The Devils Managed to Blow yet Another Multi-Goal Lead, and Taylor Hall Somehow Committed a Cardinal Sin Worse Than His Blind Behind-The-Back Pass
Oh no. Just, no. Hallsy...baby...what is you doing? Honestly, the only way a Taylor could actively tank their approval rating amongst their own immature consumer base as badly as this would be if T-Swift entered a loving relationship with the intent of actually staying in it, as opposed to turning the premeditated breakup into promo for the next 'Bad Blood'.
As someone who bounces back and forth between being a silent self-loather and a maniacal mutterer while filling the thankless and unpaid position of Assistant Coach in Attendance, you won't hear these vocals joining a chorus of boos anytime soon. I personally find such an insanely unoriginal act to be the criticism of a caveman, but that's neither here nor there.
The fact is that I do sympathize with the sentiment, so I can speak for all the infuriated fans out there in saying that an understandably hot-headed home crowd is much like a hangry pregnant woman. More or less telling them to "calm down", no matter how harmless the intent, is just about the only thing that could kick a proverbial leg out from under what is, at best, a wobbly chair of emotional instability.
As a person, I appreciate the honesty and humanity in Taylor Hall openly expressing his distressed displeasure in feeling like we've reached a point in which every little mistake will end with him and his teammates feeling exiled on their own ice. As a fan, who has had every ounce of preseason optimism, joy, and excitement knocked out of me by the unrelenting gut punch of multi-goal leads quickly turning into inexplicable losses, I offer him a simple piece of advice that Cory Schneider apparently could have used last night...just fucking save it...
I don't know that there is ever a "good" time to criticize the fickle frustration of the fans, as the one thing that is typically true about boos is that they are, shockingly, a product of the overall performance of the people they are directed at. A prime example of the worst time, however, is on the heels of yet another gut-wrenching home loss that was the direct result of yet another blown lead.
It was Taylor Hall's blind behind-the-back pass, which was made so long after it was actually open that you'd think the button on his soon-to-be-thrown controller got stuck, that gave Tampa Bay the possession that they eventually put off him and into his own net to tie the game at five. In a lot of ways, it was a pee-wee-level play that was depressingly symbolic of how creative they've been in creating their own bad luck. As a partially self-appointed leader, whose struggles have been far from mutually exclusive to those of his team, there may have been no better time for a little self-aware silence than last night. The impending free agent of the elephant in the room asked for the expectations that Ray Shero so gracefully provided throughout a busy offseason. He's since been complicit in turning them into a self-deprecating punchline, so - anatomically speaking - it's a far less painful endeavor to bite your tongue as opposed to putting your foot to the back of your throat.
Like, at least try to read an irate room better than you read the defense. You'd need more asterisks than the MLB record book to say aloud the explicit content echoed throughout the Prudential Center last night aloud in front of a room full of children, so an intricate, mind-mannered conversation was not something the crowd collectively felt ready to get roped into. This seems almost too obvious to even type. You cannot, under any circumstances, follow up a "victory" that was nauseatingly moral in nature with an overly nuanced appraisal of those who definitely aren't referring to a super-select powerplay percentage or that particular evening's advanced analytics when giving voice to ten largely cataclysmic games' worth of grievances.
This isn't some secret, most fans don't give the crustiest of crap about incremental improvements (no matter how big those increments may be) if they aren't accompanied by the result that gets you hired and/or fired in professional sports. Sure, the Devils - sans both their #1 defenseman and their goaltender (that, to their credit, accepted full blame) - played their second straight good game in which they were decisively the better team...
Considering they spent the first period looking as though they were passing with one eye open, managed to repeatedly leave Steven Stamkos streaking down the wing in transition with so much room that they might as well have gone ahead and offered him board, and - in a way that's metaphorically fitting - didn't...ahem...pick up the other point in letting Jan Rutta load and unload a puck that cut their recently extended lead to one, I certainly wouldn't say they played an amazing game. Point being, they hardly put themselves in any position to add to their opposition in addressing the inherently irrational idiots (myself included) that have gotten a sickeningly familiar piss poor return on what was shamelessly marketed as a much safer investment.
Again, I don't think Taylor Hall's actual words - that admittedly seem exponentially more moronic when read through eyes as red as the hundreds upon hundreds of #9 jerseys in the arena - were anywhere near as wrong as his timing. To put it simply, if you want to find a way to make this nightmarish start about anyone outside of that locker room then fine. Just please, for the love of Jesus fucking Christ, toughen up, tune out the noise, and find a way to win a goddamn game that you lead by two with under twenty minutes left first.
Sure Starting to Sound Like Teddy Bridgewater Has Lined Himself to Win This Year's Quarterback Lottery in Free Agency
Damn. That quick, huh?
Don't get me wrong, I'm hardly in the quiet car on the 'Pay Teddy' train. Yes, even if Drew Brees keeps turning back the hands on Father Time's clock and that money is being shelled out by a team other than the Saints in a city that will unquestionably adore him less than New Orleans. Considering all that he's been through, and the enduringly optimistic attitude he's maintained while going through it, there isn't a quarterback more deserving of signing a huge contract with a grandiose amount of guaranteed money and, realistically, an impossible-to-live-up-to average salary.
I didn't mean for that last part to come off so doubtful, as I'll continue to emphasize that I love Teddy Bridgewater, but when I say "quick" I'm not even referring the entirety of the five-game win streak during which he pumped cup his price tag by keeping the Saints on the fast track to Super Bowl contention. The truth is that the volume on the hype machine didn't get turned up until he made gator food out of the Buccaneers' secondary in his third start. It echoed long enough to last through an extremely humdrum win over the Jaguars until the bass got kicked into overdrive during a dismantling of the vaunted Bears defense in Chicago. Still, while Teddy was a lot of great things for an otherwise complete Saints' team (safe, smart, stable, and everything else an otherwise complete team needed him to be), what he wasn't was some deadly accurate, 20-30 million dollar quarterback.
Again, I'd be more than happy to see someone compensate him like him and do hope that's a shoe that eventually fits, but he's got what I'd consider two impressive starts that exceeded the average interpretation of game management under his belt this season. Long story short, whoever is stepping on the gas in backing up the Brinks truck for Teddy will be banking high on his Payton-less potential in paying an egregious amount of interest on this dime, which will likely serve as his swan song as a starter while heading into free agency...
There are countless worse options to overpay, and I think all of New Orleans would tell you they'd consider Teddy receiving a monster deal from a QB-desperate team the next best case if he understandably doesn't care to keep waiting out Drew Brees as the heir to a perfectly fit throne. Still, his value already being tagged somewhere in the mid-twenties is a pretty eye-popping reminder of how rash NFL organizations get when it comes to trying to the fill the position that gives you the best odds of being revenant.
It Probably Won't Be Investigated, but Michael Thomas Currently Has a Case to Be the NFL's MVP
It's not happening. Only in the wildest dreams of a Who Dat Nation of fans, that find faith in every flex that follows yet another inevitable first down catch from someone who has turned Cant Guard Mike from a twitter handle to an irrefutable fact of life, does Michael Thomas stand a chance of being recognized as the NFL's most impactful player. That's due in small part to him forever feeling subconsciously slighted and caring about endearing himself to voters as much as he cares about endearing himself to the corners, who might as well be nameless and faceless, whose confidence he chokes the life out of every Sunday. However, it's due mostly to playing a position whose value predominantly pales in comparison to that of those entrusting him with targets.
Of course, the idea that even the best wide receivers are quarterback-dependent has been counter-punched by the unconditional efficiency of a player whose every route run, whether it be at the cue of Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Brees, now comes with the expectation that it will end with him being more open than the MVP race...
Still, the options under center would have to be few and far between come Week 16 for a pass-catcher to break decades of precedent in having the league's most decorated award be within their catch radius.
That, however, doesn't mean it's not worth offering the argument. As deaf as the ears on which they may ring, Michael Thomas' numbers speak for themselves. Receptions. Yards. Catch rate. They voice a level of production and consistency that are setting the pace for history in putting to a damn whimper the play of every single one of his pass-happy peers...
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray have taken turns picking up some slack, but the offense of a team that enters the bye on a six-game win streak despite losing its All-World QB for over a month has largely been dragged through the strength of its schedule by the unrelenting vice grip of its money man...
You want an out-of-the-box (score) stat on which to judge a season that, to this point, has been superior to the one that earned Michael Thomas what was the richest wide receiver contract ever? How about ROI? The return the Saints have gotten on their investment into what's typically considered a complimentary position has been their main source of success. Never mind it being the cost of doing business, because if you had to put a price tag on a performance that has thus far transcended the toughest of circumstance then it might well exceed the 21+ million dollars that Michael Thomas is due this year.
Simply put, we're talking about a guy that knows full well what it's like to serve as the exception to a rule. That far, far more than likely won't prove true when the MVP eventually gets awarded, but - at the midseason point - counting out a competitor as crazed as Mike is as futile an endeavor as guarding him.
In What Has to Be the Coaching Controversy of Matt Nagy's Nightmares, He Apparently Didn't Check Where His Kicker Wanted the Ball Placed Before Killing the Clock
Matt Nagy's crotchety and convoluted defense of his decision to punk out and play for a 41-yard field goal, as opposed to putting even the slightest sliver of faith whatsoever in his offense to gain what would have been precious plus yardage, may lead you to believe that there is nothing that grinds his gears more than being asked how well they are greased...
The mini-camp mind games that he used to torture a team that was probably still waking up in a cold sweat to images of abused uprights, on the hand other, point to a man whose skin is made the most penetrable by field goal failures...
From the outside looking in, it sure seems the bees that buzz the loudest in Matt Nagy's bonnet while baffling his self-bloated brain are questionable kickers and kicking related questions. Therefore, it must feel like he was being swarmed by a hive of hornets after the former slipped up and booted down the door inviting more of the latter into his already cluttered kitchen...
I mean, talk about fighting a two-front war against a monster of your own making. Being stuck between a rock and hard place would probably feel like being swaddled in a warm blanket on a cool midwest evening in comparison to the Bears' in-over-his-head coach having to duel it out with the demons (not named Mitchell Trubisky) that have sabotaged his peace of mind.
The only reason this isn't the double jeopardy of coaching controversies is because it would more accurately be described as the 'Double Doink' of coaching controversies. Only one thing could make worse the nonsensical notion that running against a prepared defense automatically equals a loss of four yards. That one thing is the kicker who failed you, however innocently, making it sound like you desperately tried to secure a sure win in a safe but forgot to close it and set the lock. You could have already easily made the argument that Matt Nagy was more super cowardly than super calculated, but he somehow looks dumber today than he sounded on Sunday.
At the end of day, Eddy Pineiro is absolutely right. He simply has to do his single, solitary job in nailing a game-winning field goal of an entirely reasonable length. That's obvious. Unfortunately, what's also obvious is that a run-of-the-mill missed kick becoming a coaching issue speaks volumes about the stupefying circumstances surrounding it. Not even considering where his kicker might want the ball after precariously putting away the playbook and having literally nothing else to worry about makes the unwavering claim of smartly playing it safe seem a hell of a lot more like a case of being stupidly paralyzed by pressure.
Matt Nagy went out of his way to put himself in the crosshairs during his perfunctory press conference and - wouldn't ya know it - the guy who should realistically be to blame accidentally stumbled into the trigger. Really makes you think that the guy treating a podium like an intellectual high ground should have been a bit more...ahem...cautious about talking in circles while reprimanding a room of reporters. Especially since he's apparently the type to triple-check that he's within the confines of the crosswalk before blindly waltzing into oncoming traffic without looking both ways.
The Goose's Wings Have Finally Been Clipped: Nikita Gusev Will Watch Wednesday's Game Alongside Patrik Elias as a Healthy Scratch
He did it. He actually did it. In drawing the ire of a good portion of a fanbase that is (somewhat understandably) more concerned with spewing obscenities in the direction of the head coach than thinking critically about a single decision he makes, John Hynes finally took the oddly partial 'Handle With Care' label off a player whose play has been careless at best and panicked at worst.
Personally, I find myself flabbergasted by the backlash, even if it is being buoyed by the bias most have towards the bald dude behind the bench. It almost makes me believe that Damien Brunner was merely a catchy nickname away from his jersey sales taking flight, because the Goose's on-ice flight path has been about as "stable" as the marble-minded obsession that some have with the fact that he's scored a few times.
To be clear, I'm hardly "out" on a supremely talented player who is obviously adjusting to a new style of play in a rink much smaller than the one he's grown accustomed to. I still think there is a ton of potential to be realized pending his transition to NHL ice - that shouldn't be considered so time-sensitive, mind you - becoming less choppy than his skating and more clear than his understanding of the English language.
That said, if Nikita Gusev is currently passing anyone's eye-test than I have no choice but to believe their vision is more blinded by unconditional lust than the heart-eyes emoji. Put aside advanced analytics that read as follows while the Goose continues to lay eggs on both sides of the ice...
Literally the only stat that supports him playing on a nightly basis is goals. Two of those were put on a tee for him by the player whose spot he's been taking in the lineup (Bratt) and the other, while crafty, was the direct result of dumb luck as Panarin broke his stick on an attempted clear. With a Tampa team coming to town that made the Devils look like chickens with their heads cut off on multiple occasions last season, the last thing a team that struggles in its own end can afford to have in their Top-9 is an even more bewildered bird.
Simply put, this isn't Hynes finding another creative way to ride the "hot hand" of John Hayden (::insert eye-roll::). It's him giving an overwhelmed and turnover-prone player a chance to pick the brain of one of the brightest hockey minds in franchise history by watching a game through the all-seeing eyes of someone who spent two decades cultivating the perfect combination of skills and smarts at both ends of the ice...
Perching Goose alongside the friendly face and multi-cultural understanding of Patrik Elias, whose jersey rests eternally in the rafters, isn't just a a resourceful attempt to repair his game. It's also one that it approximately 1,000% better for his development than continuing to be babied up and down a lineup that's hardly been able to wipe its own ass defensively. The Jespers can't be the only offensive-minded, middle-six players who are held accountable for their mistakes and forced to learn from a luxury suite, especially since their mistakes haven't had near the cringeworthy look of a bird flying aimlessly in circles with a wounded wing.
During the Most Solid 60 Minutes They Have Played This Season, The Devils Still Managed to Find a Minute or Two to Make Themselves Easy Prey for the Coyotes
The good news is that Devils put forth their best overall performance of a young season, that has its target audience feeling more doomed than the team's line combinations, against a Coyotes' team whose (even) strength seemed so destined to expose their defensive zone weakness that its failure to do so may have put the reputation of advanced analytics on short-term IR. The first overall pick didn't just make good on a first line role. Jack Hughes shined like a star, as opposed to looking like he was seeing stars, in force-feeding a foot to every idiot that considered a 6-game sample size - during which the teenager's play incrementally improved despite his production failing to follow suit - to be a permanent black mark against his "manhood"...
You'd think that collecting the lion's share of the shots in demonstrably dominating the run of play, in part due to the unreal efforts of someone who is still at least one growth spurt away from requiring a razor replacement, that the bad news would begin and end with the length of the beer lines.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that all the good news didn't mean jack shit, as a team who self-sabotages more efficiently than a drunk double-texter after a first date managed to make lemons into lemonade...only to immediately dump it down their shirt while taking the first sip. The Devils, as has already served as a nauseatingly familiar plot to many a soul-draining defeats, watched multiple leads, including a multiple goal lead, evaporate with the ease in which a half-full glass becomes half-empty, and untimely turnovers "helped" to defy the physics of what was decidedly tilted ice.
Now look, I'm just as baffled as everyone else in John Hynes being the 'Jill' to John Hayden's 'Jack' in dying on the hill with a fringe fourth liner. I can't even begin to comprehend how Nikita Gusev earned a promotion despite maintaining an apple-per-turnover ratio that would make a baker swear off gluten. Especially since the more accomplished NHL player (Jesper Bratt), who hand-fed him two goals of the three goals that seemingly make up the entirety of his weak argument for an increased opportunity, serves time sitting in a luxury suite for his offensive and defensive sins. The Jespers being granted not a single reprieve, while the Goose uses his (apparently unconditional) spot in the lineup to fly blindly throughly the neutral zone multiple times a game reeks of the type of double standard that tears at the inherent fabric of a team's chemistry. Point being, Hynes is anything remotely close to innocent in this early season ordeal.
That being said, if you wanted an example of a loss that strongly supported Ray Shero's unmistakable message stating that the all-world athletes that need to hold themselves more accountable, above all else, then look no further than the fuckery that took place Friday. The sacrosanct "system" has been under siege from all corners of an understandably fed-up fanbase, and rightfully so....
However, there is not a single system in any walk of life, never mind just sports, that is entirely immune to the type of situational stupidity that undercut the Devils' otherwise encouraging effort against Arizona...
The fact of the matter is that being made more clumsy by the presence of a blueline than by your first sexual experience isn't in the blueprint. Lacking focus in fleeing the ice early keeps coaches awake at night, but it's not because they see dawn while drawing up easy exit strategies for professionals that can't process the flow of play. MacKenzie Blackwood certainly didn't help matters in failing to fall ass-backwards into a big save, but it was the players in front of him that ensured the opponent quality over quantity in pissing away their hard work by making that of the Coyotes all-too-easy.
Truthfully, it feels counterintuitive to say the following about a team whose scheme already seems brutally basic. Still, the Devils have to cleanse themselves of counter-productivity in getting far, far better at the basics that were learned long prior to entering the highest level of hockey before it makes any sense whatsoever to blame the coach, no matter how jumbled his judgement.
For at least one game, it was the "system" - that is undoubtedly more scrutinized than it is understood - that helped them push the Coyotes back on their heels. It's the fatal and fundamental fuck-ups in executing said system, however, that had them spoiling Jack Hughes coming out party by getting knocked off their toes in falling even deeper into a grave that's as much a product of their own digging as it anything designed on the drawing board.
Thumbs Up, Cards Down: Drew Brees Was Very Much Back as the Saints Ruled With an Iron Fist en Route to a 6th Straight Win
Let me start by reiterating something entirely unnecessary. On behalf of the tens of thousands of Who Dat's who loudly let his name ring off the resounding walls of the SuperDome during an afternoon in which he wasn't much more than a spectator/stand-in to a familiar form of Drew Brees' brilliance, Teddy Bridgewater is hereby a beloved person, player, and - pending the conclusion of what's shaping up to be a special season - legend in New Orleans...
As for his revered replacement, any doubts that may have been shamelessly spread amongst those that aren't anywhere near as intimately knowledgeable of the state of Drew Brees' throwing hand as one of the most well-managed teams in the NFL were put to rest yesterday. Never mind blabbering on about two more weeks of rest as if that's not the equivalent of an eternity to a crazed competitor whose numbered days as a professional athlete probably have him on the verge of an existential crisis, because knocking the rust off against an inferior opponent prior to 14 days of pressure-less preparation was clearly the right decision.
I would have been more than fine with going the cautious route in starting Teddy, but Drew Brees needed to get back into the swing of things, as evidenced by an uncharacteristic mismanagement of the clock that - regardless of being a product of endlessly questionable officiating - took points off the board at the end of the half...
He needed to get re-adjusted to the unmatched intensity of the NFL gameday experience, as evidenced by him turning the ball over on an absolute head-scratcher of a "shit, I hit the wrong button"-type YOLO pass to a fullback in double coverage...
When in midseason form, he doesn't make those mistakes, so yesterday was as good a time as any to get him up to speed prior to a point in the schedule when it becomes full-speed ahead. In turning a long-shot into a laugher as the game wore on, he certainly seemed to step on the gas in zooming past any concerns about the health of his hand or his readiness to readily rely on it.
The Saints, as a whole, did what they have done with an increasing level of dominance since the beginning of the season in imposing their will on the opposition. Since the outlier in Los Angeles, they have not coincidentally been undefeated in the trenches. The defense has gone from stuffing the run to flat out scaring teams out of even trying to get the ground game going, and the scary part is that I don't even blame the opposing coaches. I understand Kliff Kingsbury resorting to desperate measures in fighting up a weight class, but calling a 4th down dive into the middle of this defense on his own 30 in a one score game was damn near a fireable act of offense...
Especially since it sparked the fuse to the type of scorching one would typically expect from a Drew Brees-led offense in the SuperDome. The clock struck 'Taysom Time' and a spanking much like the one Patrick Peterson endured while being dragged into the end zone at the legs of an unguardable adonis put an emasculating exclamation on the afternoon...
Honestly, it's becoming close to a misnomer to merely say that this team is resilient, because this iteration of the New Orleans Saints is damn near regenerative. It's as if you cut a limb off and it immediately starts growing back stronger. If Drew Brees' performance was an indicator of things to come then his injury will prove to be blessing in disguise in keeping a 40 year old fresh for a strong finish. If Latavius Murray continues to be half the bell-cow back he's been while Alvin Kamara has been reinforcing his rubber limbs for the stretch run? A dynamic duo comparable to the illustrious Ingram & AK connection is hardly out of the question that was being worrisomely whispered amongst the entire fanbase while he sat collecting dust on the sidelines in September. PJ Williams finally got suspended for driving drunk in the dawn of last winter's depressing disappointment, and what has happened since? Dennis Allen has spawned some hybrid of PJ Williams and a pit bull out of a 4th round rook as Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has attacked his opportunity with inexhaustible aggressiveness...
These Saints haven't just kept pace in jumping over ever hurdle set in their path, they've managed to hit the ground accelerating in turning every perceived negative into a long-term positive. Teddy Bridgewater got a flat on the bicycle he rides to and from every home game yesterday, and that is somehow legitimately in contention for the most demoralizing thing that's happened to the team since he started his stainless stint under center...
We are talking 7-1, with the Saints having already pinned the strength of their schedule in running off six straight, and yet we've somehow yet to see the most complete version that either side of the ball has to offer. You couldn't possibly ask for more out of the team without sounding like the most spoiled of brat. That, however, doesn't mean that they won't have much more to offer in giving an elite and energized quarterback an upgraded arsenal of weapons to compliment a suffocating defense after spending a well-deserved week of rest greasing the gears and undergoing a total tune-up prior to an increasingly promising postseason race.
Long story short, when it comes to the trajectory of the New Orleans Saints, I'm not so sure the most adequate representation isn't both simply and symbolically a thumbs up.
Dare I Say That the Devils Finally Have Something More Than Absolutely Nothing to Build On?
The Devil is quite obviously in a lot of depressing details when it comes to the issues that have turned New Jersey from everyone's favorite preseason "dark horse" to something more fit for the glue factory than a playoff race. That said, I'm all for the delightful distractions they have offered a fanbase that was one more multi-goal collapse from a crisis center in keeping its composure about as well as...well...
Simply put, sandwiching a ridiculously reasonable and relatively unexpected Nico Hischier extension (that will make a lot of devout box score believers sound stupid sooner rather than later) in between a win over the rival Rangers and a first-career-turned-game-winning goal from Jack Hughes in the 'Battle of the Brothers' is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to helping the Prudential Center collectively avoid a panic attack...
Time will tell whether it was a product of them slowly coming together as a team or if the timing was just right in them clicking on the safety and putting down the proverbial gun before shooting themselves in the foot for the umpteenth time, but a couple steps in the right direction is much better than chasing their tail without direction. The harsh truth is that this young and, to this point, dumb team is still hundreds of yards away from being out of the woods, but at least they are no longer surrounded by a forest fire of their own sparking. John Hynes' seat isn't nearly as cool as an unused toilet seat, especially with him appearing to harbor an inexplicable prejudice towards all things Jesper, but at least it's no longer singeing his ass hairs. The Devils play in their own zone is still trash, but at least that garbage is no longer piping hot from the blaze of the dumpster it was residing in.
The last/first two victories are made to look far better by the inexcusable losses that accompany them on the Devils' minimum wage-worthy resume. Still, finding a way to win was marked improvement, even if that "way" was holding onto their butts so as not crap themselves before being bailed out by a hot goaltender in MacKenzie Blackwood. Mix in a long term commitment from someone who has all the makings of a happy and humble franchise cornerstone and you have a bye week that feels almost as much like an early vacation as it does a late vaccination.
The general tone surrounding this franchise could easily change as soon as tomorrow night. A Coyotes' team that has been nothing short of excellent at even strength is sure to offer an unforgiving test to a group that's made 5-on-5 defense look like a passive penalty kill at best and a blind person trying to read a vision chart at worst.
Still, an extended weekend that predominantly provided this unfamiliar feeling that people apparently call pos...a...tivity(?) was a breathe of fresh air that was as desperately needed as a Devils' line change after their fifth straight failed clear. As of this moment, it's more wait-and-see than "FIRE AWAY!". However, with that provisional patience being challenged with each and every posted practice lineup, now would probably be the best time to show some more real improvement before a crowd that's waited a long time for the dawning of a new era is instead left rioting in the aftermath of a yet another implosion.
This is the closest thing they are going to get to a fresh start after the first one turned rotten faster than the banana they appeared to be repeatedly tripping over in looking like a 'Learn to Play' clinic, so they damn sure better come out looking like a cohesive hockey team. After all, there is only so many first goals to be scored and contract extensions to be signed before you're forced to turn your focus to where the real successes shows themselves. Ya know, like, in the standings.
We Can All Stop Acting Like Drew Brees Gives a Half of a Damn About a Conveniently Timed Bye Week
Let me be the first to say that I'd gladly spend another week watching Teddy Bridgewater up his offseason ante, especially against an inferior defense who is entering the hostile confines of the SuperDome, if it meant that Drew Brees was even .01% healthier down the stretch for a Super Bowl run. For that reason, I think the Saints probably should take advantage of the leeway they have afforded themselves by somehow breezing through with a blemish-free record while Brees-less and have him spend the next two weeks sitting on his reengineered thumb - metaphorically speaking, of course - as opposed to pushing its limits.
Unfortunately, what I know is that what I think couldn't possibly matter any less. There is exactly one thing that everyone who shares my opinion has in common, and that is a fundamental inability to relate to the near-psychotic level of competitiveness that has enabled a man well into his 40's to maintain an elite level of performance at the most difficult position in all of professional sports.
In theory, yes, the upcoming bye week does come at the perfect time in offering the perfect opportunity for an aging athlete to slowly but surely ease his way back into swing of things. In execution, no, there isn't anyone who is about to test that theory by telling the football-obsessed freak below to choose playing it safe over playing quarterback this Sunday...
I say the following as lovingly as humanly possible, Drew Brees is a lunatic. He lives and breathes football, and more than likely has spent every waking second since his injury doing even the most trivial of exercises in hopes of cutting his recovery time by even a single minute. Telling him he shouldn't participate after the medical staff (presumably) clears him to is the equivalent of telling him he has to wait two more weeks, after what's essentially been a month plus of forced fasting, to cut into a juicy filet mignon as the aroma wafts directly into his nostrils. I haven't the slightest doubt that he's extremely happy for Teddy Bridgewater, but Jesus Christ himself could have been the one chosen to take the wheel from him for the last five weeks and every single missed snap would still eat at his God-fearing soul.
Point being, if both he and a licensed physician, that understands the risks better than fans ever could, agree that he's absolutely good to go then go he absolutely will, and the only "bye" that will be a part of that decision is the one he dismissively waves to anyone that tries to talk him out of it. Sean Payton is perhaps the only other person capable of telling him "no", and he's one of the very few that possesses enough of that same killer instinct to understand full well how futile it would be to even try.
The Last Five Weeks Have Been the Chef's Kiss of Sean Payton's Coaching Career
Annnd, that'll about do it. Honestly, other than out of respect for the job Frank Reich has done on the heels of his starting quarterback calling it quits a couple weeks before kickoff, is there any reason not to award Sean Payton the 'Coach of the Year' trophy prior to the mid-point of said season? I suppose it would an endless source of incessant bitching off the board for the stupidity spewers on sports talk television, but I think they can probably stand to have one topic that's not really up for all that much debate left without cyclical, repetitive argument.
In all seriousness, the undermanned schooling that Sean Payton and the Saints gave Matt Nagy and the Bears in Chicago on Sunday was merely the most convincing lecture offered during what's been a month-plus long master class in both coaching and leadership. The backup quarterback-led bullying of what was supposed to be "the best defense in football", without Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook, was simply an exclamation point on a 5-0 stretch that not only kept a 'Super Bowl or bust' season afloat, but may have realistically made for smoother sailing.
What that offensive and defensive clinic wasn't, however, was the most impressive thing that Sean Payton has orchestrated since watching the longtime lifeblood of the franchise that had just entrusted him with its uncertain future under center, by way of a contract extension, fail to grip a football. In my opinion, that title is reserved for whatever he said and/or did to motivate and challenge a team that he helped build to withstand a crisis at quarterback - in a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency sort of way - to prove him right in its construction. The last of what was initially and understandably bleak body language got left in Los Angeles along with the player whose injury could have easily derailed the dreams of a less relenting roster. Putting the kibosh on any lingering self-pity, above all else, is an accomplishment that speaks to the culture of a team that has largely been made in the likeness of Sean Payton's personality.
What we've seen on the field since is a fluid formula whose lone constant, outside of Michael Thomas' inability to be guarded and the defense's ability to step up and captain the ship through unforgiving waters that would have drowned them in the past, is that it has equated to victories. The game scripts haven't been the same, but the endings have been more dependably happy than those of rom-coms. That's a testament to a complete team that has hardly played mistake-free football, but instead played supplementary football in finding a versatile variety of ways to make up for those mistakes. It's also a credit to opponent-specific game plans, on both sides of the ball, that have made Sean Payton, Dennis Allen, & Co. look as though they were slipped the world's most elaborate cheat sheet prior to the biggest test of their respective careers.
Still, the execution of those game plans wouldn't be at all possible without a level of belief and buy-in that's done the near impossible in making Colin Cowherd's claim that a team that rebounded from the 'Minneapolis Miracle' would have its spirit shattered by the 'NOLA No-Call' out to be the stupidest fucking thing he's ever said. At this point, you can just definitively call that take the worst of all time, as not even the worst case scenario coming to fruition was able to break this team's will.
On both the field and the sidelines, the Saints' biggest advantage resides between their ears...which says quite a bit given the amount of god-given physical talent wearing black & gold ever weekend. They haven't just been resilient in rallying around Teddy Bridgewater, whose sprinkled in just enough dimes during his first extended stretch of play since 2015 to collect the interest of a fat chunk of change this upcoming offseason. They have appeared completely unbothered in being without the services of someone who has long been their beating heart. They haven't just been coached towards the top of the NFC without their future first ballot HOF quarterback. They've been galvanized in a way that allows for their future first ballot HOF quarterback to step back under center for a team that barely has any body fat in being more solid, strong, and intimidating than any he has predominantly done the heavy lifting for over the course of the last 14 seasons.
Hell, the only reason not be consider Sean Payton to have already lapped the pack for 'Coach of the Year' is because he somehow made the somewhat miraculous midseason maintenance of a Super Bowl contender, that was assumed to have lost its soul, look far too easy despite facing a schedule that was supposedly tough.
Whether as an Average Coach or an Excellent Scapegoat, John Hynes Can't be More Than a Couple Embarrassing Efforts From the Unemployment Line
Welp, here we are. From floating on Cloud #9 to seeming depressingly destined to bid an eventual farewell to #9 while dick-deep in Shit's Creek without a paddle in sight. When an unprecedentedly promising season opened, less than two weeks ago, it was implausible that we'd be discussing John Hynes' job security like it were as weak as the one-ply the Devils' are apparently using to plug their leaky team defense prior to people purchasing their Halloween costumes. Then again, the only reason I didn't use the word 'impossible' is because that is reserved for a shockingly incompetent start that somehow has a playoff berth looking like a pipe dream with 76 whole games left to loathe, cry, or sleep through. Not even the most eternally pessimistic Devils' fan, of which there are many, would have envisioned this organization needing this quick of a courtesy flush. However, with the long overdue induction of a new era of hockey in New Jersey increasingly resembling a clogged crapper, fans almost have no choice but to have their finger on the trigger in being more than ready to send John Hynes swirling into unemployment.
Personally, I don't think that merely appearing to pick the lineups out a dunce cap warrants such a swift ousting of a head coach who has been tasked with the unforgiving job of turning a ton of new talent into a cohesive team. To say the Devils look be on the same page systemically would be like giving a 5-star review to a self-help book authored by an unmedicated schizophrenic, but I highly doubt the drawing board is chalked to the gills with new and "improved" ways in which professional athletes can blindly turn the puck over in their own zone like visually-impaired pee-wees. Many of the mistakes being routinely made at a nauseating rate are some bantam league bullshit, so pinning the entirety of the tail on the donkey behind the bench is to play the blame game at a novice level. Both the powerplay and the penalty kill, that were presumably granted a false sense of security by going up against each other all camp, are defiantly defying the laws of probability in being an obvious indictment of a team that couldn't possibly appear more ill-prepared. That, along with a defensive system that's approximately as effective as repeatedly jamming their dicks into a doorknob, certainly falls at the feet of the head coach. Every half-witted mismanagement of the puck that has enabled each and every inexcusably embarrassing effort, on the other hand, does not.
For that reason, I actually don't take issue with Ray Shero's first state of the union being a direct challenge to those most capable of and most responsible for flipping the franchise's fortunes...
As someone with a lot of respect for Tom Fitzgerald as both a talent evaluator and a hockey mind that doesn't pull any punches, I'm fine with him being brought down to ice-level to offer his insight, even if it does feel like giving a single crutch to a head coach that has no legs to stand on...
That being said, I'm "fine" in the way that a scorned woman might be "fine" because if things don't change both drastically and almost immediately then there should be hell to pay with only one person to be realistically be sacrificed in financing the fanbase's fury. If the Devils head into what could quite literally be a bye week with two more uncompetitive no-shows on a winless resume, the question shouldn't be whether or not John Hynes is the entirety of the problem. The question should be whether or not what he brings to the table as a communicator and a motivator after four predominantly dogshit seasons is worth watching a particularly important fifth one prove all-too-familiarly irrelevant as the New Jersey Devils get deservingly tabbed as Edmonton Oilers East.
Honestly, if the team continues to look like the result of a yips epidemic as a group that should probably be wearing name tags on the front of their jerseys instead of name plates on the back - as they appear to know each other about as well as a randomly selected jury - then the verdict shouldn't take too much longer to come in. There's currently no blame to be directed Ray Shero, but that will change extremely quickly if he doesn't do absolutely everything in his power to squeeze something mildly successful out of the skill he acquired over the summer. After preaching patience, annually and ad nauseam, he can't play the waiting game while the expectations he created over the offseason continue to go comically unfulfilled while a flustered fanbase loses hope faster than the Devils lose a multi-goal lead.
I've liked the cut of John Hynes' jib for quite some time and I have no idea if the solution to a contagious lack of confidence is to simply bring in a new voice to tell the players the myriad of ways in which they are setting the sport of hockey back beyond all recognition. However, if an unrecognizably in sync team doesn't soon take the ice - starting tonight against a hated divisional rival - then I see very few legitimate reasons not to say "fuck it" and find out if changing the messenger helps to clean up a complete mess that's been made by far, far more than one person.
Hopefully the Devils Soon Wake Up Soaked in Sweat, Because They Are off to a Nightmarish Start
I’m not going to lie, we - as Devils’ fans - kind of had this coming.
By “this”, of course, I don’t mean a disastrous defeat in which the team treated a 4-0 second period lead in the home-opener as if it were a 4-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final, nor am I referring to back-to-back, uncompetitive no-shows in which a revamped roster switched on-and-off between relying too much on skill and aimlessly searching to figure out where they misplaced it.
Instead, I am talking about the inevitable crash following what was the offseason equivalent of an unadulterated opium drip. Not to excuse what’s been a nightmarish start to an insanely important season, but our wildest dreams - and they were a bountiful with how shamelessly optimistic the pandering was at all levels of the organization - never stood a chance of being immediately fulfilled. With a hell of a lot of new talent comes almost an entirely new team, so these growing pains, and the despondent disappointment that's come right along with them, were unavoidable.
That being said, the instantaneous timing and abrupt sharpness of them all but force at least an initial conversation about the elephant in the online echo chamber. Personally, I think John Hynes is a great motivator and a good coach, but what’s really scary is that the most deafening argument against that idea isn’t being made by irrational people on the internet. Rather, it’s come by way of dispirited efforts and desperate decisions. It was always going to take time to gel, as chemistry can't be created on paper, but to call the New Jersey Devils “a work in progress” three games into the season would be offensive to the term ‘progress’.
You need not look further than another team’s trash, in John Hayden, being promoted mid-game as some foolproof fix-all to defensive woes in an obvious act of over-coaching.your way out of a 3-goal, third period lead. However, if you did you might see a 36-year old Andy Greene opening the season in a first pairing role that even his agent wouldn’t argue he’s still capable of filling. Speaking of agents, Mirco Mueller's probably highlighted his ability to get his client a job on his resume while in search of a gig with a semblance of security, and yet it still took said client two whole games post a pathetic preseason to get him relegated to a luxury suite.
I typically don't like to overreact to line combinations, because there's not a soul that can definitively say what will eventually end up working for a young group that's in its infancy when it comes to playing together. However, any soul belonging to someone who has watched them play prior to this season could confidently tell you that an improvisational offensive threat, the likes of Jack Hughes, was the oil to the water bowl that Miles Wood always appears to be running towards when he plays the game with the spatial awareness of a dog chasing a tennis ball across a hardwood floor.
I'm all for experimentation, especially early on in a locker room full of unknowns, but I also don't need to dump ketchup on my spaghetti to know that it makes for a meal as unpalatable as the archaic idea of icing objectively worse players in the name of toughness. The Devils didn't line up across from Bobby Clarke in his prime last night, but they certainly made sure they were prepared in case the Broad Street Bullies took the ice, 'Field Of Dreams'-style, by benching one of the better defensive forwards on a struggling PK (Pavel Zacha) against a perennially dangerous powerplay in favor of bringing extra fists to the 4th line.
The truth of the matter is, short of pepper spraying their opponent in the pregame, there's not one move - made or left unmade - that would have changed the Devils fortunes thus far. To varying degrees, every player that has taken the ice for them has contributed to the pile of shit that has failed to stick to the wall and been left to form a heaping mound of crap so hilariously huge that it could be used as comedic relief in the next 'Jurassic Park' movie...
It just feels like everyone both on the ice and behind the bench is doing a whole lot of guessing, but it's more in the vain of "how many gumballs do you think we can fit on this sinking ship before Taylor Hall calls for a life raft?", as opposed to being a simple matter of unfamiliarity. It truly looks like less than nothing was learned throughout training camp and that's far more concerning than taking a couple of early L's.
Of course, it's psychotically premature to make any blanket statements about where this team is headed or who will be leading them when they get there. It's not too early, however, to say that it's too late in the rebuild to simply brush off the dumbfounding deployment of under-performing players. We've reached fine-tooth comb territory, and - as the Devils somehow stand more spineless than they are winless a week into what was supposed to be a transformative season - the fanbase is left feeling like a school nurse during a lice outbreak.
Things could turn around as soon as tonight and there is still a ton of hope to potentially be had, but the ease with which everyone in the locker room pissed away the unprecedented amount of excitement that Ray Shero built up over the summer has expedited enraged overreactions as much as it has humbled expectations. I'd prefer to say that's not fair, but almost everything about the hockey they've played thus far has been inexcusably foul. The extremely early returns of this 'New Era' has the fan base pulling their proverbial hats down over the eyes in familiarly fatalistic fashion, and - from the top down - I can't see that being tolerated for too long.