In a word? Good.
Might be too damn bad for those fans that have perennially pointed to his production, or lack thereof, in refusing to adequately appreciate his underrated-but-undeniable impact on the vast majority of the thousand+ games he's played for one franchise. Regardless, Travis Zajac refusing the potential opportunity to take his subtly solid skillset somewhere that could actually make use of it when it matters may have saved the New Jersey Devils from themselves. That’s more than likely a sizable overstatement, as #19 could theoretically be closer to the 'Ring of Honor' than the active roster by the time this godforsaken group totally turns things around anyway, but it hardly offsets how understated his contributions have been for well over a decade.
It’s impossible to predict what a player who does all the little things at a high level could be worth to a prospective playoff team as the deadline approaches. However, the hefty contract that Travis Zajac is carrying through next season leads me to believe that he’s more invaluable to a young team that already lacks leadership than he is valuable to suitors that presumably aren’t open to paying a premium for someone who is optimally a bottom-six option. The way I see it, with a once proud organization currently in a state of (what the…) flux, losing a veteran who consistently sets the perfect example and - bless his big, stupid heart - actually wants to stay in New Jersey would be a bigger subtraction than any addition you could reasonably expect to get in return.
To be blunt about it, what we’ve seen out of the Devils this year is something that’s trending dangerously close to being considered Oilers East, but without the transcendent, equalizing force that is Connor McDavid. Point being, with things being about as stable as a three-legged table as is, moving a proven pillar of consistency whose latest act of getting his hands dirty was in planting the seeds of defensive security that have allowed Blake Coleman and Nikita Gusev to flourish offensively seems silly. Travis Zajac just finds a way to make things work, despite there being very little wizardry to his game. Therefore, I think it goes without saying that a team that canned their head coach, traded their best player, and gave their GM his walking papers all before the All Star break of a once promising season could probably benefit from the prolonged presence of a player that's long helped remedy chaos by playing the right way.
The gift and the curse of intangibles is that they can’t be measured, but what can be counted - on JPP’s fuse-lighting hand, no less - is the amount of versatile, experienced, and trustworthy commodities throughout a developing Devils’ lineup that certainly isn’t going to mentor itself. Nico Hischier might be wearing the 'C' before you can say "boo", as he is progressing towards the captaincy at a rate that makes Taylor Hall's fall from the good graces of Devils' fans seem slow. At the end of the day, however, he's just a kid with one absolute pummeling of a playoff series under his belt that could continue to learn a lot about being an unwaveringly positive influence on the room from a guy who continues to go through hell with the Devils while still proudly calling New Jersey home.
I wouldn’t have blamed Travis Zajac for a split second if he decided he were open to giving himself a realistic chance at winning a Stanley Cup elsewhere, even if that elsewhere did hit a bit too close to home. With that said, I appreciate the hell out of him being stubbornly loyal, far more than likely to a fault, towards a franchise whose rafters are lined with evidence, albeit circumstantial, of that sort of thing mattering to the process of building a winning team.
"New Jersey is where I want to be" might inspire more optimism coming from the mouth of a player that represents the Devils' foreseeable future, as opposed to a predominantly depressing past and present, but I'm just glad someone finally offered such a desire something a little more convincing than lip service.
The Devils Backpage’d Two of Their Most Gutsy Wins of an Otherwise Awful Season With an Out-of-Nowhere Dismissal of GM Ray Shero
Because the only alternative is inconsolably weeping, ya just gotta laugh at this point. In the almost-too-comforting wake of the New Jersey Devils’ most impressive performance of the season, a convincing road win over the Washington Capitals, their ownership shockingly dropped the bomb of all bombs into what was finally starting to feel like somewhat serene waters 90 minutes before the home follow-up a night later.
Of course, you’d seek a “second” opinion from approximately six different psychics before believing that this team, as currently constructed, would string together back-to-back wins over the best team in hockey and the hottest team in hockey while riding the hot hand of…::prepare to pinch yourself::…Louis Domingue. Therefore, timing that can only be described as either hysterical or worthy of hysterics, depending on how self-deprecating you allow your sense of humor to be, was merely a product of irony.
Still, this team finally taking a sizable step in the right direction while the person who pointed them in said direction was being directed out the door is a coincidence that only a franchise in complete and utter flux could manage to “accomplish”. When you consider how quickly this season's expectations expired, this past weekend served as a hard-to-top high. Yet, even it was unceremoniously interrupted by the ultimate organizational low of managing to complete the trifecta of internal turmoil, by adding the GM to the list of casualties that already included the head coach and the best player, before the goddamn All Star break.
I’m not going to list all of them, because I have to get back to stuffing a life-size likeness of Nico Hischier to serve as my emotional support cuddle buddy until the sun shines on this predominantly dark era of Devils’ hockey. Still, other than the trade for Mirco Mueller, it was pretty tough to argue with any semi-substantial move Ray Shero made when he actually made it. Some turned out much better than others, but hardly any were scoffed at like they came from the desk of Peter Chiarelli.
Unfortunately, as much as I continued to trust in his asset management, the only thing that even his most universally praised acquisitions had in common was losing at a nauseatingly high level. So, especially if his plan of attack was to retreat and re-re-set the franchise by trading everyone that's over 25 years old and worth a damn for more yet-to-be-determined teenagers that have been relatively slow to develop on his watch, it's possible that firing Ray Shero was the right call.
He deserves all the credit in the world for spotting the sucker in the room, as that is an important skill to have in his field, and strong-arming said sucker into making a notorious and lopsided one-for-one deal that brought aboard the human rabbit’s foot that went on to become the first league MVP in franchise history. However, though he lucked into more than enough lemons in the draft lottery, he was hardly able to squeeze enough out of them to quench the thirst of a fanbase and front office that was made dehydrated by the desperate desire for more than one measly playoff victory.
If only out of fear of not being able to find a preferable power source, I personally wouldn’t have pulled the plug on Ray Shero just yet. He wasn’t the one who inked an aging goaltender to a long-term extension and the bi-polar status of Schneider's ability, never mind availability, has all but annually kicked over the bricks as he slowly but surely tried to build around a suspect defense. That said, even I can understand the “enough is enough” mindset in regards to the Devils’ rebuild and I didn’t sink hundreds of millions of dollars into a once formidable franchise only to be presented with the prospect of burning it back down to the studs - that are Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes - by pouring more gasoline on what’s largely been a five-year tire fire of an investment.
What I can’t understand, on the other hand, is the suspicious timing of what was presumably a fundamental disagreement about the immediate future of a foundering team. Never mind Ray Shero’s ousting being sandwiched by two wins that, impressive as they may be, mean very little in the long run. The timing I’m referring to is deciding there is a better (or more agreeable) man for the job shortly after letting said man complete the most impactful and tedious tasks of said job by cutting lose the head coach and orchestrating the mid-season trade of a superstar on an expiring contract. Regardless of whether or not John Hynes' termination was inevitable (it was) or whether or not there was someone more qualified to maximize what was sure to be an underwhelming return for Taylor Hall (there wasn’t), letting Ray Shero make those moves when they apparently weren't committed to letting him tend to the fruits of that labor is perplexing at best and frightening at worst.
Fans get to view a revamped roster through rose-colored glasses, but executives aren’t granted that same luxury. No matter how optimistic the outlook, there should have been an agreed upon contingency plan for the worst case scenario well before the season started and the “worst case scenario” was left feeling better about itself by looking down at the Devils’ blowing multi-goal third period leads at a rate that was impossible to anticipate.
Simply put, to only now reach an impasse in mutual understanding leaves me with very little faith that the decision makers that are still in place know what the hell they are doing. From the outside looking in, it certainly seems as though Ray Shero, Josh Harris, David Blitzer, and Hugh Weber did about as good a job at being prepped for the next chapter, never mind staying on the same page, as a bunch of housewives disguising their alcoholism in a shared love of literature at the weekly meeting of a boozy book club. If that doesn’t make you want to pop a cork and drown the sorrows of complete uncertainty then I’d greatly appreciate you lending me whatever will power you have left over.
Don’t get me wrong. Transitioning from the patently false grammatical migraine that is #WeAreTheOnes to the indefinitely forgiving #TrustTheProcess would be a welcomed change in forced enthusiasm amongst the fanbase. “Shero died for our sins” definitely does have the type of ring to it that would make Sam Hinkie brandish an envious hue. Other than that, however, there’s not much in the past of this ownership group that I want to see replicated in the Devils’ future. I’m oddly confident in Tom Fitzgerald, who was primed for taking the same position elsewhere if not for being stuck in this hand-basket to hell...
...but if the 76ers’ successful hiring of Elton Brand was any indication then we should be very wary of Martin Brodeur being gifted a feel-good, legacy-based promotion that he is in no way yet qualified to undertake.
Maybe I'm jumping the gun and that’s nowhere near in the works. Maybe the money men were comfortable in making this move because they have done far more preliminary research than I and have taken a long, nuanced look at a variety of external candidates.
I just don't think that Ray Shero getting canned for vague/cliched/canned reasons while the young roster he pieced together (from the barren wasteland that he inherited from Lou Lamoriello) was finally showing the promise of progress firmly grips anyone's hand and leads them to believe there is a well-thought out succession plan in place…never mind one that Devils’ fans should have a single ounce of faith in while blindly following an exposed organization into an unfamiliar abyss.
Mackenzie Blackwood Ate a Slapshot, Washed it Down With His Own Blood, and Immediately Proceeded to Blindly Make the Save of the Night
Priorities. If I had to judge him as a regular person, I’d say those of Mackenzie Blackwood are wildly out of whack after he sucked back blood through the grotesque grates in his newly mangled grill and decided that playing the last 20-some-odd seconds of the second period in a early January game during a season as lost as his incisors was more urgent than having a dental professional tend to whatever shards of his smile remained.
Fortunately, the criteria by which a punching bag for pucks is to be judged couldn’t possibly be more different than that of a sane and rational human being. Therefore, having the composure to live out everyone’s nightmare of frantically and futilely feeling around his mouth for teeth only to make this preposterous no-look save in under the amount of time it would take the average, everyday asshole to even consider showing face is nothing if not impressive...
I wouldn’t say I died on the hill that Cory Schneider would eventually return to form, but I apparently didn’t learn from falling head-over-heels down it every time a crappy goal or a cramp torpedoed his confidence for indefinite stretches of the NHL calendar. Point being, while it’s still way too early to be making declarative statements about Mackenzie Blackwood’s perseverance, coming out the other side of an organizational tire fire without having burned his poise between the pipes beyond recognition is an encouraging sign that he’s as mentally tough as he is physically imposing. I was as staunch a Cory Schneider apologist as any, but a short memory was simply and sadly not one of his strong suits. The same can’t be said about a guy who immediately continued swallowing up vulcanized rubber despite being unable to chew on a marshmallow.
Trying to project the potential of goaltenders long-term is such a fool’s errand that it makes weathermen look like exact scientists, as the performances of puck-stoppers often seem to be dictated by whichever way the wind happens to blow. For that reason, it only makes sense to live in the moment. Still, at this particular moment, Mackenzie Blackwood has the look of a future franchise netminder.
You can credit Nico Hischier for bringing a proud tear to the eye of all Devils’ fans with his game undergoing a perfectly timed growth spurt in the wake of the Taylor Hall trade. You can point to Nikita Gusev finding the ‘ON’ switch for a lightbulb containing 1,000 watts worth of offensive ingenuity. You can finally start to see shades of the point production that once helped win PK Subban a Norris Trophy. However, at the end of the day, the main reason the New Jersey Devils are now winning some games while consistently competing is that their 23-year-old “rookie” goalie has helped off-set the occasional in-zone idiocy of Damon Sieverson and granted them the margin of error to do so on damn near a nightly basis.
Mackenzie Blackwood's recent dominance might only be as sustainable as his early-season struggles to block so much as a beach ball...
However, to even get here from there - as the Devils have actively been hemorrhaging chances in hopes of creating more of their own - hints at his size and athleticism not being wasted on someone whose mettle is anywhere near as easily compromised as his ability to say cheese without traumatizing toddlers.
GEICO Endorsed Nico Hischier's All Star Campaign Before He Took the Ice and Continued to Prove It a Worthy Cause
Look, I hardly think the GEICO execs took a break from giggling over their multi-million dollar monetization of an animated lizard with an ambiguous accent to throw the #13 on their backs and become avid supporters of Nico Hischier's steady climb towards stardom. I don’t know how much brand exposure there is to be gained throughout a half-full Prudential Center at the moment, but it’s pretty obvious that endorsing its most talented tenant’s outside shot at joining the NHL’s elite at a league-wide showcase was a business decision.
That being said, it’s not one that I can’t appreciate, for if seeing the Devils future both spelled out and pointed in the right direction in the boldest of letters doesn’t make you smile then literally nothing during a lost season that’s been limited to minor moral victories will.
Honestly, every single resource at the Devils’ disposal should be devoted to Nico Hischier’s progression towards the perennial All Star plateau. Whether it’s by way of a pity invite to a gimmicky game or by way of an undeniable increase in on-ice impact, the evolution of their smooth-skating Swiss Army Knife should be priority number one. Be it through the product placement of endorsements on the boards or the unlicensed injection of undetectable PED’s behind them, Nico Hischier needs to be catered to...even that means hand-feeding him grapes as often as they are force-feeding him minutes. Simply put, by absolutely any means necessary, the New Jersey Devils need him to become the type of household name whose invite to All Star weekend is far more of a formality than it is a false hope.
Luckily, he's taken sizable steps towards doing just that even before a car insurance company jumped at the opportunity to pander to a particularly vulnerable/susceptible target audience. I would actually understand if those that naively questioned New Jersey’s far-sighted decision to extend the contract of a young, two-way stud at a price point above his current production have yet to take notice, for they didn't even bother to watch him actually play before the Devils’ regressed into a familiar form of irrelevance. That said, what we’ve seen out of Nico Hischier since the weight of the elephant in the room has been lifted off his line isn’t just a different player, but also a difference maker.
To call it a pleasant surprise would be to ignore that many just flat-out called it while he was crafting a full-length highlight reel out of his first appearance at the World Championships this past summer. Still, it’s refreshing to see that same type of fortitude consistently come to fruition as soon as the New Jersey Devils’ organization made it crystal clear that the fate of their future lies on the still-broadening shoulders of someone they were basically forced to trust as a first line center since well before he could legally buy himself a drink.
The defensive effort and intuition has always been there, but there has been a hell of a lot more gumption in Nico Hischier’s offensive game recently. He's been leading by example in finding and/or taking the puck with a purpose, and it's exponentially more commendable than the one that had him and his teammates blindly tossing it around like an active hand grenade the first 20-30 games of the season...
We're not just talking about one or two highlights. The point per game that he’s averaged over the last ten appearances that he's largely spent skating circles around the eye test speaks to his increased commitment to creating for himself and others. Might be too little, too late to earn an All Star Game invite, as not one player on the New Jersey Devils deserved so much as a pat on the ass before their playoff hopes were on life support. However, if fucking GEICO can recognize Nico Hischier's potential star power, even if it’s just as a regionally marketable name, then what do his stat-obsessed skeptics have left to question once they realize he's now producing with plays like this?
Ray Shero Never Discussed a Taylor Hall Contract Extension in Detail Because Neither Side Ever Gave the Other a Real Reason to Negotiate
I'm not going to go as far as saying I wasn't at least somewhat surprised to hear that, in discussing the sense it made for Taylor Hall and the New Jersey Devils to commit to one another for the foreseeable future, the discussion between Ray Shero and Darren Ferris never broached the topic of dollars. One would think that a potential contract, or at least the infancy of its framework, might be of relevance in a meeting whose sole purpose was to supposedly to see where each side stood.
Then again, one would also think that a revamped roster would make it more than six periods into the season before committing arson against every single positive vibe anyone had about its potential. The truth is, the Devils' immediate free-fall to an all-too-familiarly hellish place in the standings gave neither party a realistic opportunity to think that their partnership was anything but doomed.
I'm of the belief that, in a perfect world, both Ray Shero and Taylor Hall were open to the idea of the #9 eventually hanging in the Prudential Center rafters. In that perfect world, however, Taylor Hall would have had to have proven himself a healthy and happy difference-maker for a franchise that was proving it was well down the path to being a perennial playoff participant. I'm probably underselling it worse than the Devils did a superstar, but the world in which a former MVP couldn't buy a goal for a team that couldn't hold onto a lead if it was superglued to their sticks was far, far closer to being apocalyptic than it was to being perfect. Hell, I'm still not entirely convinced that I'm not stuck in a never-ending night terror as opposed to living out a nightmare more torturous than any that could have had Devils' fans waking up in a counterintuitive cold sweat this summer.
Perhaps the internal uncertainty had it sweltering at an unmanageable (and an immeasurable) degree, but this team was nauseatingly hot garbage with a six million dollar, 28-year old Taylor Hall. It wasn't about to be smelling all the roses by making the future concessions necessary to fit a ten million dollar (at the absolute cheapest), 30+-year-old Taylor Hall. Both parties were keenly aware of what had to happen to dodge an imminent divorce, and what did happen made spying on your parents as they scream at each other seem like a comforting watch by comparison.
Given the circumstances, it makes perfect sense that they went with a mutual split instead of having the shit-or-get-off-the-pot-style talk regarding the specifics of, metaphorically speaking, a joint bank account. It's an all-too-convenient cop-out to say that timing is everything. However, much like everything else that had their playoff pipe dream expiring faster than half-price pork, it was one major thing that should have had both sides of the aisle planning an objection to a prospective marriage between the New Jersey Devils and their Hart Trophy winner as soon as the season started (or, more accurately, failed to) winless through six. Taylor Hall knew that, his agent knew that, and Ray Shero knew that. That's why any reported meeting of the minds that took place was more focused on formalities than finances.
The Taylor Hall Era is Officially Over, and the Devils Can Begin Tending to the Growing Pains of Yet Another Lost Season
Failure. In nearly every sense of an-too-familiar word, that’s what yesterday’s trade of Taylor Hall represents. I’m not even referring to the specifics of the deal, though we will get into that later. The fact that not even half-a-season after moving heaven and earth (or, ya know, just a handful of mid-round picks) to put more talent around your Hart Trophy winner, you had absolutely no choice but to ship the former league MVP out of town is, in and of itself, a disastrous disappointment.
All is not lost, as signing a star who hasn’t shown the same shine recently to a poorly-aging anchor of a 8-year, 80-something-million dollar contract would effectively end the ability of a near hopeless team to get significantly better long-term. After being offered a harsh glimpse of how far away from contention the Devils were with Taylor Hall, it only makes sense for their front office to humble themselves and build around the promising pillars of Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes that they lucked into in the lottery.
Still, Ray Shero pushed in his chips this offseason to impress the bombshell whose place on his arm was understood as conditional and last night basically served as the light-pocketed, long, and lonely walk back to the casino parking garage. The Devils, as a franchise, tried to take the next big step and fell flat on their face faster than an infant whose parents were heavy-handed with the liquid courage in trying the dab of whiskey under the tongue trick. Perhaps what they learned from such a cruel and unusual experience will serve them well going forward, but that doesn’t make the expedited execution of what now seem like asinine expectations any less of an organizational catastrophe.
As for the deal itself, the return is, for lack of a better term, meh. That's hardly unprecedented, as trading a soon-to-be-unsigned stud almost always nets you nothing more than a mixed bag of potential duds, but meh nonetheless. Ray Shero got more for Taylor Hall than he originally gave up for Taylor Hall, but not even the magic he’s worked in previous trips to the negotiating table could swindle suitors into giving up the top prospect+ that would have helped wash down what is a torturously tough pill to swallow.
Maybe Kevin Bahl turns into a towering-yet-fluid mainstay of a left-handed defensive defenseman for years to come...
Maybe the Devils make great use of another first round pick (fingers unconfidently crossed for two) by continuing to draft well. Maybe a couple middling prospects find their footing/fit and crack the bottom of the NHL lineup eventually. Maybe Taylor Hall’s age and injuries catch up to him sooner rather than later, and make this trade look more than tolerable down the road. If we are talking in definites, however, the Arizona Coyotes definitely won’t have buyer’s remorse any time soon. After being led to believe that the Devils were a group worth the cost of contention, that is simply a soul-draining reality to sit back and self-loathe.
There will be a fair share of (stupid) people blaming Taylor Hall for this team tragically plummeting back down to earth and beyond after an offseason that had everyone emotionally invested in their success rocking a shit-eating smirk from atop...pun incoming...Cloud 9. It’s just an easier thing to do than accepting the truth, which is that - be it due to unforgiving timing or unforgivable hockey - he wasn’t even close to the main reason his relationship with the Devils became doomed.
I will surmise that I don’t think he ever had the mentality and mettle required to compartmentalize his on-ice effectiveness and his off-ice impending free agency (that he absolutely earned the right to explore after suffering through one of the most excruciating early career paths imaginable). Based on his underperformance alone, he was hardly able to turn a blind eye to the black cloud that billowed bigger and bigger with every boo-worthy blown lead. Regardless, this torrential shit-squall of a season is the result of multiple futile fronts colliding to form a perfect storm of putrid. If anything, his personal struggles were just the most blatant byproduct of the saying “when it rains, it pours” coming to a fatal fruition.
Personally, I’ll always appreciate Taylor Hall for reminding Devils’ fans what it’s like to truly enjoy watching hockey again by interrupting the organizational equivalent of 'The Great Depression' with a playoff appearance that was the direct result of thee most impressive season-long solo effort (and point-streak) in the history of an otherwise accomplished franchise...
The suckfests that sandwiched it were pretty distasteful, but he took on far more than his fair share during his relatively short time in New Jersey. Therefore, I see no reason to root for anything but his continued success. I tend to think he hadn’t dismissed the possibility of doing his long-overdue winning as a Devil, but it made little - if any - sense for either party to explore a future once it was made painfully clear that that of the Devils was still far from present.
He wasn’t even close to alone in doing so, but Ray Shero woefully miscalculated whatever he thought he saw in this team. The price of doing so was always going to be the one addition that served as the pride of it since he took over. Perhaps its ends up being a blessing in one downright depressing disguise and the cap flexibility he just stretched out saves his ass in the long-run, but getting a handful of quarters in exchange for a gem of a player, whether it was just prior to what his asshole of an agent will insure as an awe-striking appraisal or not, is essentially the rotten cherry on top of a failure sundae.
Hopefully pulling the trigger on the unspoken admission of such takes the pressure off the shoulders of a relatively young roster whose play has collectively looked distracted, deflated, and defeated in part due to their most dominant player’s imminent departure. If the last two games are any indication then this should have them playing a little looser, winning once in a while, and allowing some simpletons to wrap themselves in the false sense of security that is the notion that Taylor Hall's presence solely sabotaged a largely lost season. Regardless, the full-scale inability to handle that pressure - from the never-minded net mouth, to the tumultuous top of the lineup, to the bitter bottom of the lineup, to the blunderful blue-line, to behind a befuddled bench - was proof that said roster was not even remotely ready to put one foot in front if the other, never mind go on a playoff run.
Taylor Hall himself undoubtedly makes for the easiest target, but you're going to need to put down the all-too-convenient grudge to free up even a third of fingers necessary to point out all the other people responsible for wasting his talent.
Act Surprised, Because it Appears as Though John Hynes Wasn't the Only One Fueling the Raging Dumpster Fire That is the New Jersey Devils
For what it's worth, what was an abominably brutal display of hockey just so happened to also serve as the perfect microcosm of a season that only can't be described as lost because you can't lose something that you never had a remotely firm grasp of in the first place.
An inexcusable early goal that could almost solely be attributed to the type of net-minding you'd expect from a drunk, narcoleptic shrimp boat captain...
An unnecessary insurance tally that was counterproductively created by a breakout as unsightly as that of a teenage fast food addict by a team that looked allergic to the puck while somehow managing to treat their own blue line as its electric fence...
Two periods of such a one-sided atrocity that it actually exhausted the aggressors into a state of excessive indifference during the third period...
Credit to Mackenzie Blackwood for keeping it depressingly dramatic for the box score watchers. However, the Devils' performance against a Dallas Stars team that was reeling from having their coach suddenly canned for undisclosed impropriety was the exact opposite of climactic in feeling like a recurring rewind of the world's least compelling movie. Ken Daneyko referred to them as "a little out of sync", but I'd argue they were very much in sink, as that's about as much of an understatement as saying the Titanic merely sprung a leak.
Be it due to him juggling lines so steadily that it could make a street performer fearful of his job security or him inexplicably benching Pavel Zacha or Jesper Bratt whenever he needed to let off some steam, instead of screaming into his pillow like a responsible adult, I too soured on John Hynes. That said, there is a reason the rest of the hockey world has come to the consensus that he's, at the very least, a pretty good coach while Devils' fans have deemed him the anti-Christ. That reason, of course, is that the rest of the hockey world doesn't desperately feel the dire need to convince themselves that a painstaking rebuild doesn't have the structural integrity of a house of cards.
If incessantly hammering John Hynes is what kept you off the ledge in regards to a hopeless and hapless team that - as currently combusted - is uncompetitive, unhinged, uncouth, and un-(_insert literally any positive adjective here_) then by all means transfer that small-minded spite to his utterly screwed successor. That said, I feel it my responsibility to tell you that you have a RADICAL misunderstanding of how important coaching is during a sport that requires you to read-and-react during a continuous, free-flowing run of play.
Unless Alain Nasreddine has his players role-playing rendezvouses between "complete strangers" like a couple that is trying to spice up their doomed partnership, there is nothing he is saying or doing during the practices they supposed partake in that has this group taking the ice with the rhythm, reason, and relation of anxious assholes boarding a crowded train around Christmas. Never mind a puck, the only reason this team can't turnover a goddamn sewer grate with ease is because it would require them to work together in unison. So scream about "adjustments" into your echo chamber if you choose, but he could have painted the Sistine Chapel of a full-scale systemic renovation and it would look like nothing more than a discolored ceiling through the partially blind eyes of beholders that can't currently string two routine passes together.
Honestly, we've reached the point in which I appreciate Alain Nasreddine more than I appreciate any single player on this team. I haven’t the slightest clue of his effectiveness behind the bench, but his bluntness in being befuddled by these bozos is both relatable and the most honest effort I've seen from anyone employed by the New Jersey Devils in weeks...
It took until the beginning of the third period for anyone to show any fight whatsoever on Tuesday night, and - wouldn’t ya know - it came in the form of P.K. Subban taking back-to-back, beyond stupid penalties. That is what Alain Nasreddine was left to praise, because almost everything else they did (or, more accurately, didn’t do) was ridiculously irredeemable.
Maybe something changes throughout the next…::checks standings and sobs uncontrollably::…FIFTY-TWO games of presumed futility. Maybe the ass end of the elephant in the room inevitably exits and gives them some space to take a deep breath and get back to basics. However, I refuse to highlight hypotheticals, celebrate mildly moral victories, or entertain visually unsubstantiated lines of feel-good bullshit (like below) in extending an unlimited pass to NHL players that switch between being demonstrably dumb and hardly half-assing it...
This circus act could currently make any coach look like nothing more than a ringleader, and I’ll begin to believe otherwise when I consistently see a bargain basement level of…::insert eye-roll::…brotherhood and brain function amongst professionals that are routinely stretching the limits in just barely qualifying as such.
Um, k. Cool? I guess.
Credit to Ray Shero for doing what he was given absolutely no choice but to do, but it kinda feels like he managed to troll an an already furious fanbase in the process. No matter who received the world's least satisfying promotion, this was always going to be a bandage-on-a-bullet-wound-type solution until the offseason. However, going with Alain Nasreddine, whose head many fans long had fit for a spike before baldy became their boot mat, might as well be a novelty band-aid that reads "hA!Ha!hA!". Simply put, it is not going to silence all the mind-numbingly naive screams about "the system", like it is some terminal sickness, for which the entire staff were hosts, that was solely responsible for the Devils performing like they were playing through Polio.
I don't know that being unable to channel his inner-Larry Robinson and coax a top-flight first pairing defenseman out of a 30-something-year-old Andy Greene for years on end does or doesn't speak to someone's inability to fix a mentally FUBAR'd hockey team. I do, however, know that someone who was either rightfully or wrongfully viewed as a John Hynes' yes-man, in being attached at his hip for the last decade, isn't going to be given the blind vote of confidence offered to most in-case-of-emergency interim coaches, regardless of whether or not he's been granted the help of a pro scout with first-hand experience running a bench.
In my entirely-too-simple mind, Tom Fitzgerald would have been the most suitable stop-gap, as his presence behind the bench happened to coincide with this team's pathetic "peak" of floating in NHL purgatory and his departure happened to coincide with a familiar flush-like spiral back into the septic tank of the league. However, the truth is that it doesn't really matter who took over.
The team's feet have officially been put to the fire. Criticize the coaching, or even the management, all you want, but Ray Shero is dead-on-balls accurate in saying that not one player is currently playing to expectations...
This is a last resort-level wake-up call, and does anyone truly care who, exactly, it is yanking off their blanket when they are getting a bucket of cold water dumped on their face? The "newness" of the voice can be questioned, but the message it is sending is loud and clear.
Long story short, handling the puck like a hot potato - much like Will Butcher did twice in a manner of seconds as he basically forechecked himself better than the Golden Knights ever could in singlehandedly creating the possession during which they tied the game - is not a holdover from the Hynes playbook (which, fair warning, we will likely see successfully broken out on NHL ice again in the future)...
I'll start concerning myself with how it differs, in the nuance that everyone loves to ignore, from the Nasreddine playbook when this team starts putting two passes together in even a semi-professional manner.
Last night's loss was a clear improvement, though that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of anyone involved, since the Rag-dolling at home and the beatdown in Buffalo basically buried the bar in the plot next to the one already dug out for John Hynes' job security. Still, it'll be interesting to see if this godforsaken team can do what they've scoffed at doing all season in actually building on the type of relative improvement that you'd need a microscope to pick up on this weekend. I'll believe it when I see it, but if I don't then I won't be bitching and moaning about a scheme until I see the most basic of fundamentals executed at a high enough level for one to even be run in the first place.
I'm absolutely certain that the combo of Nasreddine and Horachek isn't perfect, as patchwork Plan B's rarely are, but I have never heard of a full-time hockey hypnotist. That is the only person - not named Jacques Lemaire, of course - decidedly more qualified to deal with the magnitude of psychological dysfunction and fractured fortitude that has this group of individuals stuck in a mental maze. Unfortunately, they, themselves, have no other option but to come together to find their way out of if they don't want to spend an entire cold, dark winter wandering aimlessly through it, because - as uninspiring as this change may be - you can only play the can-the-coach card once a season.
The Devils Somehow Burrowed Out a Basement Beneath Rock Bottom, and All Eyes Should Now be Fixed Firmly on Their General Manager
For what's it worth, it was an impressive display of self-fulfilling a futile and fatalistic prophecy. I didn't think things could get worse than the Devils somehow uniting their own fans and Rangers' fans in shared hatred by putting forth a putrid product that managed to get outscored handily in fifteen minutes of powerplay time. Yet, in less than 7 minutes of game time, they truly outdid their own embarrassing ineptitude with impeccable efficiency by going down 3-0 before the ice was anything less than immaculate against the Buffalo Sabres. I'd say last night was their "hold my beer" moment, but they certainly didn't have the look of a team that was interested in putting in an effort as small as passing over the booze to focus on proving anything about themselves. A five goal first of which goaltending that was horrific enough to induce violence against inanimate objects, but somehow not horrific enough to be more than a mere footnote to almost every unrelentingly dumbass decision made in front of it...
A meaningless second. A pointless third. I vastly underestimated how cold, dark, and untenable rock bottom can be, because the hopeless place in which the Devils resided late Saturday afternoon feels like a balmy beach day in comparison to where they are this morning.
We can scream about John Hynes, as if he's the one leaving Jack Eichel alone to scratch his balls and tickle the twine in front (Sami Vatanen), or missing on bantam-level breakout passes (Jesper Bratt), or falling down on partial breakaways (Taylor Hall), or compounding countless acts of clumsiness in making a solid argument that the yips are an internally-contained epidemic throughout the entire organization. The truth is that he absolutely should have been granted a merciful dismissal before yesterday. Stubborn X's and O's?Highly questionable usage? A fairly firm leadership style that potentially squeezed the life out of its welcome? An underachieving and immature roster of delicate defeatists whose chemistry and confidence compares favorably to that of someone with IBS sitting in the furthest corner from the bathroom at a crowded two-star Indian restaurant? Some insanely unpalatable combination of all those things? Whatever it may be, John Hynes' largely unforgiving tenure in New Jersey quite clearly ran its course and crossed the finish line in exasperated disappointment during the Rangers' debacle.
For that reason, I hold Ray Shero personally responsible for everything that happens on the ticking time bomb of his head coach's waning watch from here on out. By not making a change behind a bench that is psychologically as fragile as fine China after the disgrace that was Saturday's suckfest, Ray Shero basically got beat over the head with a sign of the apocalypse that read "ACOPALYPSE AHEAD IDIOT" by someone crawling away from a fiery blaze with their legs incinerated and just kept whistling to himself while waltzing undeterred into complete cremation. Asking John Hynes to walk into a complete buzzsaw of a building that will be half-filled with fans who solely showed up to boo his ass out of it tonight is a cruel and unusual punishment for a guy who, like him or loathe him, deserves better than to be kept employed to work double-duty as a dead horse and a scapegoat. It's just a no-win situation for anyone, much less a "team" that barely fits the description who deals with damnation (Taylor Hall bitching about boos...) and distraction (...while making it clear his bags are already packed) about as well as an adolescent with ADHD and an attitude problem.
This battered and beaten fanbase currently cares more about whining than winning, and seeing as the most noticeable thing to have changed between getting a touchdown put their on ass in Buffalo on both October 5th and December 2nd is the weather, I can't even really blame them. At the risk of joining the "please, just do something" crowd, I beg of Ray Shero to take heed of what happened when he showed undying loyalty to Dan Bylsma and take the only realistic action available to him.
Bad has already become worse. Worse has already become something that honestly doesn't belong on an NHL ice surface. Things might not improve regardless, for if they truly did actively quit on their head coach - which I will afford them the personal and professional courtesy of highly doubting - then this is a team of toddlers that needs a hell of a lot more help than the breath of fresh air accompanying a new voice to be any better than dysfunctionally doomed. I'd prefer to think that's not the case, so I would argue that even a slight possibility of catching so much as a glorified static shock in a bottle is beyond worth an entirely risk-free, short-term leadership change. If doesn't even matter whether or not it is a long shot at this point, seeing as they didn't even fucking register one of those before the game was put laughably out of reach last night.
In Utterly Embarrassing Themselves Against the Rangers, the Devils Torched Whatever Remained of John Hynes’ Seat in a Way That Should Have Ray Shero’s Ass in a Full Sweat
This season was supposed to be the dawn of a new day for the New Jersey Devils. As if the implication of the most erection-inducing offseason in franchise history wasn't enough, it was by their own admission that the time to compete was now.
So, I guess my only question is why, exactly, do they, as an organization, keep hitting the snooze button in avoiding the use of the only tried and true wake-up call as said season tosses and turns into the type of day-long nap that is symptomatic of the chronic depression that is ever-present in the Devils’ body language whenever they give up an inexcusable goal and their empty eyes whenever they try to "excuse" it in the postgame media scrum.
I was willing to give John Hynes a longer leash than most as he got comfortable with a roster that was given the type of makeover that makes the ass on an Instagram model seem unaltered. That, of course, is not saying all that much since his new and “improved” team forced the finger to the trigger for his firing before the fucking leaves even totally turned. Still, I can't imagine that his methodology as a coach is to caution against confidence while prioritizing unforced turnovers, undisciplined defense, and operating a powerplay with the sophistication and adaptability of a child repeatedly sticking metal utensils in active electrical sockets. You can yell about a "system" that you're in too much of a blind rage - and understandably so, might I add - to worry about studying up on. Not recognizing that it is being executing with the precision of projectile vomit by professional athletes that need to schedule an emergency double-session with Stuart Smalley, on the other hand, is a pretty massive pass to give a group of players that can't currently make or catch a routine one...
All that being said, it is undeniably John Hynes' responsibility to adjust the game plan in a noticeable and impactful way (aside from randomly picking a young, skilled scapegoat out of a hat/the lineup). It is his continued ineptitude in failing to configure a structure and foster a climate that allows for even the seedlings of chemistry to take sprout amongst a roster that is hardly devoid talent that has him on the borrowed time equivalent of crippling debt.
Honestly, I’m just not sure what Ray Shero could possibly be waiting for. If there were ever a rubber-meets-the-road moment then it was the afternoon of a holiday weekend that typically serves as a checkpoint, against a run-of-the-mill rival who was starting a backup goaltender. The Devils found just about the most deflating way possible to find themselves stranded on four flats in flunking that litmus test, despite basically being offered a cheat sheet by insanely favorable officiating, as they got shutout while flat-out gifting a bad penalty-killing team multiple shorthanded insurance goals...
The most impassioned people wearing red and black in The Rock on Saturday were those in the stands letting “Fiiiire Hynes!” ring in unison and drumming up more defiant distaste for their own team than the most obnoxious of opposing assholes even had reason to...
It was a result that was sadly far, far more embarrassing than it was surprising, and that speaks volumes of what everyone has come to expect of a sinking ship of a Devils' team whose rare successes (See: somehow beating Montreal while giving up NINETY shot attempts against) have the feel of tying a pool noodle to the Titanic. A "look what we found lodged in our rectum"-type victory over Buffalo tonight would be like taking a 60-minute piss on a raging forest fire and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be anywhere close to as satisfying. The standalone wins feel like losses in prolonging the otherwise imminent, and that is an unrelenting purgatory to find yourself stuck in as a fan of a floundering franchise that's being more cowardly in refusing to shoot the only defensible and uncontestable shot left wide-open for them than Ben Simmons.
I probably differ from most inherently emotional fans in believing that John Hynes will be a good NHL coach somewhere down the line, but that somewhere is definitely not here, as his primary and predictable form of damage control is as desperate as Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt are for a coach that believes in them for more than a shift at a time. His message, whatever its motif may be, is obviously stale and apparently as clear to a young team, whose future in New Jersey is pretty well-spoken for, as the English lessons of the teacher in Charlie Brown.
I don’t know that there is an intriguing long-term replacement currently available, but we’re also not exactly looking for Scotty Bowman’s successor. I would suspect that Tom Fitzgerald makes the most sense as an interim, but the truth is that doesn’t really matter who the (somewhat) fresh face belongs to. Its unsupervised presence alone communicates a level of urgency that, if judging off dispirited performances that look to be sponsored by Prozac, its predecessor proved incapable. Even if their style of play remains somewhat similarly snooze-worthy (which it very well might), something absolutely has to change and making an underachieving head coach, who is far less accomplished than others that have suffered this same fate, the sacrificial lamb for the innumerable missteps of so, so, so many others is a time-honored tradition in pro sports.
If having the Prudential Center made relatively Ranger-friendly by beyond fed-up and frustrated fans who had the entirety of their ire turned to the usual suspect behind their own bench wasn’t rock bottom then I don’t know what the hell is. If that wasn't the breaking point then the only logical conclusion was that everything was already well past broken and the adhesive on the entirely transparent bandaid that is the line change lottery finally wore too thin. I personally can’t think of a worse feeling than the one festering in the pit of my stomach during the last 14 minutes or so, as it felt as though the lost-seasonal depression and the upcoming apathy of yet another uncompetitive April were joining forces to kick the last leg out from under whatever false hope I was left balancing on.
I don’t know that this roster, as impressive as it was in theory, wasn’t constructed of volatile pieces that fit together about as seamlessly as the oft-unsightly and irredeemable wreckage they appear to implode into on a regular basis. I do know that Ray Shero only has one way of finding the fuck out. We’ve reached the point of no return, where the more stubborn he is towards exhausting his only option, the less benefit of the doubt he’ll receive after he inevitably does.
This team will look different next year regardless, as we’re mere months away from finding out if Taylor Hall’s uninspired play (which, as of today, has him playing in thebottom six) is a PTSD-like byproduct of what has become an Edmonton-esque environment...
Common sense says (and the standings nod alone in firm agreement) that you might as well get a head start on a potentially unforgiving evaluation process by at least trying to spark a fire under their ass prior to an upcoming offseason that will almost unavoidably be spent conducting a thorough head coaching search. Yes, even if all it does is begin to burn up the only optimism left...which has somehow already been limited to that of the complete unknown.
If John Hynes' Desperation and Tom Fitzgerald's Departure from Behind the Bench Are Any Indication, the Devils Are Pretty Much Sucking on the Last Straw
Hand up. I remained a John Hynes' apologist until a largely aloof home loss to the lousy Ottawa Senators all-but-sealed his eventual fate as a duck as lame as his all-too-predictable over-reliance on scapegoating young skill to a luxury suite whenever his sleep-walking team needs a kick in an ass that has to damn near desensitized by now. I still think just as much blame falls on a talented enough roster that often looks completely lost in learning from their mistakes about as well as the token comedic relief in a sitcom of your choosing. Unfortunately, if they canned every player that has made a habit of horrid decision making they'd need a dumpster the size of the nearby landfill, so - by process of elimination - the clock simply has to be ticking louder and louder on the tenure of a coach whose message appears as stale as whatever entirely boring brand of hockey he has the Devils playing.
I thought that before the call-up of Brett Seney and the insertion of John Hayden once again left Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha on the outs, but getting an indication that one win over the only in-conference team that looks more lowly than themselves has guaranteed that an actively hamstrung lineup will be iced again on Tuesday has only reinforced that belief...
At this point, John Hynes isn't just desperately throwing shit against the wall in hopes that something sticks, he's also treating everything that stays up for even a second as if it is gospel until it goes splat. To have your decisions even mildly imply that the problem all along has been one of the best puck carriers on the team and/or one of the best penalty killers on the team, who have (at times) looked great flanking the number one center of a team that can't score, is the type of answer you get from a man who is entirely out of them. That, more so than the lack of noticeable adjustments that have been made as the Devils have already uncompetitively and unexcitingly sucked their way into NHL obscurity, has me thinking we're merely a blow out or two away from an upheaval.
Tom Fitzgerald leaving a bench behind which nothing more than absolute mediocrity was "achieved" under his tutelage must be a sign of something. If that something isn't that there will be no more helping hand-holding during John Hynes' last hurrah than I might just go ahead and look into starting a GoFundMe for the sports' psychiatry bills of his favorite punching bag in Pavel Zacha...
Excuse me for not having the wool pulled over my thousand yard stare by the first mildly comfortable win of the entire season coming at the expense of the only doormat the Devils can currently wipe their feet on, but beating a bad Detroit team felt like the delaying of the inevitable. Far be it for me to root for losses when it looks like another short spring will provide plenty of opportunities to engage in that disturbingly annual act of self-loathing. However, until they start coming more than one or two at a time in between depressing and demoralizing defeats, the wins won't feel like they are leading up to anything other than yet another week of inexplicable scratches and hopeless hockey.
Never mind the writing being on the walls, because everything about the current situation makes it seem like the walls are closing in on the guy that was gifted 4+ years of the company card with the understanding that he'd be the one paying the price if long-overdue expectations were met with an all-too-familiar fate of franchise-wide failure.
John Hynes getting sent packing isn't going to instantly fix everything, but piling on the easy targets by sitting young talent isn't fixing anything. The Devils need to give a shot to the one potential solution left at their disposal, even if all it does is turn the angst and attention to the persisting problems that a head coach, whose lineup decisions appear to be stunned stupid, certainly seems doomed to at least partially take the fall for.
For a Devils' fan to have walked into Tuesday's game against the Boston with even a single ounce of confidence would honestly require a half decade of dementia. Patrice Bergeron...no Patrice Bergeron, it makes no difference. I've spent far too many years watching the B's relentlessly swarm Prudential Center's finest, unconditional of either team's lineup, that I'm half convinced that their Providence affiliate could show up and pin the Devils in their own end with the ease of a father wrestling his prepubescent son with a strong pour of whiskey in hand.
For that reason, I have hard time taking too much away from a sloppy game that was far closer in theory than it was in execution, until - of course - it wasn't close in anything but a mutual desire for a merciful conclusion. As they pertain to the Devils, the Boston Bruins are more of a beating stick than they are a measuring stick, so that one could have safely gotten crossed off on the calendar during its production. With this team appearing allergic to improvement and treating forward momentum like it is a myth of modern science, the game was realistically put on ice before a single player stepped foot on it. Simply put, the Boston Bruins were just about the last team to let the Devils kick their sick habit of undoing "all" the good will created during two-game win "streaks" in uncompetitive fashion.
That said, there are some small things I do take issue with, such as their "best players" looking about as close to engaged as 40-year-old virgins, regardless of whether they were playing against an opponent that has a very particular way of making them look prude and unpracticed.
P.K. Subban hasn't been anywhere near as bad as his odd pattern of having a majority of his mistakes be of the "is that guy drunk?" variety makes him seem. However, getting walked to the cross from which he appeared to be nailed by Matt f'n Grzelcyk, of all people, is a blasphemous level of indefensible defense...
I try to steer clear of being a box score auditor when it comes to analysis, so it's not my concern regarding Taylor Hall's inability to find the back of the net with the help of a GPS and his own personal search party that is growing at a rate as alarming as my hope the Devils don't offer him anything remotely close to his inevitably insane contract demand. Rather, it's him looking like a player who can't dismiss of distractions...while - unintentional as it may be - being a never-ending source of distraction. It's him appearing to feel the pressure of playing out a contract year...while said contract year serves as an awfully up-and-down audition that undercuts his value as the asset that he allegedly aspires to be.
I honestly don't even know how to explain what I saw out of Taylor Hall against the Bruins. Falling down unforced. Flubbing 5-foot passes that hit him directly on the tape. Turning the puck over like there was a ticking time bomb attached to it. I would say that he looked like he got body-snatched by Miles Wood, but - depressingly enough - Miles Wood has actually been more consistent in successfully filling his role, albeit a much less demanding one, than Taylor Hall has this season.
I completely understand the latter wanting to explore free agency, especially when you consider how unforgiving his career has been outside an anomaly of an award-winning campaign. What I can't seem to understand is how someone so supremely talented can have moments where he looks so, sooo lost while somehow leading the team in both points and advanc...sorry, force of what was Taylor Hall's habit...I meant regressed analytics...
I am not about to speak ill of the mindset or character of the savior that reminded demoralized and downtrodden Devils' fans what it's like to be happy while watching hockey in wearing his Hart on his sleeve during every single shift of his MVP season. However, if he's not already mentally checked out and blueprinting the packing of his bags then his bi-polar performance definitely could have fooled me. Goals (or lack thereof) aside, whatever cloth he currently looks to be cut from is tearable with two fingers and sensitive to each and every unsatisfied sound his dog ears might pick up from the stands. That's just a painful reality until the product he puts forth has a steady leg to stand on in arguing otherwise.
The truth is, Travis Zajac and Andy Greene are too long in the tooth to lead by prime example in chomping at the bit. This young team needs its most accomplished combinations of talent and experience, such as Taylor Hall and P.K. Subban, to carry the torch in guiding them from the darkness they've dug their way into and stumbling upon at least a glimmer of the brighter days that are hopefully ahead. Whether they plan on being here when the sun eventually shines on this franchise with more frequently than it does a dog's ass or not, the "stars" need to play like the stars. Too often they've been playing like they are entirely overwhelmed by both expectations and a shitty situation that was made possible at best and unavoidable at worst by an impending free agent whose game has manically (and largely scorelessly) dipped between floating on Cloud #9 and being caught with its head stuck in it...
I suppose there is a certain amount of comfort that comes with him knowing full-well that he simply has to be far better on a more unconditional basis. That comfort might compare favorably to being offered a wind-breaker while finding yourself stark naked in a snowstorm when you take into account where the Devils sit in the standings. Still, admitting you've been a (part of the) problem is the first step...especially if you want to viewed as something a bit more reverent than someone else's (extremely expensive) problem when July 1st hits...
Louis Domingue Has Been Called Up and Cory Schneider is Likely Headed Down, as a Wavering Career Has Officially Been Met with Waivers
The writing was on the wall. I presume most Devils' fans were much like myself in not considering it priority reading while keeping their eyes trained on the distraction that's been a largely disappointing start to a much anticipated season, but the writing was definitely on the wall.
The anticipatory trade to bring in a somewhat proven player at the position. The back-to-back starts given to a 22-year-old assumed starter of a team whose back is somehow already against the ropes. You'd have to have kept your head down longer than one of the poor bastards in a Scott Stevens' greatest hits highlight package not to notice the potential end of NHL days coming for Cory Schneider. Your ears may have instead picked up the boisterous bitching of a fanbase made frustrated by those actually playing, but the Devils' reliance on Mackenzie Blackwood (who - to his credit - has steadily improved since looking about as out of sorts as his disheveled surroundings in early October) spoke volumes of their hesitancy in giving their six million dollar man even one more chance to prove himself playable.
That, however, doesn't make today's news any harder to hear. Regardless of whether or not you've remained one of the few battered and beaten Cory Schneider apologists over the last couple of seasons (as I have), his demotion should be treated as a somber chapter in the insanely under-appreciated career of a player who hasn't passed a single buck while being dealt more unrelentingly crappy hands than a first-time father. The truth of the matter is that the prime of an elite talent at the goaltender position died for the sins of a franchise that refused to rebuild despite being given no other viable option. The trade that brought Cory Schneider to New Jersey in the first place made the hole he had to help dig out of even deeper. Yet still, nary a finger was pointed by a consummate professional whose finest hours were as phenomenal as they were forgettable, since they were mostly spent cleaning up an irredeemable mess that was of anything but his own making.
I still don't think we've gotten the whole story on the "cramp" that he suffered in the season opener. Ever since a guy who ended last season on a high note and continued to ride it into a pretty damn impressive preseason was pulled on what ended up being a completely fucked foreshadowing of an evening, he's looked far closer to the same player who was as likely to find a timely save as he was to collect an unprecedentedly elusive win for a full calendar year. Whatever the case may be, some catastrophic combination of physical (lower body) and mental (lower confidence) injury has him suffering a fate that is only as earned as it is unfair. The latter obviously comes part and parcel with professional sports, but if justice were as poetic as it claims then it should be on its way to intervene and save #35 from riding a goddamn bus in Binghamton.
It's more possible than ever before that we've seen the last of Cory Schneider in a (New Jersey) Devils' jersey. His immediate future is far more dependent on a bunch of factors unseen and third-party performances ahead than it is whatever explanation was offered in what sure sounded like a Repunzel-esque saving of a proud veteran's face...
You don't send someone making 12 million dollars over the next two seasons through waivers if you give a damn about them being picked up off them (regardless of how fiscally irresponsible it would be for another team to do so). The Devils can paint the toilet gold but they can't totally suppress the stink of the shit in it. This was done for the short-term benefit of a team that's going to need to give Mackenzie Blackwood a break at some point, not the benefit of a netminder who has been steady in only his struggles as his opportunities have mostly been met with personal and organizational failures.
Cory Schneider needed a fast start even more desperately than his team did, and I'd say they each played their own counterproductive part in creating the type of awkwardly extended impasse that is typically seen via strangers trying to pick a side in a narrow and crowded hallway. Mackenzie Blackwood pushed on through and provided some help in getting the Devils out of their own way, and in doing so has made expendable someone whose leadership alone can't validate his price tag. That is why the clear contingency plan that was Louis Domingue has already been called into action, not because a 33 year-old needs more game-like practice reps.
Again, it's impossible to know where the relationship goes from here. However, as this particularly thankless page in it gets turned, I won't allow someone who was absolutely alone in dumping buckets of water on a franchise that was in about as much flux as a raging forest fire to go without gratitude. It certainly trending strongly in the direction of Cory Schneider's once-promising career being made a blatant casualty of Lou Lamoriello's outright refusal to push a reset button instead of the snooze button in the wake of an alarming need for a new era of New Jersey Devils' hockey. Therefore, if we are getting as close to goodbye as it appears then I'll be damned if I let anyone consider the loss of a long-dedicated leader anything remotely close to a good riddance.
In between bouts of choking back the acidic taste that typically preempts projectile vomiting, it's becoming very difficult to find original ways to criticize a team that has only been consistent in finding sickeningly original ways to give away both leads and games at an obnoxious rate. The Devils might be a far cry from the unwatchable band of buffoons they were in starting the season by putting an almost immediate end to all optimism, but there's only so many encouraging pats on the ass you can give to a team of professionals who have only shown the killer instinct of manic depression with their only victims being anyone that is emotionally invested in their success.
The expected goals model might tell you that you've predominantly been watching a slightly above average hockey team for roughly the last ten games. What the advanced analytics don't take into account, unfortunately, is that the first month and a half of the Devils' season have basically turned a failure to meet any and all expectations into the bleakest of performance art. Not to pin the blame on one player, never mind one whose bags are reportedly packed and whose days are reportedly numbered, but Taylor Hall's Miles Wood-like success rate on the goddamn gift basket of breakaways he's received recently is the perfectly excruciating example of just how efficient they are in making bad on a good thing.
No "clutch gene" of which to speak, and yet the Devils' engine still manages to stall out when it comes to continuing to manually manufacture positive plays when they matter the most. Whether it has been bad goaltending, inexplicable turnovers, or the type of defensive zone coverage that makes even the smallest of co-pay seem outrageous in being unable to insure any sort of lead, the only thing anyone should actually expect from this team is the type of disappointment you can set your watch - or, more accurately, the game clock - to.
Last night it just so happened to be the latter. One stoppage after being bailed out by an incredible glove save from Mackenzie Blackwood....
...PK Subban had the look of the world's most expensive parking cone as his man was about as inconspicuous as a 6,000-watt motion sensor in casually gliding to the backdoor to tap home the game-winning goal...
Still, while Matt Tennyson tests the following conclusion almost every time he takes the ice, the truth is that there's not one particular person to perpetually point the finger at when it comes to the Devils' half-witted hobby of hunting for ways to lose.
Of course, that is probably why most fans are unconditionally pointing theirs at the man whose responsibilities are approximately 75% strategy and 25% scapegoat. I can't imagine John Hynes spends every second intermission drawing up a reverse course on what got his team the lead on a dry erase board, but an offense with more than enough talent being unable to extend it for 30-some-odd minutes against a shitty Senators' team at home is undoubtedly a reflection on him. I personally think he's a pretty good coach who'll eventually have success in the NHL, but with each passing gag you need a more powerful telescope to see that success coming behind the Devils' bench. This team probably requires intrusive group therapy and/or an exorcism to combat their late-game demons more than they require a new voice, but - with the schedule not allowing time for the former - the latter is starting to seem inevitable.
Maybe that changes if they are finally able to capitalize on whatever chances they have been creating. However, we're far enough into the season to believe much more strongly in their ability to defy odds in disastrous fashion than their ability to regress to a much more merciful mean. Therefore, I'd strongly advise double-bagging whatever this team has you barfing into as their season trends disgustingly close towards something that could realistically be titled 'Final Destination 3: 1st Overall Pick'.
Here's a Headline That's Months in the Making: The Clock is Ticking on Taylor Hall's Time in New Jersey as an In-Season Extension Appears Less Likely
Ya know, I was really hoping the stockings would at least be hung by the chimney with care before we were thrown into an inevitable and fatalistic conversation so nauseatingly cyclical that it'll make Devils' fans wish they were instead stuck on a Tilt-a-Whirl while battling pneumonia until the trade deadline. A rough start made it all the more likely that the Taylor Hall trade winds would be quick to blow, but rebounding from said start isn't going to be made any easier by having the rumor mill rigorously rotate around the most impactful player on a ripening roster.
The truth is that no one not intricately involved in the negotiations really knows the truth, because I'm not even sure that the impending free agent in question knows the whole truth at this point. Regardless of the source being more reliable than most, "I think the Devils now know..." is as convenient a qualifier as "It might be the liquor talking...", especially considering the attention-driven platform from which it was all-too-absolutely hear-said.
Of course, what followed wasn't a remotely outlandish assessment. There are a growing number of reasons why a recent league MVP who has sniffed playoff hockey once throughout a professional career that's now going on a decade might want to exercise his right to test his worth to true Cup contenders on the open market. However, if that is indeed as open-and-shut a case as it's being portrayed then there really is no difficult decision to be made.
The Devils quite obviously shouldn't be pushing Taylor Hall out the door, but Ray Shero is far too intelligent to be afraid of letting it hit his best player in the ass(et) if he's already decided his fate lies in free agency. The postseason is still a potential possibility, but with this team - as currently constructed - posing no real threat in it regardless, there should be less consideration given to riding the 9 train to it's bitter, barren end than there is given to letting Miles Wood babysit your children in a house full of expensive China. As much as I wholeheartedly appreciate what Taylor Hall accomplished in dragging the ass of a largely unworthy Devils' team - in a way no other player in a highly successful franchise's history ever has - to a playoff spot two seasons ago, the organization's future is no longer tied by the testicles to his timeline.
That doesn't mean I wouldn't gladly celebrate him signing an 8-year, 84-million dollar extension tomorrow. After all, as a fan who inherently prefers the immediate satisfaction provided by the long-term retention of a star, it is not like it is my cap eventually being crunched by a somewhat shortsighted risk. It does, however, mean that the draft pick, high-end prospect, and flexibility they'd more than likely receive in return for his services might make more sense as complimentary pieces alongside two barely-legal cornerstone centers than a soon-to-be 28-year-old winger with an injury history that is eerily similar to that of another #9 that shall remain nameless.
Aside from bellyaching about boo birds while getting up to speed, Taylor Hall has remained quite far from being anywhere close to the problem right now. The thing is, for approximately 11 million dollars a year, he would damn near need to be the type of cure-all solution he was in 2017-2018. He should definitely want to be paid like him but we have yet to see that same level of player this season, so while it would be the depressing end of a short and polarizing era, Taylor Hall deciding he doesn't want to be in New Jersey for the foreseeable future wouldn't be the end of the world.
Simply put, you can piece together a legitimate argument that, as talented as he is, Taylor Hall won't be worth whatever overpayment the Devils are undoubtedly offering him sooner rather than later. I'm sure most would consider said argument to be an emotional hedge made as a way to combat the psychosis caused by the clock ticking louder and louder towards the harsh reality of an outright rejection. Hell, they'd almost certainly be right...but that doesn't necessarily mean you'd be wrong in thinking that New Jersey might actually be dodging a bullet in pulling the trigger on a trade aimed at building around the prime of their 1st overall picks as opposed to shooting themselves in the foot by waiting to be left at the alter with nothing more than dick in hand.
The Devils Filled Another Glaring Hole in Their Suddenly Respectable Resume by Gutting Out a Shootout Win
I'm not going to lie, it feels good. Not just this sudden feeling of respectability, but rather coming away from an overtime game with something to harp on other than how moronic the NHL is for continuing to roll out an overdone gimmick that is 100x less exciting and 1,000x less in line with the sanctity of the sport than the extra session that precedes it.
That's not just my bias as a Devils' fan (that's watched too many uber-talented players deke the goalie out of position and the puck harmlessly into the corner) talking. After all, the only time this team's eyes are collectively made wider with confusion and panic than they are during a breakaway contest is, ironically enough, when the ice is their oyster. The Devils look as overwhelmed as a bunch of stoned teenagers scouring a 12-chapter novel of a diner menu when granted the gift of autonomy and options of 3-on-3 hockey, and just about every opponent has been quick to fill the role of pissed-off night manager as opposed to overly patient waitress. If not for MacKenzie Blackwood, that would be the prevailing storyline from last night, so credit to the goaltending for providing what's been their rare primary assist in achieving the goal of gutting out a tightly contested game.
The truth is that the feeling of dread that's been accompanying each and every third period lead could only be overtaken by the feeling of dread accompanying the clock striking zero with the score tied. Exorcising both demons that haunted their nightmarish start to the season, in back-to-back games, dumped a generous amount of holy water on the burning, "oh god, not this shit again" sensation that had the fans feeling as fatalistic as the team looked. I hardly think that finding a way for the Goose to make a contribution that was positive in nature, as opposed to fecal in nature, is going to be the catalyst for them turning a 180 after regulation. Still, it simply has to add to the confidence they've largely lacked after otherwise impressive 60-minute efforts.
Speaking of 60-minute efforts, last night wasn't their most awe-inspiring, but it was the type that is often necessary to pick up two points on the road. Aside from Blake Coleman throwing a behind-the-back pass from right outside his blue line, as if he just arrived to a season that appeared sunk by such stupidity, and Matt Tennyson filling the annual role of third-pairing punching bag a little too perfectly, the self-sabotage continued to be greatly diminished. The comfort provided by chemistry now consistently has the team...well...actually appearing to be one. It's no coincidence that that has allowed for everyone's favorite unproven to adapt to something other than complete chaos while maintaining the active roster's delicate balance of at least one token Jesper at all times...
That win over Winnipeg is obviously far cry from the type to be replayed on MSG during the offseason, but it is the type that good teams typically win and bad teams typically don't. That's not to say that the Devils are one or the other right now, but they've started what easily could have been a confidence-crushing road trip by exhibiting more far more positive signs than negative. If they can continue to get competent goaltending behind them then there are hardly any recent reasons to believe there aren't still better things in front of them.
With Taylor Hall getting into a groove, Nico Hischier looking seven million dollars worth of dynamic, Miles Wood having Wayne Simmonds help pen the prologue to his redemption story, and the defense looking entirely unfamiliar in its downright decisiveness, the Devils are starting to fill the gapping holes in a resume that was short quite a few qualifiers and requirements as of less than a week ago. Whether they can continue to find ways to get the job done on the road remains to be seen, but they have - at the very least - proven themselves capable of consideration while making their head coach's job security a topic for only the idiotic.
The Devils Cracked Down in Carolina and Finally Offered an Opportunity to Praise Their Improved Process
Lord willing, this will be the very last time I have to say so much as a boo about anyone saying boo. The Devils' fanbase collectively feeling an alleviation of anxiety that'd make you think Xanax bars were Friday's postgame giveaway after a torturously tormented team finally held tightly to a third period lead on Saturday is proof positive that bringing conclusive cheers was always the only way to put an end to jeers. I'm somewhat shocked that Taylor Hall didn't already know that fans are overly emotional and largely fickle brats, but hopefully this sudden wave of positivity starts to wash away both the negative energy of their own building as well as the stink of a storyline that makes just about everyone in it look bad.
Now, before I continue, you can go ahead and knock on Miles of Wood, because the very same New Jersey team that felt like they were set to fully source their supporters seasonal affective disorder in losing both a late lead and a shootout on Friday night was playing at a 109-point pace over the last six games by Saturday night. That's quite obviously a cherry-picked sample, but it's the exact same size of the one that got John Hynes' face photoshopped into clown makeup and pinned over every dart board currently residing in a Devils' themed man cave.
The undeniable truth of the matter is that the Devils are playing far, far more cohesive hockey as of late. All it took was an impressive road win over one of most well-structured opponents in the NHL to be able to look past the cruel and unusual circumstances of leads lost and focus on what's been a significantly more sufferable style of play...
The goaltending is still a massive concern, as recently (and desperately) acquired Louis Domingue would have to sprout about six more legs to be considered the savior to a problematic position group, but there's more going right than there is going wrong at the moment. Considering a season-opening stretch during which they looked doomed to be a doormat, that's a trend that everyone whose semi-unrealistic expectations were immediately humbled will gladly take.
Once a head coach gets labeled a know-nothing nincompoop by the fanbase it becomes a scarlet letter that not even a 10-game winning streak could completely scrub free, so I hardly think we're merely a couple thousand pacifiers and/or free nipples away from silencing the cries for John Hynes' job. That said, outside of some questionable line-up decisions and dumbfounding deployment, he's been better at it (with the help of Tom Fitzgerald) as he's gotten increasingly acquainted with a revamped roster. Much like the improved performances of his players, it's just far easier to both notice and appreciate when a winning formula actually produces a victorious bottomline...
Now, despite Nico Hischier starting to look like the type of developing talent that can make a $50+ million dollar contract seem like a steal before it even starts (as evidenced by him calling Jacob Slavin's jockstrap an UberX and sending it straight across state lines)...
...and Jack Hughes looking more and more like a man (the operative word) on a mission since being tasked with top line duties...
...the Devils still have a lot of work to do to crawl out of the hole of their own digging.
That said, we're starting to see a consistency to their cardio as they've managed to maintain the lead in their run of play regardless of whether or not they've failed to do so on the scoreboard. It was just one game, but it's one that highlighted what they are capable as opposed to undercutting any optimism by rendering what they are capable of a footnote to a seemingly fatalistic final score. We'll see if their road woes and third period problems resurface in Western Canada, but - in the building of a team that gave them fits before it was a contender - the Devils gave us an untainted look at what they could be going forward...without the deafening distraction of defeat.
When asked about the celebration, Hall laughed, saying there wasn’t any ill will behind it.
“I thought I heard, I thought I was getting booed in the second period there,” Hall said. “So just making light of that fact.” (h/t NJ.com)
And onward we go. Episode two of a show of stupidity that no professional athlete should ever want to find himself starring in the pilot of, never mind going out of his way in actively attempting to get it picked up for further (counter) production.
To be very clear, under exactly one condition, I took ZERO issue with Taylor Hall capping off a third period, go-ahead goal on an impressive end-to-end effort by making light of #BooGate and the fans' doomed demeanor with a little celebratory mockery...
Unfortunately, that one condition was not met as the Devils found yet another way to blow a late lead at home and lose in front of a crowd that wasn't nearly as vocal in its criticism as it could, and probably should, have been after being called out for articulating its well-earned anger on Wednesday.
To be fair, I understand that the team is playing much, much better as of late and has recently been sunk by bad bounces and worse goaltending...
I also understand (all too well, I might add) that, very conservatively speaking, a quarter of the people that attend Devils' games don't have an intricate understanding of the sport outside of the score. I also understand that the rest of us poor bastards have already grown exhausted of praising an improved process, that's merely cleared a bar low enough to serve someone who has drank themselves off-the-stool unconscious in defeat, as it has continued to lead to a repetitively unrewarding result.
Judging by my eardrums, whatever boos that Taylor Hall took oddly personal offense to last night were a predominantly a product of the voices in his own head, which is a whole different issue entirely. However, lets for one second say that they weren't...
As these down-to-the-wire games have somehow defied the odds of a coin flip, wouldn't it make more sense to pay full attention to detail as opposed to paying any attention whatsoever to every gaff-induced grunt and groan? I don't know, but having already helped completely waste four much more comfortable third period leads on home ice prior to last night, wouldn't it have made sense to worry a bit more about actually maintaining one than taking a laughably premature jab at fans who had laid woeful witness to all of two wins in ten (and now 11) games?
The fact of the matter is that Taylor Hall could gave quickly untied his skates, trudged up to my seats, spit on my shoe, and shoved his sweaty sock in my mouth as his celebration for scoring that goal last night. So long as it was eventually part of the Devils picking up two points, I'd be sitting here singing his praises loudly enough to drowned out the Neanderthalic jeers of the half-wit he mistook me for.
The lesson to be learned from that absurdly hyperbolic hypothetical is as follows. If the New Jersey Devils reach a point in which fan frustration is anywhere near the top of their growing list of concerns then, not-so-ironically, there will be no frustration amongst the fans. Cause-and-effect, it is about as novel a concept as winning curing all.
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.
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.