In 2010-2011, the Devils had a weird season. With Zach Parise injured most of the season and Brodeur injured for a significant part, and, let's be honest, the bad coaching of John MacLean, the Devils for the 1st time since 1996 and only the second time since 1989 did not make the playoffs.
It was pretty easy to write this off as a fluke between the bad coach, injuries, and surrounding good years (103 points in '10 and Conference Champs in '12). I as a fan had begun to suffer from Red Wing syndrome. To some more enlightened fans, perhaps it is possible for rise above the superficiality of the situation and be grateful for the small things in the sporting world. If this is the case, then color me unenlightened because I was unsatisfied with any season that did not result in a playoff bid. Call it spoiled, call it presumptuous, call it ... accurate. Call it what ever you want, my team was playoff or bust,
Then, unexpectedly, the same thing happened in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. But hey, that was a fluke too right? A 48-game schedule isn't enough especially when you get a 10-game losing streak towards the end of it. We would return rejuvenated the following year. The 2014 season brought us a very strong possession team that was historically bad in a shootout which doomed their playoff chances. But, man they looked encouraging. They had the best possession numbers of any team in any season since 2010 (not counting the Kings, they're not real). The lost of Kovalchuk fresh off the Parise departure proved too much though as a sorely lacked a finisher and shootout skills.
Coming into this season, I personally thought that Cammalleri would be enough. To me, this was a bubble team that had just acquired the last missing piece, a top 30 scorer. In my defense, he technically is a top 30 scorer this year. That being said, we are clearly far from relevance. And honestly, that's the first time I've been able to say that in a long time. As you've seen, past seasons have had excuses. There's something almost comforting about the closure of an officially bad season. We are not in limbo. We are not on the fringe. We are a team in need of significant changes.
This allows me as the fan to enjoy another aspect of the sport. Team pride independent from team achievement exists. If you want a particularly depressing example then you can look to the Sabres who root for a loss. But that's not really the kind I am talking about. Take a look at the Panthers. They are 6 points out of a playoff spot which doesn't sound all that close. But their top two scorers (Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad) are the same age as their trade deadline acquisition, Jaromir Jagr .... if you combine them. Aleksander Barkov is their forward ice time leader and he is 19 years old. And none of them are their best young player as Aaron Ekblad is going to be a force on the blue line for years to come. Couple this with the return of Roberto Luongo and you've got a team primed for great things in the very near future. This year was not that close to the playoffs for them. But it was also not a failure.
With young players ( ... defenders) coming up, a draft on the horizon, an encouraging goalie tandem, and the final years of the greatest Devil Forward ever, there is plenty to pay attention to. I've watched almost every game this year and the outcomes have become less important. I root for Larsson to never hit a skid again and keep his confidence up so he can become our next great defenceman. I root for Patrik Elias to prove to everyone that he's not done yet and pad his stats as much as possible so that it gets harder and harder to deny him the Hall of Fame. I root for Schneider to continue his ascent to the top of the league at his position. I root for Stephen Gionta cuz ... well I just like him. MY POINT IS, now that we've entered this new era. The type of fan I am has changed. The thirst for winning has somewhat waned, but my attention to detail is just as high as ever. If I continue to watch the game in this way, I'll one day be grateful to the Lost Seasons for granting me some much-needed perspective.
That was my commentary, let's have yours. Is a lost season just a lost season or can you get something out of it. What have you noticed this year and the past few? Is it still playoffs or bust every year? Leave comments below.