Surprising isn't the right word. After all, anyone sadistic enough to heartlessly kill their own precious time in cold blood using the unforgiving stretch run of a lost season as the murder weapon (::shamefully raises hand from the back of Assholes Anonymous::) could tell you that Nico Hischier began oozing the confidence he was forced to build up without the help of Taylor Hall for most of the season. Prime example #1 (of many)...
Instead, we'll go with reassuring, as watching him continue to develop into a dominant presence and a versatile playmaker for a country relying heavily on his production is proof that the increasingly common glimpses of brilliance we saw in New Jersey weren't just hopeful relative to the general hopelessness they occurred amongst.
Whether it be the type of saucy passing that makes you go back for seconds, a stronger desire to shoot combined with a more persistent penchant for scoring, or just his patience and creativity with the puck that is resulting in routine highlights, they are coming more and more frequently for a kid (yes, despite being half dead in comparison to Jack Hughes, he's very much still a kid) whose potential is that of a top-flight two-way center. I would have gladly let the inevitable offensive development of Nico Hischier serve as a surprise to the rest of the league but it sure seems like the Swiss' breakout star is already over being under the radar, as he hasn't been at all shy in doing something, or more accurately, everything about it.
Prospective. Not the type you might be liable to gain upon being released from the juvenile detention of a full face shield, but rather the type that you'd be liable to gain from the idea that Jack Hughes was literally too young to use the same equipment as every other one of his teammates at the World Championships as of yesterday. With Kaapo Kakko making a quality case to be selected first overall throughout a tournament during which his main competition for that spot has looked physically overwhelmed at times, that type of perspective is exactly what is needed to keep grounded arguments that have become more imprisoned by the moment than Jack Hughes' face was imprisoned by perpendicular bars.
In judging these prospects, we're talking about actual kids here. Kids whose bodies develop at their own personal rate, with that rate often getting ratcheted up well after they are drafted as teenagers. Point being, while his speed, skill, and skating might, Jack Hughes won't look anything like he does now as little as two years down the line. That doesn't mean it's going to take him anywhere near that long to contribute at the NHL level, nor does it mean that he'll ever be as imposing a presence as the prospect he'll forever be measured against by a bunch of outspoken assholes on either side of a remorseless rivalry. It does, however, mean that what you've only seen glimpses of in three games that were played prior to him having the ability to vote and after him having played a full international tournament elsewhere is hardly what you'll be getting a couple birthdays down the line.
What Jack Hughes can't be taught, but it sure as shit can be trained, so let's just light some candles, have some cake, and let the professional prognosticators do their job of analyzing hundreds of hours of game tape over a multitude of years. Seems like that might be a more rational way to go about things. Especially since the alternative is assuming they are unqualified to do so based on a handful of highlights from someone who wasn't given enough initial credit when he was forced out of both sight and mind by a record-breaking performance that proved exactly how far ahead Jack Hughes is of every other one of his teenage peers whose body isn't absurdly mature beyond its years.
Probable Rangers' Prospect Kaapo Kakko Scored a Sweet Goal in the World Championships, But Let's Not Bury the (Quite Literal) Lead Here...
That's him? That's the guy campaigning to dethrone Jack Hughes for the distinct honor of being selected first overall by the tri-state area organization that doesn't have a harrowed history of wasting top notch talent? The dude who wasn't even the highlight of his own highlight? HA!
I mean, I guess I can begrudging admit that fighting off the penalty of a solid NHL defenseman to finish on a Stanley Cup Championship-winning goaltender while balancing on one foot is a highly impressive sign of what's to come throughout Kaapo Kakko's promising professional career. However, the no-look touch pass through both legs and traffic that freed him to do so is what really made me re-adjust the glasses I don't wear. The show of strength on the puck in combination with the calmness under pressure was definitely cool and what not, but I personally think it would be flat out disrespectful to Toni Rajala not to focus on his instinctual unseen assist, and his instinctual unseen assist alone, in fully appreciating such a pretty example of playmaking...
After all, while there's no real reason to play 'woulda, coulda, shoulda' in regards to what was an undeniably awesome display of skill, what if Canada had the chance to retrospectively rethink their roster decisions? I believe they, much like myself, might conclude that future franchise goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood wouldn't have gotten beaten to that post, thus making Kaapo Kakko's contributions entirely irrelevant in the alternate universe of which I am currently choosing to live.
In all seriousness, this is going to suck. It's easy to be positive about what the upcoming draft means for the bitter future of the Devils/Rangers rivalry with its two standout studs yet to have donned combatting colors. However, those inevitably biased and bi-annual arguments are going to get really annoying really quick when they both start killing it on opposite sides of the river. I don't mean to sound so spoiled because there are far worse problems to have, but - regardless of how special a player Jack Hughes is - Kaapo Kakko is definitely going to remind Devils' fans of how lucky they are that Nolan Patrick doesn't appear to be especially special. That fact, however, won't stop me from posting things like this as a transparent way to project my frustrations with the Rangers being gifted the golden opportunity to tarnish the silver medal of an almost equally pristine prospect...
It's with the absolute upmost respect that I say the following. Fuck this kid...
Devils' Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald Waxed Poetic About Jesper Boqvist in Comparing His Speed to That of Taylor Hall
TheAthletic- “I just watched Boqvist play against the Fins (last week),” Fitzgerald said. “I went over to watch the (Kaapo) Kakko kid and both Jespers (Bratt and Boqvist) played. It was a good game to watch. (Boqvist) has made tremendous strides from where he was a year ago. Just his speed is incredible. In-flight speed, I don’t know if we have anyone in our organization faster, and that includes (Taylor Hall). He effortlessly moves around the ice. He’s made some great strides.
“He became a top player in that league as a young player. It says a lot about his ability and a lot about how, maybe, lucky we are by getting him in the second round.”
Well, alright then. I guess the tempering of expectations is not part of this summer's plan.
Personally, I think I would have to see it to believe it, but even being the most heavy-footed student in the same class of speed as Taylor Hall speaks volumes of the potential of a player whose hands are certainly capable of massaging out some of the kinks atop the Devils' lineup...
After solidifying himself as the consensus best offensive prospect in the system by proving productive beyond his years in Sweden, Jesper Boqvist was already getting his fair share of hype amongst the fanbase. Tom Fitzgerald, however, basically just fed that offseason optimism some ecstasy by mentioning his feet in the same fleet as the superstar that wheeled his way to an MVP award while carrying the whole damn franchise on his back.
Of course, being fast is becoming more and more of a requirement to succeed in a league that both figuratively and literally caught up with the Devils this past season. That said, Taylor Hall-type quickness will never not be a huge asset when attached to players with high-end puck skills. Jack Hughes has both, and - unless Tom Fitzgerald is blowing the type of smoke that makes you a...ahem...hit at parties - so does Jesper Boqvist. If training camp shakes out as many expect it to then we might get a glimpse into how bright New Jersey's future is as soon as this upcoming year, but it's starting to feel like we might have to retrain our eyes to keep up before we do.
Ty Smith is Your WHL 'Defenseman of The Year', And Your Most Recent Reason to Be Excited About the Future of the New Jersey Devils
Ironically, you'd have to be living in a world with the WiFi of a Subway car to lack familiarity with the Ty Smith hype train. His domination at the Junior level, that makes it all but a forgotten conclusion that he'll soon be making a leap to NHL level, is far from a new phenomenon. It's just the accolade that has most recently, albeit unsurprisingly, came along with it that has him both literally and figuratively at center stage of the Devils' immediate future. With Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and - to a larger extent - Jack Hughes having already taken their turn in the spotlight early in the offseason, it was about time Ty Smith got awarded the type of accomplishment that can temporarily make last year's 17th overall pick (::slowly rubs hands together so as to spitefully celebrate such a heist::) the apple of Devils' fans collective eye.
And look, the preposterous point total is enough to tighten your pants if you just spent this past season watching a Devils' blue line that was constantly in the red, but my favorite aspect of Ty Smith winning 'Defenseman of the Year' is that it's a semantically accurate achievement. The production is all well and good, but what makes the kid a stud is having an impact on both ends of the ice that can't solely be measured in stats. The proof of that can be heard in the excitement of Tom Fitzgerald's voice...
While fans get giddy over goals and assists, Assistant General Manager's go gaga over game managers whose physical and mental understanding of what's happening on the ice makes everything unquantifiably easier on their teammates. It speaks to what's been a dark, dark period for a franchise that once prided itself on being impenetrable defensively, but Ty Smith at least has the early potential to be a new age version of one the likes of which the New Jersey Devils haven't called their own since they were hoisting Stanley Cups. If you don't think that's yet another reason to be excited about the organization's future then just ogle at his PPG and clap while he takes his proverbial lap as the Devils' standout prospect of the day.
Signs Aren't Pointing in the Wrong Direction, As Taylor Hall Had a Courtside Seat Between The Sixers/Devils Owners to Game 2 in Toronto
It's a good sign. Nothing more and, assuming they didn't let Josh Harris' insanely awkward ass try to take command of the conversation, nothing less. Of course, in judging by the facial expression above, Taylor Hall's courtside experience wasn't the most socially seamless endeavor of his life. Probably had the laser focus of Kawhi Leonard in taking in the efforts of Jimmy Butler & Co, if only to avoid having to pull an entire mouthful of teeth in trying to relate to billionaires. Still, even the fact that this was arranged between the Devils' money men and the Devils' money man fairly far ahead of any potential payday is enough to bring the heart to a resting rate.
We're talking about a franchise that, as of late, doesn't have the greatest track of properly financing and/or keeping their most familiar faces. Therefore, their fanbase will gladly take every ounce of optimism that is to be provided by the inherently idiotic and unforgiving act of reading far too much into things seen on social media. I both think and hope that there are still a lot of hockey-centric discussions to be had between Taylor Hall and two people who I trust exponentially more to conduct them in John Hynes and Ray Shero. However, the currently underpaid talent being open to being in the open with two guys with which he probably shares exactly two common interests, with those being dollar signs and the New Jersey Devils, is a helluva start to a impending anxiety attack of an offseason.
"What could possibly go wrong from here?", he naively muttered while pounding on wood with the tenacity of Blake Coleman until his knuckles began to bleed.
UPDATE: Hynes alert!
Trust me, the irony of having to celebrate the accomplishments of New Jersey Devils' players, or those who are very likely to be soon, while they are performing for teams other than the New Jersey Devils despite the playoffs still being in full swing is not lost on me. Still, as far as early offseasons go, you can't ask for much better than lucking into the opportunity to select someone who broke a record last held by the best pure scorer in NHL history while the two most dynamic young players already on your roster were making an instant impact internationally.
During an otherwise depressing time of year in which a disappointed fanbase desperately needed reassurance of a brighter future, it's a wonder that every social media savvy Devils' fan hasn't had to make an optometrist appointment after being left temporarily blinded by the amount of highlights they've had flashed in front of their face over the last week. Whether it be Jack Hughes absolutely infantilizing his peers with his effortlessly amazing play, or Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt picking up right where they left in looking more dangerous and more dangerous by the day, what should be a massive summer for the upward trajectory of the franchise has already been granted an extremely promising precursor.
There's still an entire tournament to be played by all three (assuming reports of Hughes' high level of interest accurate). However, what will more than likely serve as half of the Devils' top-six hasn't appeared to waste a damn shift in continuing to realize their potential at every opportunity. Who knows? Maybe Mackenzie Blackwood (who will also be getting some shine in Slovakia) IS on to something...and if not I'll gladly accept the delightful distractions during the aftermath of a doom-and-gloom season...
Probable Devils' Prospect Jack Hughes Padded Enough Stats For a Princess to Get Beauty Sleep on in USA's Shellacking Of Slovakia
Seeing as he's already being hailed as a savior of sorts to a New Jersey Devils' lineup whose annual search for a second top-six center somehow always leads back to Travis Zajac, you'd think I'd be throwing around bleach by the bucket-full in cleansing my walls after watching Jack Hughes post a 7-spot against Slovakia. However, the truth is that there wasn't much to take away from a effort that was, for lack of a better description, statistically stupid, as all it proved is that he might as well be playing against actual infants in going up against his own peers.
The same couldn't be said yesterday when he had some struggles against Sweden, but - as for today - someone who looks 12 years old with his helmet off had his opponent looking like they were the type to be overly proud of each and every pubic hair once he put his helmet on. Simply put, it was a performance that taught me nothing that I didn't already learn lusting over every available highlight since the fateful night of April 9th. That doesn't mean I wasn't rocking a wry smile after each and every tally, but it does mean that Jack Hughes is so supremely skilled that he almost made a touchdown-like point total look too easy to truly appreciate.
That's obviously a great sign, but if we're being completely honest then it was a pretty guilty watch once the third period got to looking like a pro-bullying PSA about as quickly as Jack Hughes has dumbfounded teenage defenseman doing damage control.
Taylor Hall is a Ping Pong Ball Prophet, As it Turns Out No Devils' Win Was Meaningless in Helping Them Secure the #1 Pick
They did it. They fucking did it...with "it" of course meaning absolutely nothing other than throwing their chips on the table, holding their breath, and lucking into the type of earnings that leave you liable to run laps around the casino like a goddamn lunatic.
Taylor Hall let it ride on the black magic of whatever horseshoe he's got stuck up his ass...
Ray Shero flashed a grin that was suspiciously shit-eating in retrospect...
And every Devils' fan that thought their C- in Statistics could help them prognosticate the one-off probabilities of ping pong balls that have proven to be unpredictable, time and time again, now has to apologize for bitching and moaning about professional athletes playing with pride and...well...professionalism when they had nothing else to play for...
As for what this means for the franchise going forward. In the best way possible, It's impossible to measure what the impact of another young game-breaker whose ceiling is the sky will be. However, from their GM, to their Head Coach, to the player that serves as their Hart beat, just about every voice that currently carries weight in the Devils' organization was a day removed from speaking to an immediate need for more talent. Be it in the form of a freakishly fast and skilled American center or a big-bodied Finnish winger that lacks flaws, that talent has essentially already been acquired as early as April. The fact that is was acquired at a bargain basement rate that basically leaves the organization at an 8-way stop in terms of what avenue they want to explore in investing their embarrassment of assets is just another bonus.
My first instinct was to attempt to reach through the TV screen, give Jack Hughes' flowing hair a flip, and swaddle his baby face in a Devils' blankie. After all, dynamic depth down the middle is the type of foundation that can make up for other structural flaws in this era of the NHL. That said, whether they go with him or Kaapo Kakko is a debate for another day...if not every other rivalry-intensifying day between now and June 21st.
The important thing is that that decision is now up to an organization that desperately needed to give their star player what he made it clear he wanted in another reason or three to stay in New Jersey for the foreseeable future. Nothing is done until the ink dries, but - after winning yet another draft lottery - Ray Shero would have to conduct an apocalyptic train wreck of an offseason for it to end with Taylor Hall feeling anything other than optimistic about the direction of his team. That aspect shouldn't be lost in all this well-deserved Hughes' hype of Patrick Kane comparisons, for (more likely than not) his rookie is a huge one in determining the future of a franchise that would have every right to feel a bit too cocky at the craps table right about now.
I'd Expect a Fairly Busy Summer, As The Devils First Order of Offseason Business Was Signing Ray Shero to an Extension
To be quite honest, I don't think the timing of this actually matters. It's possible, if not very likely, that this extension has long been a foregone conclusion that made the most sense to be signed and/or announced come the end of what was a rough season for all parties involved.
After all, despite being about as active as a stoner with early on-set senioritis last summer, Ray Shero's tenure as General Manager of the New Jersey Devils has largely been a successful one. That might be tough to see in the ugly results of his 4th season as such, but it's certainly not hard to see in the AHL/AARP roster of the team he originally took over. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the trades he has lost have been few and far between, as well as nowhere near as impactful as the countless trades he's overwhelmingly won. His leash almost certainly grew a bit tighter since September, but I hardly think that cutting ties anytime soon was something that was ever truly discussed.
That being said, you don't become a billionaire by blindly investing in things you're given no reason to believe in, so it stands to reason that Josh Harris and David Blitzer had some assurances made that the next few months will be profitable ones before starting them off by prolonging their financial commitment to the builder of their team. Whether that speaks to Ray Shero's confidence in keeping his Hart in the right place by locking up Taylor Hall or his general willingness to collect on a plethora of assets/take some financial risks, we shall soon see. Regardless, I couldn't be more certain that this offseason, unlike last, won't leave me in need of a cold shower...until the person spearheading it pretty bluntly spoke of his lack of satisfaction lately.
We can all bitch until we're blue in the face about the Devils winning another otherwise meaningless game that, following a subsequent Kings' victory that the hockey gods found funny to bring to fruition, ended up costing them approximately a 2.0675642% at landing a more talented teenager come June 21st. Of course, that whining would contain words as wasteful as this season was when you take into consideration that the athletes on the actual ice wanted to compete, as they are paid handsomely to do, as opposed to pissing away their pride in worrying about the one-off probability of randomly picked ping pong balls. As someone who has made no shortage of tank jokes in silently taking slight solace in each loss, I can't possibly take umbrage with New Jersey playing out the stretch with professionalism, as the entire point of a draft lottery is that nothing is guaranteed.
For that reason, I'll instead focus on the positives of a victory that could almost as easily end up netting the Devils the 1st overall pick as it does the 6th overall pick, and - speaking of both positives and 6th overall picks - there's no better place to start than Pavel Zacha...
It might just be one highlight that punctuated a late-season surge of point production that provided a market correction in helping suck the venom out of his snake-bitten early season stats, but it's one highlight that showcased the type of talent that's worth being perennially wrong about. It's only as likely that Pavel Zacha has finally figured it out as it is unlikely that he's finally figured it out. However, so long as the Devils don't let the second half of his season factor heavily into their decisions on offseason additions, it's impossible not to feel optimistic of what he was able to provide while flanked by underwhelming wingers in a depleted lineup. You don't put a defenseman like Aaron Ekblad on a leash and take him for a walk without having some top notch skill somewhere in a prototypical power forward's body. Whether it goes on to be realized is still the question, but it even being a question is credit to the middle six center-like qualities that Pavel Zacha was able to consistently show after the calendar flipped to 2019.
Sadly, not too many of the young legs that the Devils called up to fill-in for the contagiously injured lower bodies in the lineup took off running with the opportunity, so it might be due to slim pickings that Nathan Bastian and his three goals in seven games (with 2 coming in the last game) stood out...
However, he's also someone who was exactly as advertised in bringing the type of physicality to the tough areas of the ice that is welcomed in every NHL locker room. It's not the bottom of the lineup that most concerns Devils' fans right now, but potentially being able to fill it from within - be it with Bastian, Rooney, or both - takes one more thing off the offseason checklist.
Add in what was yet another stellar performance from Mackenzie Blackwood, until his defense decided to beat the bell in taking off for the summer early, and there were quite a few bright spots at the end of what's been a dark, dark road. Of course, none of them will blind fans to the absence of Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko if the draft lottery so happens to spite New Jersey in such a cruel fashion. Still, as far as potentially counterproductive victories are concerned, this one was a pretty solid reminder of why the entirety of the sky might not be on the verge of collapsing over the Prudential Center.
Jeremy Davies Has Forgone His Senior Season to Sign With The Devils, Thus Officially Making Him an Ingenious Draft Pick
I don't know that I should be entirely surprised by this news, but I am...and pleasantly at that. Perhaps I let the short-term pessimism that typically accompanies playing out of a meaningless stretch creep into my long-term optimism, but I was certainly skeptical that a 7th round pick turned Hobey Baker candidate was going to come easy at the end of a humbling season during which hardly anything has come easy. This decision seems to signal the end of the 6 month long sentencing the Devils have endured under Murphy's Law. After all, Jeremy Davies forgoing both his senior season at Northeastern, and the free agency that would inevitably come along with it, by signing on the dotted line slightly brightens the future and continues to help clear New Jersey's 2016 draft class of quite the McLeod.
Now, in retrospect, this makes a whole lot of sense. There was no obvious reason a young, developing, offensive-minded defenseman wouldn't take note of what Will Butcher was able to do as rookie and try his hand at playing within spitting distance of a metropolis for an up-and-coming organization that has a hard-on for American players and a whole bunch of holes to fill on their blue line. Still, as the last few seasons have shown, you never quite know if college players will be able to turn down the allure of autonomy. Fortunately for a franchise who needs all the promising prospects they can get on their back-end, Jeremy Davies did just that in making the Devils' scouting department look like geniuses for striking gold on Jesper Bratt in the 6th round and then digging a little deeper to find yet another diamond in an even rougher part of the draft.
I'd imagine he'll be rounding out his game in Binghamton next year, as it tough to envision Ty Smith being anything other than a lock for the roster. Regardless, keeping Jeremy Davies' talent and creativity in a system that needs them desperately is a huge win for the franchise that was luckily enough to foresee the makings of them in the first place. I think I speak for all Devils' fans in saying there haven't been enough of those this season.
You'd have to be a real simpleton to require the ooh's and ahh's that accompanied the type of public undressing that calls for the presence of police to come to the conclusion that Nico Hischier's second season has been a successful one. As evidenced by both the eye test and the following stat, which I know to be incredibly impressive despite my 2nd grade understanding of its calculation, his promising performance has been one of the few needles of positivity to be found amongst the haystack of horse shit that the Devils have been trudging through the last five months...
Unlike approximately 87% of his teammates, Nico Hischier's play this year has proven that his instant impact as a number one center wasn't being entirely dragged along by the train that Taylor Hall ran all over the NHL last year. Therefore, he didn't need to suddenly start leaving a trail of jocks in his wake to signify his official arrival as a prominent play driver.
That said, it certainly doesn't hurt for him run up the score on the all-too-formidable sophomore slump he already artfully dodged by turning a routine one-on-one into an audition for the And 1 Mixtape. If there was one thing missing from his Nico Hischier's trustworthy two-way game, it was that extra injection of offensive fortitude that allows great players to attempt otherwise unimaginable things. After watching him causally juggle his way through and around a seasoned veteran of a former All-Star defenseman who has seen it all, it's safe to say he's got that juice now.
Of course, he hardly needed it to prove his worth as a first overall pick, as he's as complete a player as one could possibly expect at his age. Still, I'll be damned if circus-like displays of skill like that above wouldn't serve as quite the cherry atop the on-going development of a 20-year old who came into the league savvy beyond his years. Nico Hischier is far from a finished product, but to say that every foreshadowing flick of the wrist into what that product might ultimately be has been an encouraging one would be an understatement of epic proportions.
Patrik Elias Is Back To Learn Some Tricks Of The Coaching Trade, While Distracting From The Merciful End To A Merciless Season
By all non-committal accounts, this sounds like it's more about letting a recent retiree get some coaching experience while playing out a depressingly insignificant stretch than about getting a franchise favorite's first foot back in the door to an official organizational re-entry. For that reason, I'll stop short of putting the final strokes on my painfully optimistic mental picture of John Hynes and Patrik Elias sharing an excited embrace behind the bench after leading the Devils back to the postseason next Spring.
That being said, this is still welcomed news for a variety of reasons. Of course, a warm, friendly face from much more successful season's past is a good distraction from the dumpster fire that's been raging since late October. Not that another set of eyes, whether they lay claim to 20/20 on-ice vision or not, is going to see anything other than a woefully inferior NHL lineup. After all, Patrik Elias' biggest impact would probably come from knocking the rust off the old wheels and taking them for a spin in a top-6 that is currently in desperate need of even the most out-of-practice of playmakers. Still, it's a positive to get the perspective of someone who both played and thought the game at a banner-worthy level.
Even more so than that, at the end of a humbling year that has some shortsighted people questioning the future of John Hynes, a former player whose biggest knock on his HOF resume is the versatility and well-roundedness to which he sacrificed his stats just gave him not only a vote of confidence, but the trust of temporary employment. Whether it be Larry Robinson, Pat Burns, or Jacques Lemaire, Patrik Elias has had a first-hand look at some legendary leaders over the years, and yet he still took a break from living a best life that would make that of an Instagram model seem overworked to learn from a young coach that is very much still a work in progress in his own right.
Convenience is certainly a factor, as #26 has earned his fair share of favors inside the confines of the Prudential Center, but Patrik Elias reaching out for both advice and mentorship speaks to how well-respected John Hynes is by...well...the well-respected. Who knows whether or not his prospective coaching career ever pulls him off the ski slopes and mountainsides he's been endearingly exploring with his young family and onto a one-way trip to Newark, New Jersey. That's not really the point. The point is that the mutual admiration that Patrik Elias and John Hynes clearly have for each other's acumen, after spending only a short-time tenured together, can only be an encouraging thing for the New Jersey Devils' franchise moving forward.
Andy Greene Became The 1st Player In Devils' History To Record Over 200 Blocked Shots In a Season, Which Is A Testament To Him And An Indictment Of His Defense
First and foremost, a tip of the hat to Andy Greene. During a season full of decidedly uncool moments in which he's far too often been treated as a scapegoat by some, it's pretty damn cool for him to be the first to officially reach such a selfless milestone for such a historically defensive franchise as one of its longest tenured veterans. There certainly hasn't been any questioning of his captaincy from within the locker room, but let this stat serve as the fist that shoves it up the ass of everyone outside said locker room that doesn't understand what his presence might mean to a young team. The record-setting beating he's taken is not only a sign that he still has some old man's tricks to provide to a young man's game, but also proof that even when he doesn't lead by example in execution, he's doing so in effort.
Now, what this says about the Devils' defense isn't anywhere close to as complimentary as I just was towards Andy Greene, for the amount of time a 36 year defenseman has to play to be 25(!) blocked shots ahead of the next closest player in the entire league is extremely troublesome. I don't think it's a secret that his instinctive penalty killing prowess as a gluttonous minutes-devourer for one of the best shorthanded units in the NHL is a factor. However, so is the fact that he spends way too much time stuck in over his head as someone who has no business being a part of a first pairing at this stage in his career. All the credit to him for sacrificing his body to make up for the physical shortcomings unloaded on him by Father Time, but they wouldn't be anywhere as highlighted if he was at...say...170 blocks on the season as a high quality third-pairing PK specialist.
As far as Andy Greene's leadership is concerned, that organizationally unmatched stat speaks directly to it. Unfortunately, it also speaks to the thankless and unforgiving role he's not once complained about being forced to fill as a bruised up brick wall for a depleted defense.
Anyone Who Dares To Question Mackenzie Blackwood's Athletic Ability Should Be Prepared To Get Dunked On... Literally
Oh? So, it's like that?
I don't think anyone who has witnessed almost any one of Mackenzie Blackwood's starts during his stints in New Jersey this year needed to be reminded that his best attributes are his size and athleticism. The kid has quite literally stretched the parameters of what can be expected from young and unproven mid-season call-ups, especially considering he plays a position as pressure packed as goaltender for a team as fundamentally flawed and as physically beaten up as the New Jersey Devils. Still, I feel as though I just watched him take about six less gather steps than James Harden before jumping flat off two feet for a two-hand throw down on an NBA hoop through a monocle, as it really put in perfect perspective his physical capabilities.
Perhaps my brain isn't programmed to translate lateral explosiveness to vertical explosiveness, but I did not see foresee him turning an ability to shoot quickly from post-to-post from across the ice into an ability to casually dominate the post from above the rim. For the sake of the Devils' foreseeable future in between the pipes, it's a good thing he grew up in Ontario. After all, had he seen asphalt and picked up a rudimentary understanding of how to dribble a basketball on it during his childhood there's no telling which 12-man bench his athletic career might have taken his white, puck-magnetized ass to the end of.
Assistant Coach Rick Kowalsky Forgot To Take His Skate Guards Off Before Practice, As The Devils Continue To Find New Ways To Risk Injury
Well, other than the fact that Rick Kowalsky's entirely avoidable spill was met with jeers and cheers as opposed to a 911 call and a vague timetable for recovery, everything about this scene sounds fairly fitting of the Devils' season. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, especially when you don't do the most fundamental of things right.
Honestly, the most shocking part about this is that it ended up being worthy of laughs, for if one of the few NHL mainstays left in the lineup had forgotten to uncover their blades you can rest assured they would have been leaving the ice immobilized with a day-to-day "lower-body injury". Go figure, the only person in the locker room that can take a fall and get right back up is the assistant coach that can't even remember to take his skate guards off prior to hopping on the ice. Perhaps that's what he should have spent the first drill teaching them since practice most certainly doesn't make perfect a powerplay that features Drew Stafford.
Anyway, in reading the tone of the team's reaction, it sort of sounds like this Benny Hill moment could crack the Top 10 of the Devils' most galvanizing moments on the road this season. I say that not because I think John Hynes' locker room is as figuratively fractured as it is literally fractured, but rather because they have only won 9 nine games away from home this season. Let's hope that blooper rounds out the list, for with the way things are trending they are better equipped to rally together for a fluke funeral than a third period comeback in an unfamiliar building.
A Night After Getting Embarrassed In Calgary, The Binghamton Devils Put The Flames To The Edmonton Oilers' Playoff Hopes
While I would gleefully give back the coinciding two points in the proverbial one-legged race for increased odds in the draft lottery, I can't help but feel like last night's convincing win was just as important as making another small but steady contribution to the tank. It definitely didn't seem like things could get much worse than being on the ass end of a 6-goal third period while Johnny Gaudreau beat a shit that probably clocked in at 3x his body weight out of the Devils' defense. Needless to say, the tape certainly didn't do anything to wipe clean the feeling that they'd thoroughly soiled themselves...
That's why it felt good to spoil another underwhelming season for an organization that ultimately serves as the rest of the NHL's constant reminder that someone always has it worse than you. A group that rosters potentially the most dynamic player in league history got the brakes blown off playoff hopes that had already hit the skids by a glorified AHL team that was playing their second night of a back-to-back on the forever unforgiving Western Canadian road trip. The Devils realistically have no business beating anyone with a lineup that makes that of the first preseason game seem strong, never mind handily beating a desperate team with fresher legs in their own building.
Need a little optimism during a dreadful year? Look at the contracts attached to the clown shows that put forth an undeniable awesome effort in a 60+ second scrap. The Edmonton Oilers are paying a premium for every single one of those punches for the next four years whereas the Devils are just going down swinging because they (and, more specifically, he) have so little to lose...
It has absolutely sucked being a Devils' fan that silently roots for a good effort and a bad result as they play out an otherwise meaningless stretch, but let last night be your evidence that it's a hell of a lot better than being an Oilers' fan. A team that had scored 7 goals in the 6 games prior to their current road trip nearly matched that total in having a stat night that shot out the bulb on Edmonton's last glimmer of hope. With the amount of injuries they've suffered, New Jersey has seemed destined to be a dumpster fire. However, with all due respect to the following players, I can't possibly conjure up a worse fate than having another 100+ point season for Connor McDavid pumped out to pasture by Kenny Agostino, Kevin Rooney, and John Quenneville.
It wasn't just nice to see that the Devils hadn't completely quit on themselves. It was also nice to see that, even while woefully undermanned, they are still capable of making other teams completely quit on themselves. Again, I'm not happy about picking up two points in the standings, but I am happy about denying them from a team that makes everyone feel better about themselves at a time when the Devils needed to do just that. Therefore, I'll consider that completely imbalanced...ahem...one for one trade-off to be an indisputable overall victory.
From The Lips Of Ray Shero, The Chances Of Him Trading Taylor Hall At The Deadline Were "Less Than Fucking Zero"
TheAthletic- At the trade deadline, we saw the trend of teams moving players with term on their contracts continue to be an effective strategy. There seems to be a higher appetite among GMs to use assets on players who will contribute beyond just the one playoff run while shopping at the deadline. So with that in mind, was there any consideration in the Devils front office about shopping Hall at the deadline?
“Less than fucking zero,” Shero said. “Zero percent. Someone (in the media) asked me that two weeks before the deadline. Zero chance. Zero. Just to make it clear.”
So, one percent?
“Zero. Zero,” Shero said. “It was zero.”
Put it on a damn t-shirt. Time will tell whether that t-shirt will grow saturated with the tears of Devils' fans after another star player decides against committing the remainder of his prime to New Jersey, or if it will instead grow faded while being worn with pride throughout Taylor Hall's extended stay in Newark. Whatever the case may be, "less than fucking zero" is the type of defiant answer that either goes down in lore or laughs.
Of course, it's mostly just an obvious statement of fact, as the only way Ray Shero would have explored trading the reigning Hart Trophy winner so prematurely is if said MVP had grabbed him by both cheeks in making it clearer than clear that an unceremonious exit was inevitable. Especially since he was still nursing an undisclosed injury at the time. Still, sounding so sure of himself ahead of the start of a negotiation period that will speak volumes about Taylor Hall's trust in the direction of a team that's currently tanking is risky business for Ray Shero. That percentage could realistically jump to 50% as soon as July 2nd, so for it to be subzero at the end of February sets up for "less than fucking zero" to become the new "trade is one for one", for better or a hell of a lot worse.
Jesper Bratt Is Now Week-To-Week With A Lower Body Injury, As The Hockey Gods Continue To Stab Their Devils' Voodoo Doll
And the tank ruthlessly rolls on, though I'm starting to think they are under it as opposed to aboard with it the amount of injuries the Devils have begun to obtain on a game-by-game basis. The upcoming schedule might as well be that of the medical staff, because each and every line-up is low-key just a lottery for who will be the sacrificial lamb of the night. If the alarming opening of roster spots is a blessing in disguise by giving some premature prospects a chance to prove themselves in otherwise meaningless games then that disguise is basically a body cast, because the trainer's table looks like a quest for some good karma. With each nick, bang, scratch, and break it has become a constant, idiotically optimistic flow of speaking too soon...
Nathan Bastian has really come alo...
Great to see Miles Wood back on the ic...
Glad Sami Vatanen finally feeling bett...
At least Nico looks awes...
I can't believe Jesper Bratt is still on fi...
Travis Zajac's reputation is rocky amongst Devils' fans that have little to no idea what they are watching half the time, and he's a Blake Coleman brush with fate away from them being forced to reach a consensus that he's the primary offensive catalyst. I honestly don't even know what to openly root for anymore, because I feel like I've been bugged by the hockey gods as they look to break my will to watch a team that's about as recognizable as anything else you might find imported from Binghamton. I really hope there's some super enlightening lesson to be learned at the end of this surgical dissection of any and all positivity, preferably with Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko serving as the teacher's assistant.
Sidenote: I'm a John Hynes apologist, but finding a more depressing way to describe Jesper Bratt's timetable than "he's done for the year" was very insensitive to a fragile fanbase...