humor: "Jamie Langenbrunner, also known as Captain Lollygagger."; "The Devils are unfortunately sandbagged with an under-performing and over-paid left winger that they can't move, and they also have Ilya Kovalchuk for 15 years."; "Good thing Martin Brodeur is pushing 39, he may want out if he was younger."
Examples of Rationalizations: "Well, at least I won't have being paying money to be horrified in person by a first round heartbreak in 2011."
At this point, I believe there are two divergent but final stages.
Stage 5a: Bailing Out
You figure you have enough of this. You've said it so many times either to yourself or others you know; but this time, you mean it. You're out. You figure, "So what, if I'm called a bandwagon fan? Their opinion doesn't matter." You don't see the point in following this horrible team, much less spending time and money to watch them play. There's more valuable things to do, things for self-improvement, things to improve your social standing, things to do around your place of living, etc. You'll check them out from afar, and if they improve, then you might come back. Emphasis on might.
Suggestion for Those in this Stage: You may want to not tell any hardcore fans about this, you'll never hear the end of it. Actually, some may figure it out anyway - so be prepared to never hear the end of it. And check your ankles to see if they're broken when you come back from jumping off another bandwagon.
Stage 5b: Acceptance
You accept that this team just isn't doing well this year. You don't like it, but you don't let it get to you. You don't fall into disbelief or dejection over what you saw. As nice as the past was, you hold firm to the belief that you can't go forward if you're always looking behind. Instead, you rationally process what you witness and try to figure out how bad it has been, where it all went wrong on a play, and wonder why they suck. You remain following the Devils as you would before because being a supporter means being there when times are good and times are bad. You take this season as it is, while you aren't happy about it, you calmly look at what could be improved upon, what should be removed, and appreciate whatever good comes out of the season. At a minimum, you'll be come a hardened fan of the New Jersey Devils.
Potential Lessons: The regular season isn't at all meaningless, the playoffs are earned not assumed, and looking past anyone is a great way to lose hockey games.
Anyway, I hope you appreciated this non-stats look at the Devils season so far and at least saw where I'm coming from on all of these. What stage are you in? Is there an additional stage you would like to suggest? Please give your take in the comments. Thanks for reading.