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A Tragic Return of Sherman Abrams to the New Jersey Devils

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Unfortunately, the New Jersey Devils’ recent losing streak plus has added to their poor season. Intentional or not, tanking is unfortunately back. And so returns the personification of failing on purpose: Sherman Abrams.

Tension on the Ukrainian-Russian border continues
Yep. It’s back.
Photo by Armed Forces of Ukraine/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Week of Hate is now over. It certainly was a week to hate as the New Jersey Devils put in some of their worst performances in this season against the one team no Devils fan wants to see them suffer against. Thursday’s 0-4 loss was especially terrible; arguably their worst performance of the season. Hopefully it was their rock-bottom game of the season There were plenty of cringe-worthy moments. Take your pick: Damon Severson, who has 473 NHL games of experience, failing to defend a 2-on-1 competently; former Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban continuing to flop in the middle instead of defending a 2-on-1; watching the Devils watch the plodding Kevin Rooney split the D for a breakaway; just about every power play situation for New Jersey; taking a too many men on the ice call during a penalty kill on Saturday; the lack of discipline and the passive diamond penalty kill on Sunday; and so forth. I could go further but I feel sad enough with the memories. And the Devils’ current six-game losing streak.

The futility against Our Hated Rivals was especially offensive to me, as a Devils fan and someone with a soul, as I was told this team would compete. General manager Tom Fitzgerald made that rather clear in his press conference after last Monday’s trade deadline. He stated this team would compete. Then the Devils players and staff proceeded to not really compete in four straight losses against Our Hated Rivals where they were out-scored by a combined 6-18 margin. Sure, they made two spirited comeback efforts in the past weekend, those efforts didn’t begin until they were down at least three goals in those two games, and the Devils lost both of them regardless. If that is competing to Devils management, then there needs to be change. Either in definition or in management.

And amidst all of this, one of the People Who Matter made a revelation towards the end of that nightmarish 0-4 loss last Thursday. Per TerreriStepper:

The remaining loyal supporters hung their heads, as the drone of abrams rolling into newark grew louder

TerreriStepper is unfortunately right. The iconic figure of so many recent Devils seasons is back. The italicized icon of institutionalizing failure. The personification of failing on purpose. The patron...something...of losing for possible future success. The one who obnoxiously wanted to return to Eric Bischoff’s WWE theme but realized from the lyrics it would imply he would want things to be better and not worse. It is Sherman Abrams and he is back.

Back? I never fully moved away. I figured on returning to New Jersey this year. I was just on an excursion in Buffalo. Let me tell you, it was like a vacation. The Sabres organization implemented so many of my principles that I was able to take it easy. Breaking down Taylor Hall to a point where he publicly said he’d waive his NMC and then trading him just for a second round pick and a lesser player? Amid a season where they fired a coach, suffered some big injuries, and made a bunch of other deals for less than what they bought? Beautiful. I love Kevyn Adams.

Are you done gloating?

Of course not. I want to thank the Devils organization for never forgetting my ways.

Come now. Lindy Ruff said they aren’t tanking. Tom Fitzgerald never used the word. How do you figure?

Let’s go back to January. Most of you and your little crew at All About the Jersey all figured they wouldn’t be a playoff team. But you all wanted improvement for some reason. You don’t get ahead by taking a step forward. You get ahead by playing the lottery and hope to get the 18-year old player that Will Change Everything in the future. So what if the coach said they weren’t doing it and the GM said something about competing. Don’t look at words, look at the actions. Look at the team on the ice. Look at the results. They’re back to where they were! They are following my vision yet again!

Really? You think this team is back to where they were in years past?

By the details, no. By the results, absolutely! Sure, some of the situation has changed. The 2021 Devils have delightfully destroyed their own season in lovely ways. Putting together the worst home record in the NHL? Wonderful. Holding one of the worst power play success rates and the worst penalty kill success rate at the same time? Magnificent. Maintaining so much cap space that management talks about weaponizing it and not doing so? Lovely. A defense filled with veterans making mistakes you’d expect out of younger players on a nightly basis? Fantastic. An attack that features a lot of shots from over 40 feet away because they don’t want to work the puck down low? And trading away pending UFAs to make the team even weaker was just the cherry on top of the sundae of suck that is the 2021 Devils. Watch as they call up more players from a defensively-suspect Binghamton team over the next few weeks to “give them a shot,” which is my method of “helping to lose” since AHL players rarely jump into the NHL and succeed.

Sigh. I know. I’ve witnessed all of this while you were maxing and relaxing in Western New York.

I’m not done yet. It was artful how the Devils have made a number of comeback efforts to fall short. This past weekend was glorious in that respect. It was enough to tease out hope to continue to pay attention to the team. But not enough to get something as unproductive as enough goals to complete a comeback and win a game. Sure, fans like the ones who read this site are frustrated because they know that performing well after falling behind by so much so many times isn’t worth celebrating no matter how exuberant Steve Cangialosi and Ken Daneyko make it on MSG broadcasts. But that frustration only helps gain what is truly important: more lottery ball combinations.

Do you have a larger point to make? I know all of this. The People Who Matter know all of this. You come to me telling me you want to thank the Devils for “never forgetting your ways.” They’re not even in last place in the East due to your new disciples in Buffalo.

Ah. I see you forgot.

Forgot what?

Draft lottery odds are based on the league, not the division. I understand in this 56-game league where everyone plays within the division that you would not pay much attention to the other three. But the Devils are not just 7th in the East but 29th in the NHL standings. Here’s the bottom five teams as of Sunday’s games:

  • 27th Place - Vancouver, 38 GP, 17-18-3, 37 points, 48.7% Pts.%
  • 28th Place - Anaheim, 46 GP, 14-25-7, 35 points, 38.0% Pts.%
  • 29th Place - New Jersey Devils, 45 GP, 14-24-6, 34 points, 38.6% Pts.%
  • 30th Place - Ottawa, 45 GP, 15-26-4, 34 points, 37.8% Pts.%
  • 31st Place - Buffalo, 45 GP, 12-26-7, 29 points, 34.4% Pts.%

You see, the Devils are in a race for the second highest odds in the lottery! That’s fantastic! With any luck, they can hit last!

I’m sorry, 29th in the NHL? That’s not fantastic at all! This is the opposite of the improvement I wanted to see back in January. I said I thought they would finish 7th in the East, not bottom five.

I know, isn’t it great? Now, the Devils do have a pesky game in hand and 11 regulation wins, so they could float up a few spots with a few bad things like wins. But given their losing streak and Buffalo (annoyingly) winning some games, we could see 31st come into play should the Sabres keep getting results. 3 points is not a lot to make up.

On the surface, it isn’t. You forget that I do a weekly division snapshot. I have seen teams consistently behind in the standings by even just one point and not manage to surpass it because they are just not able to out-earn the team they are chasing. Buffalo is not a good team at all and, like New Jersey, are worse off after the deadline than before it. As much as the Devils have struggled, they’re not going to keep losing all of their games. And Buffalo is not going to keep winning. Especially with a very hungry and motivated Boston team that will play them five more times within the next two weeks.

Bah, look at you looking ahead to the schedule and not the bigger picture that comes from just playing out the string like a good tanking team should.

What, exactly, is the point of tanking this season?

What do you mean? The Devils would get better draft odds. I’ve said this many times.

For?

For a top-end prospect, duh.

Like who in this class?

I don’t know. Do I look like Will Scouch to you? Do I look like I watch the World Under-18 Championships, which begin in two weeks? You know as well as I do that great prospects are in every draft class. I just encourage losing to get them.

And this draft class is perhaps the most wide open in recent memory between the pandemic impacting every league in the world and how they are scouted and the actual prospects involved. This isn’t 2018 where there was a Rasmus Dahlin to chase. Or 2019 where there was a Jack Hughes to chase - whom the Devils now have by the way. Or 2020 where there was an Alexis Lafreniere to chase. There is no one player with high-end potential or the talent to jump right into the NHL in the 2021 draft class to sacrifice games for unless someone emerges really, really, really soon.

Come now, don’t tell me you don’t think this Devils team doesn’t need a top prospect?

I agree the Devils need a lot of things. But the answer for them is not likely in this draft. At least not for next season. If we’ve learned anything from Hughes, then it is that this is a really hard league to break into when you’re 18. Whoever the Devils do end up drafting will likely have a lot of potential to be great. But they’re not going to be great right away. All of the calls for a defensive prospect like Luke Hughes (currently injured) or Owen Power (he’s big and doesn’t use it) or Brandt Clarke (potential to be?) are fine and all except none of them are going to fix the defensive problems of today, next season, or even the following season. Even if the Devils go for a forward like Matt Beniers, Dylan Guenther, William Eklund, or Fabian Lysell, or even goaltender Jesper Wallstedt, it is silly to expect the them to jump into the NHL and be impact players right away. Everyone will need time and the Devils need players to help them right away to make 2021-22 better. The last few weeks of this season can help with that; blowing it just to get a better shot at a prospect would not necessarily do that.

So it takes time for prospects to develop. What a conclusion. Great, more time to fail and get more prospects. They are the cheapest method to get talented players. Clearly, the Devils don’t have enough of it. So go get more. Hence, my ways are followed.

But that’s exactly why I’m continually annoyed by your presence in New Jersey. Yes, getting prospects is good. But this may shock you, but to paraphrase Ben Massey, the plan to success is almost never Get a Top Pick and then BAM! Stanley Cup. As we have seen over the last six seasons, it takes a lot more than just getting a lot of high picks. Development is important and that requires an organization and a coaching staff that is able to put the team in a place to grow and succeed. Repeat: succeed. Constantly losing games tends to hurt the overall process of development. And in all levels, not just the NHL level.

Fans have only so much patience for re-building that they would want to see some positive steps forward so it does not feel like watching the team suck is a total waste of their time and money. There is a lot of fatigue among the People Who Matter. I agree with those who are tired of being told the same things in 2021 what they heard in the second half of 2015 and 2016 and 2017.

Just as importantly, Father Time does not care about a timeline. He will carry on. The Devils have a lot of players about to enter their prime years. They have plenty on entry level contracts that are going to end soon. Players will need to get paid and the Devils need to make the most of it as their younger players grow and contribute. While I will agree that this wasn’t set to be a playoff team, the Devils need to get their acts together otherwise I’m going to be writing a lot of posts about how the team didn’t make the most of Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Mackenzie Blackwood, Ty Smith, etc. in a couple of years.

Pfft, not my problem.

Exactly. Which gets to my problem with you, Mr. Sherman Abrams. A lot of fans in sports have bought into the idea that if you can’t be good, then you have to be as awful as possible. For some organizations, that is something necessary. A team like Calgary is in a spot where they need to blow it up. But, somehow, someway, a lot of fans in pro sports have just accepted this mantra of tanking for lower picks and assume that will lead to a better tomorrow. But there is a lot more to success in any sport than just getting a young starlet player to contribute to a team.

As much as fans roll their eyes at “culture” and “identity” and such - and believe me, I do that too - they aren’t false concepts. When you have an organization that does not seem to have a real plan for the future but bet on picks, then that’s how you end up with Buffalo. And my fear is that is what could be happening in New Jersey. Ray Shero may have failed but at least he had a concept for the team. I can only guess what Tom Fitzgerald’s concept of a successful team is. If he thinks this Devils team is competitive (I don’t think he would agree within this past week), then I have a bad feeling about it.

Again, not my problem. You’re player hating again. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. I’m just the guy that represents what teams in pro sports teams actually do. They pack it in, try out some stuff, get some higher-end prospects, and then supposedly build off of that. It’s not like you can get great players in the middle or late parts of drafts.

You totally can. It takes a bit more luck and a lot more work from the scouting department in terms of identifying future talent. This Devils team, as poor as they have been this season, has featured players picked well outside of the top part of the draft. Their young defenseman with loads of potential, Ty Smith, was a 17th overall pick in 2018. You’ll find few fans who are unhappy with that pick as well as having a now-rare playoff appearance. The only top-six winger going into this season that is still a top-six winger is the 2016 6th-rounder Jesper Bratt. The team’s leading goal scorer (somehow) is Miles Wood, who was picked in the fourth round of 2013. Fans are very pleased with the development of Yegor Sharangovich, who was an overage pick in the fifth round of that 2018 draft. Oh, and the victimized Mackenzie Blackwood was a second round pick in 2015. Yes, it is more likely to get NHL players and top NHL players towards the beginning of the draft. But teams absolutely find players that can contribute in the later rounds. It’s not all in the top-ten.

They can also find contributing players out of free agency of Europe and college, also a result of quality scouting and an organization with a good understanding of what players they need to run their way of doing business. Some may laugh at the seemingly endless stream unknown names coming up in Pittsburgh to be contributing players, but that’s a big reason why the team remains competitive and in the postseason even with Malkin and Crosby getting older and/or injured. Believe it or not, a team can still find ways to improve their squad if they finish 21st or even in the playoffs. It does not need to be all or nothing, which is what you champion. Yet, many have desired that instead of looking for a more practical method of growth.

Look, that’s all well and good. Maybe it is even true. But I don’t care. I’m Sherman Abrams. All I care about is encouraging teams to be as bad as possible. And whether you like it or not, the 2021 Devils are doing just that. The record doesn’t lie. The serious on-ice issues on defense and special teams also do not lie. The team is undeniably poorer after the deadline and they weren’t exactly dominant with this season’s version of Kyle Palmieri. You don’t like me or what I represent. Fine. But I’m still in Newark. I’m still hanging in New Jersey. Some of the People Who Matter do like what I do. I’m still here. As you like to say: Deal with it.

I suppose I am dealing with it. Again. Can you go away for 2021-22?

You know I don’t make guarantees. Besides, I like it here in New Jersey. Got a place in Alpine and everything. You can’t get rid of me that easily. It doesn’t look like the organization wants to just yet either.

I really hope GM Tom Fitzgerald proves you (and me) wrong this offseason.

Hope all you want. I’m not leaving New Jersey yet.

That is what I’m afraid of.