Over the past few seasons, I have seen and read my fair share of negativity from Devils fans about the current state of the team; we've examined quite a bit of it here on ILWT, and it's not to say that some of it is not without merit. The more I thought about it however, the more I found myself thinking that maybe we've been spoiled as fans of this team. The team has had so much sustained success for so long that maybe we just expect too much from our team at the moment.
Again, I'm not going to say that we shouldn't be complaining about the play of certain players, or that we can't question lineup decisions; we're all passionate fans, so it only makes sense for us to analyze and over-analyze the team that we share a love of. However there are some facts that we should look at today that could help us see our situation in a new light.
New Jersey's Draft Positioning
Prior to the snafu that was the 2010-2011 season for our Devils, the last time the team missed the postseason was way back in 1996, which was of course the season right after our first Stanley Cup win. That's an impressive span of fourteen straight postseason appearances by our team; in correlation with that of course is a team's position in the NHL Entry Draft. The better a team does in the playoffs, the later they pick in the draft barring any trading of picks; even just making the playoffs guarantees that you will be picking in the second half of each round.
When missing the playoffs in 1996, the Devils drafted Lance Ward (oops) with the 10th overall pick. After that pick, here is what the Devils' first round has looked like since then:
Devils draft stats are courtesy of NHL.com; traded pick stats are courtesy of NHL Trade Tracker. Highlighted in red are players still with the team in some capacity or draft picks that were traded to acquire players still with the team.
Between that 10th overall pick in 1996, and the Devils missing the playoffs in 2011, the team drafted no higher than 17th overall to start, and that pick was only as high as it was due to swapping first rounders with both St. Louis and Edmonton. Due to years of being a competitive playoff team, New Jersey was drafting after many of the players who were "sure things" were already gone in the draft. They also traded a few of their first round picks, meaning that in those years, they were not selecting a player until the middle or end of the second round.
Even though they went fourteen years selecting no higher than #17, the Devils continued to be a successful team; however, the pool of solid prospects was obviously shrinking. Because they were in the playoffs year after year and not sinking to the bottom of the standings, the Devils had less players that were sure to pan out coming up in their own farm system; this of course leads to signing free agents to plug the holes. In recent years we have had a number of free agent signings not pan out; couple that with the lack of forward talent coming up in the pipeline and it's easy to see why the team struggles at times.
In the entire National Hockey League, there are currently only 13 teams who have won the Stanley Cup more than once in their existence; remove teams that have won it twice and you have 10 teams remaining that have won it 3 times or more. While that alone should be impressive, you can then remove some of the "Original Six" who padded their cup victory numbers during the Founding Era and the Original Six Era; we will remove the ones who have not won more than 3 cups since the league expanded in 1967. That subtracts Toronto, Chicago and Our Hated Rivals leaving a mere 7 teams that have won the Stanley Cup 3 or more times since the league's first expansion in 1967 and you guesses it, we're one of those teams.
Only 7 teams have won it all 3 or more times in the past 47 years, with our New Jersey Devils being one of those teams and not even existing until 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts; not only does it show how competitive the NHL can be, but it also shows just how good (as long as we ignore team history up until around the early 90s) our Devils have been. Maybe those 3 championships are part of the reason why we are so quick nowadays to criticize the team for underachieving.
I myself have been somewhat over-critical of certain players on our team at times; mainly it's because of both my love for the team and frustration with a staff that keeps trying combinations that no longer work. Maybe part of it is that we no longer have interchangeable pieces on our roster like we used to. It seems something needs to change though for our team to be able to return to a highly competitive form.
Now this isn't to say that the team should be free of criticism entirely; there have been personnel decisions that have left many of us scratching our heads this season. There have been not one, not two, but numerous players who continue to underachieve despite the role they continue to play on our team. It's can be concerning because we are a team that seems to be good enough to make the playoffs, but we keep missing out. To top that off, our two highest draft picks since 1996 have been used to draft Adam Larsson (who a portion of our fan base seems disappointed with while another portion blames the organization for his development) and as trade bait to land Cory Schneider; while both are good/great players, they aren't game changers, or at least not yet.
This isn't to say we should panic either; after all we're not a team that underachieves in the playoffs despite having numerous players that went first or second overall; heck, we're not even a team that continues to draft high in the first round and not even sniff the postseason. We're just a team that's a bit on the downswing right now trying to patch some of the leaks in our ship; we have every right to be critical because we love this team and we want to see them perform to standards that we've grown accustomed to. At the same time however maybe we need to curb the harshness of our criticism just a bit; we're a middle of the road team at the moment, and we just need some tweaking to recapture our old magic. After all, it could always be worse.
I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter; do you think our fans can be a bit over-critical of our team? Does it have to do with players? Coaches? The organizations as a whole? Have our expectations been raised due to past success? Can the current team that we are icing be successful? Leave any and all responses below and as always thank you for reading!