For those unaware, Christmas is this Monday. The New Jersey Devils will play tomorrow and then be off for the next three days before their season resumes at home. This is the league’s holiday break, which is for Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Boxing Day in that order. I am old enough to remember Matt & The Maven. It is around this time of this year where the Maven would be replaced by Stanta Claus. The red-suited curiously-similar-in-looks to Stan Fischler would bust out his hockey schtick and offer some gifts that would be somewhat useful. Kitschy but appropriate and memorable.
Well, I am not Stanta Claus. Clearly. But I can offer some last-minute gift ideas for this season’s hockey team. A team that has a lot of work to do in this league where it is tough to catch up. I did what many last-minute shoppers would do: go to Amazon and just find things to get based on how I perceive them.
Amazon has built an empire with books. They are a perfect gift idea to develop an interest or not-so-subtly suggest what they can focus on in the coming year. You can also get them rather quickly too. And for those who don’t want to read, check for an audio version.
For the Whole Coaching Staff - “Who Moved My Cheese” by Dr. Spencer Johnson
This is one of the go-to books to tell someone in business or elsewhere that change is a thing that happens. The cheese is always moving and it’s clear that what worked for the Devils in 2022-23 is not working as well in 2023-24. Just look at the record for that. Rather than sticking to their old ways, the staff needs to be open to finding some new ones to coach the team to more success. Which is the cheese in this case. (Note: Travis Green may be excepted from this as the power play has been eating well this season.)
Lindy Ruff - “Don’t Overthink It” by Anne Bogel
The head coach will get three gifts because he’s the head coach. The third will be listed later. While the underlying numbers in 5-on-5 play suggest the team is doing well more often than not, the People Who Matter have a lot of reason to scratch their heads about Ruff this season. Whether it is with his lineup choices, his goaltender management, his aggressive tactics, his inconsistencies in accountability or willingness to change things in-game (or lack there of), this all points to me to a coach who is seemingly thinking things over too much. So a book that explains how to not do that would be rather helpful. Find a line that works? Stick with it. Find a pairing that works? Stick with it. See a strategy not going well? Change it. And so forth. Reduced second-guessing can help Ruff be more decisive when he needs to be - and to keep things steady when appropriate.
Nico Hischier - “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek
Nico Hischier is the captain of the New Jersey Devils and his absence was felt when he was injured. When he returned, it was welcomed - but the performances of the team have been inconsistent. One night, the team will attack well and make rock-stupid decisions on defense. The next night, they will have their working skates on but shy away from taking direct shots on net. The night after that, the team will be sleepy for a period - and not necessarily play motivated in the one after. Clearly, this falls on the captain to a degree. This book whose thesis in the title may be a good place to start as Hischier not only needs to lead by example but figure out what some of his teammates need to get going. Asking why would be a good place to start in my view.
Jack Hughes - “Building Trust: How to Get It! How to Keep It!” by Dr. Hyler Bracey
This seems like an odd suggestion for a player with 24 assists (tied with 6 others, including Jesper Bratt for 13th in total assists in the NHL prior to Thursday’s games) and racks up shot-assists per Todd Cordell on the regular. Yet, this month has shown a lot more of The Big Deal trying to do it all himself and utilizing his linemates less than usual. This suggests that he does not fully trust who he is with. While the short answer is for Ruff to have Hughes play with teammates he does trust (read: Jesper Bratt), the roster may not allow that in the future. So it would not be the worst thing for The Big Deal to re-learn trust in his teammates if/when Ruff saddles him with Erik Haula for weeks. Again.
Tom Fitzgerald - “How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business” by Douglas W. Hubbard and “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini.
Two books for the GM because he is the GM. The first is something I would like to think Tyler Dellow and Matt Cane - who both work for the team - can abide by. The book is meant to break down how some of the the “immeasurable” could actually be measured, correcting the reasoning that some have about what is seen as “immeasurable,” and ways to make intangibles more tangible. For as much data has grown in hockey, a lot of decisions are made based on the old ways and there is still much that could be measured. Given how data management and analytics can provide a competitive advantage in sports, it is in the Devils’ best interest to be on the forefront of this. Even if this book comes at it from a business perspective. Plus, it can help in conjunction with the second book.
The second book is a classic book about influence and persuasion. Which can be really, really useful if and when Fitzgerald calls up another GM about making a trade or selling another organization on a player or asset he is willing to move. It can be of great benefit when trying to convince his bosses - the owners - of his own plan and vision for the team. It can help Fitzgerald guard against anyone trying to give him a raw deal. Being a good GM is not just in managing your own roster but also playing other teams for your own benefit. Given how much the Devils could use a change of some kind, this could give him an edge when negotiating a trade. Especially if he has measured value for something another team may not realize. Speaking of negotiations...
Michael McLeod - “Negotiation Genius” by Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman
Actually, this may be more appropriate for McLeod’s agent, Joseph Resnick. Either way, the point still stands. McLeod is having a fantastic season. While he is a pending restricted free agent, he is in line for a bump in pay for next season. Might as well sharpen up any negotiation strategies because they will come into play to make that bump in pay as big as he can. McLeod will turn 26 in February, it is close to the time to get that bag.
Kevin Bahl, Jonas Siegenthaler, and John Marino - “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown
The Devils’ general defensive zone play is often a swarm, which brings both defensemen onto the side or area where the puck is. The Devils also look for quick exits to facilitate offense in transition, which means defensemen need to look for passes out of the zone instead of just flinging pucks away as a first choice. On a penalty kill, the Devils often end up in a passive box or diamond, where the defensemen get active if a puck is up for play or they need to make a stop on a player getting in that area. This means the defensemen have to do a lot and it has been common for Bahl, Siegenthaler, and Marino to just miss simple assignments or be unaware of an angle or gap or just forget to tie up a stick. The nature of defense in hockey does require a lot to be done, but I think this book can help take out of the feeling of being “overloaded” and get the defensemen’s minds right to focus on what matters: stopping the opposition attack, helping the goalie, and helping the attack. It can be congruent with how Ruff & Ryan McGill want the defense to perform; I really do think these three have just lost focus at times. Simplify your games and the defensive miscues, mistakes, and mishaps should go down.
Hey, better this than praying for Ruff and McGill to stop telling the skaters to swarm it up on defense.
Akira Schmid - A collection of the following books: “The Art of Goaltending” by Vladislav Tretiak, “On Goaltending” by Jacques Plante, and The Power Within series by Mike Valley and Justin Goldman
While these books are more geared for younger players and not pro goalies, I think reading some words by some who have wildly successful in the realm of goaltending cannot hurt a young goalie who probably does not know what up or down is sometimes with his usage. Tretiak and Plante are two of the greatest goaltenders ever. Valley was a goaltending coach for Dallas from 2009 to 2015, and Goldman (also of The Goalie Guild) was a goalie scout for USA Hockey. Even if Schmid knows most of the material in these books, getting his mind right with the position may help out with future performances. Any kind of help is a positive step for Schmid. If Schmid wants to share these with Dave Rogalski, then I would more than improve. (Aside: Francois Allaire also wrote a goalie book but that was directly meant for young players.)
For Every Member of the Business Side of the Rock and the Devils - “Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is about Help Not Hype” by Jay Baer
The Devils have been rather terrible at marketing themselves or their own events at games for years. The experience at the Rock has taken a downturn as well. This book emphasizes the value of service with respect to marketing. At the end of the day, professional sports is a business like any other and the business of the arena management and the sales side of the team is to get and retain customers. No, they cannot make the on-ice product better, but they can make sure food is fully cooked and available on the concourse, fans and non-fans are aware of what is happening at the game, and buying tickets through the team will not lead to the nightmare of dealing with ticket representatives hounding you to buy a plan. Customer service can be and should be a priority by any organization regardless of whether the team is good or not. This is particularly crucial in a very competitive market for entertainment.
This is a bit more in line with what Stanta Clause would actually give out in his bit. Besides, we can learn as we play. Just as we should learn as the Devils play.
Jesper Bratt - Hungry, Hungry Hippos by Hasbro
This classic game is simple. Drop some marbles and wail on your trigger for your hippo to eat as many as possible. The lesson here is that there are times where you need to be greedy to win. While Bratt is having a very strong season as a top-20 NHL scorer along with The Big Deal, there are plenty of games where Bratt is not utilizing his talents to their fullest. Whether it is skating out from a one-on-one with a defender he can probably beat (e.g. this happened right before Hughes’ turnover in the OT loss to Philly) or putting up two or fewer shots out of nowhere (e.g. his zero-shot game in Seattle), I want to see Bratt just take control. He has the skills. He is producing like someone who can. Just make like Nike and do it, Bratt. Eat the marbles. Be a hippo. A hungry, hungry hippo.
Brendan Smith - Operation by Hasbro
This is the game where you need to carefully remove things from Cavity Sam without hitting the buzzer on the inside of the crevices where the things are. It is a good game to teach the value of not going over the line. Something Smith does have an issue with what with his penchant for penalties (team leader in both PIM with 34 and penalties taken with 14) and his retaliatory slash on Travis Konecny that earned him a suspension and extended scratching. Among his flaws on defense is a lack of willingness to go for the body or handling hits, as evidenced by some of the goals allowed directly associated with Smith. It is clear that Ruff wants Smith to be “gritty” but Smith needs to know the proverbial line. Plus, being more precise can only help a defenseman who is quite limited with the puck on his stick.
Ondrej Palat - Ticket to Ride by Days of Wonder
This board game has become a hit as players have to collect train cards to claim routes and earn points through reaching certain destinations, having a long continuous train, and more. From my own limited experience, it is a game that requires both strategy and boldness. If you do not think hard enough about your own situation, you can get blocked out and denied points. Likewise if you do not act aggressively enough. Palat has been in this league long enough as a complementary winger to succeed. And the points have come for him. But I need more from him more often. A game like this may help illustrate that point. As well as make him a hit at parties.
Alexander Holtz - Sorry! by Hasbro
Clearly Holtz received the short end of the ice time stick at times, even when it was his own linemates who fail miserbly on the ice. Since apologies to the staff are presumably on deaf ears, why not play the classic board game? It may be of small solace that the classic game of revenge on a board to get some of the tension out. It is more fun than sitting on a bench wondering what he has to do to get a fair shake.
Tyler Toffoli - Sling Puck by Crazy Games
Did you know Toffoli has one (1) goal in December so far? This man is in a surprisingly under-the-radar slump. Worse is that he has taken two or fewer shots in each game this month except for five shots in the nonsense against Edmonton, five shots in the nonsense against San Jose, and a 4-shot night in Vancouver. This is hardly someone making a case for a contract in New Jersey this summer. So what could help him revitalize his game? Honestly, shooting more in non-nonsense efforts by the Devils would be a place to start. What could get him in a shooting mindset? Why not Sling Puck, a little wooden board game where you need to get five pucks on the other side to win? How do you do that? Shoot, shoot, and shoot. (Aside: The classic game Crossfire would work perfect for this too but that is apparently unavailable.)
Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec - Papers, Please by Lucas Pope (Steam, Linux, Mobile, and now your browser in a demake)
This indie hit from 2013 is a game where you play as border inspector, letting people through the Grestin checkpoint into a made-up country called Arstotzka. You have to make a lot of decisions and reads on people against a clock. The more people you let in, the more you get paid and you can continue keep the heat and lights on for your family. But if you break the increasingly difficult rules given to you by the country, you get docked pay. You could lose heat, family members, and not even make it to the end. And of course there are some interesting paths you can take to complete your journey as an inspector. It is a great game and I recommend it for everyone. I recommend it for these two young defensemen as to understand that while they have to make a lot of quick decisions at this NHL level, they still need to pay attention to details to succeed. Just be careful with Jorji.
Dawson Mercer - The World Ends With You by Square Enix & Jupiter (DS, Mobile, Switch - Final Remix)
This action-based role playing game originally from 2007 has two main things I want to instill in young Mercer. The first is actually in the plot. The main story of the game is that a young man named Neku gets sucked into an alternate-version of Shibuya and he has to participate in something called Reapers’ Game for a week. Succeed and he lives. Fail and he dies. It turns out that this game is also controlling the real world. The main theme of the game is in the title as Neku realizes he has to learn to listen and trust other people; and, more importantly, understand himself to save his own life and his city. The title alone speak to this central theme. The second is in the gameplay, which requires building a set of pins (skills in the game) and utilizing them quickly in conjunction with a partner on a second screen to attack the noise (the monsters in the game). It requires both decisiveness and fast-thinking. These are things I want Mercer to understand so he knows that he has that DAWG in him and can play like a DAWG instead of the tentative, passive player I have been watching off and on for the first three months of this season. It would help if Ruff would move him back to wing too, but I nor Stanta can get that for him. (Aside: I wish I had this game when I was younger. It is far better than its under-promoted sequel, too.)
Dougie Hamilton and Tomas Nosek - XCOM 2 Collection by Firaxis Games (PC, XBox One, Switch, PS4)
Well, they both have a lot of times on their hands what with being out injured, recovering and rehabbing from their respective procedures. Honestly, I would recommend they do something fun for a long time that is also not physical. Some games are great for that. For these two, why not the strategy classic XCOM 2? The game where you lead the human resistance against the alien menace that has taken over the world by the ADVENT Administration and to stop The Avatar Project. The collection includes all of the DLC including the amazing War of the Chosen expansion. With loads of replay-ability and a game that forces some on-the-fly tough decisions, it will help fill in some of the time loss until they are ready to return. (Aside: I back this game 1,000%. Go play it if you have not.)
Some would prefer an experience over a tangible item. Plus, it does not take much time to say you’ll do something. Planning it, well, you can buy some time at the last minute for it. A gift card (pre-paid or homemade) serves a similar purpose. Also something to get on short-notice. Of course, I could not think of too many tangible items so I just threw a few in here. I’m sorry, Stanta handles his schtick than I ever could be.
Vitek Vanecek - Bungee cord cables with hooks. Take your pick for the manufacturer.
If only to keep Vanecek somewhere remotely in position in front of the net. Stickum for his pads would be more helpful for the rebounds he concedes, but I am fairly certain that coating the pads with it would be against the league’s rules. Besides, the cords can keep him facing the play instead of being caught looking in his own net, as evidenced here.
Timo Meier - A trip. Any trip away for a bit.
When Amanda Stein, who works for the team, has to state “Lindy Ruff certainly suggested that Timo Meier isn’t playing at his full capacity to where he was prior to the injury,” then you know Meier is not 100% healthy. It could be argued he should not have been playing at all for the past few weeks since he certainly is not contributing much - Thursday’s goal against Edmonton aside. That he has not been able to contribute much is a bad thing for any player, much less a big-money forward expected to help take the Devils’ offense to another level. I would gift him some time off to actually recover some more since playing physical hockey games night-in, night-out is not making it happen. Yes, I know he scored against Edmonton. No, he’s not remotely in form.
Colin Miller - A gift card of any baby store, or even a supermarket, of his choice.
Miller missed the last couple of games because his wife was expecting. She was in labor on Thursday morning, in fact. Congratulations to the Millers for their first. I can speak from experience that babies are wonderful. And that you will need quite a bit on an as-needed basis for the baby. A few years ago, this would be a gift card for Buy Buy Baby, which was perfect for furnishings, strollers, clothes, and more. But with that company down, that is not much of an option. And, honestly, even a supermarket gift card could be more useful for the amount of diapers and baby wipes the Millers will be going through on top of other needs like shampoo, moisturizer, possibly formula and later pureed food, and more. I do not know (or want to know) what his local store may be, but that would be an appropriate gift for him. He will need and use it.
Erik Haula - The Classic SD Swiss Army Knife by Victorinox
Haula is effectively used like a Swiss army knife. He can do a lot of different things and help in a pinch. It is not so large to take on bigger jobs like, say, cutting someone’s hair, assembling furniture, or playing regularly on a scoring line with Jack Hughes. But it is a good representation of what he is for the organization. Perhaps how he should actually be used instead of what he has been, which has been a winger alongside Hughes and Toffoli for some reason (He takes draws? Cool, now what about the rest of the shift?).
Curtis Lazar - A Stanley Quencher H.20 FlowState Stainless Steel Vaccuum Insulated Tumbler with Lid and Straw
OK, a Stanley cup is a cheeky gift for any hockey player. But a hard-working forward needs a cup that works just as hard at keeping hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. Simple, to the point, just like Lazar.
Nathan Bastian - A 10-in-1 Pocket Hatchet Multi-tool by Hayvenhurst
A grittier fourth-line winger needs a bit more than a classic multi-tool pocket knife. Why not a hatchet to help him keep chopping out there? With a hammerhead on the other end for all of the blunt force he could apply? One that comes with additional accessories like a wire cutter and different hex wrenches to represent his abilities to kill penalties, not suffer entirely when The Big Deal gets double-shifted onto his line, or the rare case of being asked to stand in front of a goalie on a secondary power play unit? Bastian’s season could be better but he has been turning it around. Some extra tool-based inspiration can’t hurt.
Lindy Ruff - A multi-pack of Fruit of the Loom Coolzone underwear.
Hot seats can feel uncomfortable. So some underwear with some moisture-wicking and odor-blocking within its fabric would help maintain comfort as Ruff continues to give 1,000 yard stares from the bench during the many of Devils games this season. Gift #3 for the head coach may be needed sooner than the other two.
And For Each and Every Single Member of the Roster & Staff - A Sonic Bomb Alarm Clock with Super Shaker from Sonic Alert
The company was formed by Adam Kollin, who developed a device to flash lights whenever noise was made for his deaf grandmother to know to answer the door or the phone. He went on to form the company to work on devices for the hearing impaired. But one of their more popular products are the Sonic Bomb line of alarm clocks to awaken even hearing-capable super-heavy sleepers. They are supremely loud, they flash bright lights, and shake the surfaces. Given how often the Devils do not start games well and play lethargic hockey, the current clock system they have needs an upgrade. Might as well go with something as loud as a chainsaw when the gametime strikes. It can probably be louder than the PA system at the Rock.
This is a Lot, Do the 2023-24 Devils Really Deserve These Gifts?
No. Absolutely not. After attending last night’s debacle against Edmonton, I think the staff and the players all deserve a lump of coal coated in rat urine. Except McLeod. Maybe.
However, this is Christmas. Religious and secular versions of the holiday season emphasize that it is not about whether someone or some group gets what they deserves. It is a season of not just giving gifts, but giving additional chances, giving opportunities for improvement, giving signs of encouragement, and giving a hand out instead of flipping a particular finger in their face. Besides, this is a Fischler-inspired, seasonally-appropriate blog post. Have a little fun in light of the recent misery that is the Devils playing at home. It’s not like there is a lot of it to be had at the Rock given the team’s 6-8-2 home record.
What would you give to the 2023-24 Devils if you had Santa’s (or Stanta’s) sleigh? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about what could help the Devils out. I will tell you in advance that there is a holiday roster freeze right now in the NHL. A trade or a decision to catapult, say, Vitek Vanecek to Utica is not going to happen until next Thursday at a minimum. Thank you for reading. And I assure you, there will be a more hockey-specific post on Christmas. Maybe posts. We shall see how much I get done.