Writing about the New Jersey Devils and hockey in the dead of offseason is not always the easiest thing in the world to do. Finding topics that are equally interesting and relevant takes some time and creativity. While not every single week, I tend to find it best to analyze the team in one way or another, and use the analysis to come to some sort of conclusion. During the season, we may not always get to all of the relevant numbers because of what is happening on a nightly basis, but in the summer we can look back on those numbers as a whole and work with them. It gives a different point of view that I believe is important in getting to know our favorite team better.
With the news of our beloved general manager and miracle worker Lou Lamoriello leaving for (greener?) pastures in Toronto the other day, however, I found that analyzing this team in detail did not seem to really feel appropriate right now. Devils fans that I have talked to over the past two days have been more apt to discuss things from a broader view, especially so when the nostalgic talk came into play. I think that the articles that have come out on this website since then have also followed this format. While I am sure that we will get back to analyzing the Devils soon enough, for now let's get a little broader in perspective and perhaps even get a little philosophical.
With Lou gone, the Devils that we have all grown up watching are simply gone. This is a new team, a new organization, with new life blood and a new chance to either grow into a cup contender once again or continue to flounder. The product that we will be watching on the ice in a few years may be completely different from what we are used to, either good or bad. In fact, it could become quite different even this season. As crazy as that can be to think about, it is somewhat exciting as well. Fans across the NHL have ripped our favorite team for decades as producing a style of hockey that is boring and unwatchable. While I would certainly disagree with them and I'm sure you would as well, I've always understood their reasoning. Remember the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh first round series from the 2012 playoffs? The one where Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov went back and forth with equally atrocious outings and teams were scoring 8-10 goals per game? I certainly remember it, and it was quite exciting to watch, despite the enmity I felt for both teams. Could you ever see Lou's Devils producing that style of hockey? I couldn't, nor did I ever want them to, and in reality I still don't. But it is exciting to watch, and without Lou at the helm, who knows what style of hockey this team gets known for in the future. What we will be watching as Devils fans could be very different in the near future.
With this knowledge in mind—and also with the knowledge that this is a rebuilding team and not a contender—I feel like as a fan and season ticket holder, I have to come into this season with a different mental approach. In the past, with Lamoriello as the general manager, I always built up to the season with a feeling that this team could go far and succeed. I mean come on, I predicted that the Devils would grab a wild card spot last season. I knew what I was going to watch on the ice, and I knew that New Jersey would be in most every single game because of their defensive play style. This would lead to wins and create a competitive team, one that could make the playoffs and make some noise. I may have had questions about the roster turnover or whatever else was the issue of the day, but it never affected my overall outlook for the team. As I mentioned at the top, my concerns were specific and analytic, not broad-based and philosophical.
This season, that is all sort of reversed. While I will certainly analyze the state of the roster before and after camp, and I will have concerns as always, all of that will not be as intense for me as it always used to be (and hopefully will be again one day soon). Instead, I will be approaching this season with a completely open mind, excited to see how Ray Shero and John Hynes shape this organization. My excitement will surely be curtailed some given the low expectations I will have for them in terms of winning, but it will be a type of excitement that I've never felt with this team before. My excitement will not be mixed with anxiety as I comb early season results and see how the standings begin to take shape. Instead, I will go to the Prudential Center and simply enjoy the product that is on the ice. Yes, I will analyze how players are doing, and especially look at how the young talent is progressing and growing, but that will be combined with a desire to just see this team in action.
I want to see how Hynes coaches, and what type of system he implements. I want to see what players react well to that system, which players have difficulty within it, and most importantly, if that system can succeed at the NHL level. I want to see how Shero and Hynes deal with winning, and more importantly, losing. How will Shero shape the roster before the season, and what will he do during the season? Will he be as hands-on as Lou was, or will it be evident that Hynes has much more control than Peter DeBoer and other coaches ever did? With Lamoriello gone, I am especially interested to see if Shero follows his footsteps and keeps everything tight-lipped and away from media attention. Or, will the Devils actually begin to get some media attention in the New York market? I mean I may be overreaching here, but I would be ecstatic if I could sometimes hear Devils news on New York sports talk radio driving to and from work. Could you imagine actually hearing hockey news on sports radio and not hating it because it's about Our Hated Rivals?
I guess what I am trying to say, and what I have been saying throughout this article, is that for this season more than any other in recent living memory, I will be interested in just seeing how this team takes shape and develops. I will always root for them to win on the ice, and I hope that they win more than they lose, but I know that this will most likely not happen given the rebuilding nature of this club. But this year, the losses won't kill me as much as they did in years past, because this year it won't be 100% about wins and losses. It will be about the growth of the entire organization, from general manager down to rookies and prospects. They may lose on the ice, but is the team continuing to grow and develop? Is the young defense turning into a great unit? Are goal scorers being developed? Are Shero and Hynes developing a strong rapport with the players and with each other? If many of these are being answered in the positive, then I can sit back and be happy with what is happening, even if that growth isn't yet showing in the standings.
The funny thing is that I've known this for months, that this season would require me as a fan to have a different outlook. But I guess with Lou still in the organization, I never really had to confront it. I could look to Lou and know that with him still here, there was a chance that he could put it all together and make it work and create something special. While the rational portion of my brain knew this to be near impossible for this upcoming season, I still could fantasize knowing he was here. With him gone, however, reality sets in. As a fan, I will have to prepare for this season differently than I have for any other. It will be new for me, and I pray it will also be short lived. As once this team becomes competitive, I can once again go back to my old approach: just win.
What do you think about this? Have you thought about how you are going to approach this season as a fan? Do you have a different outlook now that Lou is gone, and knowing that this is a rebuilding team? Do you share any of the same sentiments that I do, or do you have a different mindset? If you do, what is your mindset, and why do you feel the way you do? Please leave your comments below, and as always, thank you for taking the time to read my work.