Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hockey Orphan: John Fischer from In Lou We Trust on the New Jersey Devils

Click the logo about to read all the Hockey Orphan entries

(Thanks to John from In Lou We Trust for the New Jersey Devils entry. Make sure to follow Lou, Marty and Co. as they try to break more records and hearts. Another fantastic SB Nation blog.)

Life is about choices. More likely than not, you choose what to think, what to eat, what to drink, what to do for work, what to believe in, and what to imagine among other things. Relevant to this feature, you choose who you support within a sport. Before going any further, let me thank you for choosing to support hockey. It truly is the greatest sport on Earth, combining physicality, athleticism, finesse, speed, and emotion like no other sport. The National Hockey League features the best players in the entire world at hockey, giving their all on the ice more often than not – particularly in the postseason. These are the fundamental choices one must make before supporting a team and I laud you for making those choices. Even when either one becomes aggravating at times.
Back to teams, I can think of no other team to support than the New Jersey Devils. Sure, I am a big Devils fan, to the point where I spend my free time typing far too many words about the team I love. I am not an unbiased observer. And why should I be? Pretty much all hockey fans were at the same place you were at one time or another, about to make this choice. Why shouldn’t I offer my own spiel to sway your decision? After all, I truly believe that the Devils are the right choice.

The best way I can sum up the Devils’ overall is that organization is a model of consistent success. This is not a team that will throw out its leadership or its philosophy for the latest flavor of the month. The current general manager is also the team’s president and CEO, Lou Lamoriello. Lou isn’t perfect, but he’s been nothing short of remarkable for what he turned the Devils into today. He set the values for the team that are still followed today: professionalism, strong character, and a commitment to team work and defensive play. Players with extra baggage, arrogant “superstars,” players who whine consistently, and general “locker room cancers” are quickly shown the door in New Jersey. This is a team that respects each other as well as the organization as a whole. This is a team that one cannot really complain about its personnel outside of their performance. This is a team where the top players, who could get “more productive” roles on other teams or more money, choose to stay with New Jersey for less money because they know they have a better chance at success. If any of this interests you, then New Jersey should be your choice.
The Devils also do not care to please opponents. Whereas the other teams in the league favor certain styles of play, the Devils are committed to what is best for them. The Devils brought back the neutral zone trap in the mid-1990s and performed like a machine with it their first Stanley Cup in 1995 and multiple division titles soon after. Critics and fans of opposing teams reviled the Devils for being boring or being too defensive or killing hockey or whatever. Did New Jersey ever listen to them? No. They just kept winning games. And when the team had the offensive talent, they opened things up. The critics, stuck in the past as critics often are, still had the same complaints. New Jersey just went onto win their second Stanley Cup in 2000 and came one game short in 2001 for a repeat. The Devils returned to their defensive ways, but playing a more tight checking game than a direct neutral zone trap, and clawed their way to a third Stanley Cup in 2003. Even after the lockout, with all sorts of rule changes and other incentives to increase scoring, the Devils remain as one of the league’s top teams. The team now plays more of a puck-possession style of hockey, preferring to win it along the boards and let the play come to them defensively. Did it matter what the rest of the league was doing? No. The Devils continue to do what is best for them and since their breakout year of 1993-94, they have made the playoffs every year with the exception of one season, won 7 division titles, 4 Stanley Cup final appearances, and 3 Stanley Cups. The results are proof that the Devils’ method works; and needless to say, we’re quite pleased with it. If such a commitment to excellence despite the means interests you, then New Jersey should be your choice.
As it stands, the Devils also have players of note that demand your attention. One of the failings of the franchise is a lack of marketing and trumpeting of the team’s success and their players. Nevertheless, and this is written in a book, if you seek, then you shall find. The Devils currently boast one of the game’s greatest goaltenders in net: Martin Brodeur. He is now the all-time leader in wins in NHL history, he is closing in on the most shutouts in NHL history, and he has achieved every major award a goaltender could win outside of being named the league’s Most Valuable Player. He’s 36 and he’s still making unbelievable saves on any given night. Brodeur will continue to do so until the end of his career. The Devils also feature Patrik Elias, who recently became the franchise scoring leader. He has excellent one-on-one skills, brilliant vision, and a solid work ethic. All this and he’s excellent at coming back to help the defense. Elias has seen and done it all for the Devils throughout his career. As far as legends to come, this season saw the breakout of Zach Parise. The Devils traded up for this talent in 2003 and he’s currently paying massive dividends. He’ll go to the net for loose pucks, he’ll take big hits fighting for the puck in corners, he’ll constantly hustle for pucks all game long, he’ll take shot after shot after shot on net, and, like Elias, he’ll make the seemingly impossible possible. He’s one of the league’s leading scorers and the best is yet to come from Parise. Devils legends like Brodeur and Elias, and future ones like Parise will give you something to marvel at on any given night. Combine that with the fact that the team as whole will work hard to make something happen, going back to the team’s values, and it’s no wonder why the Devils get the results they have. If any of this interests you at all, then New Jersey should be your choice.
I understand this is a lot to take in, but consider the bigger picture. This isn’t just a good team; or a passing fad. The New Jersey Devils are an excellent organization overall and the results show that. This is a team that hasn’t had to re-build since the late 1980s-early 1990s, they only look to continuously improve themselves. This is a team that looks to compete for the Stanley Cup every season instead of settling for a high draft pick. This is a team that has their style of play; the players (for the most part) utilize it effectively; and has many fans of other teams scratch their heads and go, “How come the Devils are so good? Why can’t my team play like that?”

From my perspective, the choice is either to support a team that will look to do something every season or to support a team that will not even come close to meeting the same level of success. I really don’t see how choosing New Jersey wouldn’t be an excellent at all. I’m sure you will make the right choice.

No comments: