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Looking at the Final Stretch as a Win-Win

For some fans of the New Jersey Devils, winning 3 of the last 4 games is infuriating, as it goes against the logical idea of getting a better draft pick this June. However, I argue today that it's a win-win, no matter if this team wins or loses now.

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Thursday night was the first home game for the New Jersey Devils at the Rock in nearly two weeks.  The games that were in between those home contests were West Coast games, ones that did not start until way too late to really be able to watch a complete game.  This was true at least for me anyway, as except for the Los Angeles game they were on work nights, which meant I was not able to watch much at all.

I found that when not watching my favorite team all that closely for two weeks straight, I was very much jumping onto the "lose for a better pick" bandwagon.  It was easy to have that train of thought when looking at things from a far distance, as I was not as emotionally invested in any given game.

Sitting at the Rock at the St. Patty's Day game, however, I realized that my train of thought was not quite accurate.  At least, it didn't quite meet my true feelings.  Watching the Devils score 7 goals against Minnesota, watching Devan Dubnyk get chased while still in the first period, and listening to the fan base still loudly boo Zach Parise for going home, it was exciting and fun.  I didn't care that the Devils were winning and that this was going to hurt them in terms of a draft pick as much as it was going to hurt Minnesota's chances for a playoff berth.  My team was scoring goals like it was actually easy for them, and it was very enjoyable.

After that game, I really did not know how to think about the rest of the season.  Logically, I know that the Devils losing for a draft pick just makes sense.  This team needs really good young players to develop in the system so that they can eventually create a solid foundation that will be competitive for years to come.  That is undeniable, and since this team is not going anywhere this year anyway, it just makes the most sense.

However, there's the other side of it as well.  A team that is simply awful out on the ice is not about to get good anytime soon.  Even with some key acquisitions in Kyle Palmieri and Lee Stempniak providing some much needed offense, this team was still unable to clear all of the hurdles from last season.  So if this team really tanks and loses a bunch of games, getting a stud young player does not mean the Devils will be competitive anytime soon.  That would mean years of a rebuild still.  Now, this team may very well still require years until it becomes truly competitive, but if they can play fairly well now and compete on any given night regardless of what goaltender is in net, that would be no small thing.  A decent but not great team can turn great much faster than a terrible team, and that usually is regardless of draft order.

Being fairly competitive for the home stretch also has the benefit of actually being able to watch fun and exciting hockey.  For those of us still watching this team regularly and following along each day (if you're reading this, you're almost definitely one of us), that is an undeniably good thing. We're invested in this team, one way or the other.  Emotionally, perhaps financially, and certainly in terms of eating up our free time, they have us watching and caring. It's better off to watch something competitive and fun than see a team lose 8 out of 10 games and look terrible doing it.  That is nothing but depressing, and you know that from watching this team the last three seasons.  Especially in comparison to what came before.

So there are your two sides: one of cold blooded logic and intellect, and one of emotion with some attempt at logic thrown in.  Lose and get a better player for the future = cold logic and intelligence.  Makes sense.  Win and be a decent team, and even though you get a worse draft pick you get to watch better hockey and a better team now means a shorter path to dominance = a jumbled mess of emotion and attempt at logic.

So, which side should you root for?  In the end, my argument is that you shouldn't root for one side or the other.  They're both decent options in a failed campaign.  A great draft pick is something to be excited about and interested in.  That's what we have with Pavel Zacha hopefully, and to have another like him would be great.  However, also watching competitive and fun hockey from a decent hockey club is in its own way exciting and interesting.  It creates the feeling that this team can really compete as early as next season with only a couple extra pieces, not a complete overhaul.  It creates hope for the near future, not just for the distant future (in sports, 3 years down the line is basically equivalent to distant future).

So for those of you upset with how things are going because you either want this team to win or you want this team to lose, fear not! There is nothing to be upset about on either side.  Just sit down each night, whether you sit down on your couch, at a bar stool, or at the Prudential Center, at enjoy watching our New Jersey Devils.  Any outcome can be looked at in a positive manner if you allow yourself to really look at it from both sides.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts on what I'm saying?  Am I a total nut job for thinking like I am?  How should we as fans be approaching the home stretch of games for our favorite team?  Why do you feel like you do?  Please leave your comments below, and thank you for reading.