The Texas Boys Are Back, As The Devils Avoided Arbitration By Signing Both Blake Coleman And Stefan Noesen
As confused as I thought I was by both Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen (or their agents) feeling the need to file for arbitration when mutually beneficial contracts didn't seem as though they should have been all that painstaking to work out amongst the Devils and two of their most consummate role players, I am definitely more confused now. The wings on which Travis Zajac flew back into offensive relevance still seem as though they been brought back on relatively bargain-type deals, so I am not entirely sure what the hold up was. I guess it doesn't matter as the not-so-passive-aggressive process of undermining accomplishments has been avoided, but it still seemed like an unnecessary scare for a team with a culture of cohesiveness.
Anyway, while Stefan Noesen's one-year deal is the perfect way for New Jersey to find out what they truly have in a guy that contributed at both ends of the ice prior to another offseason of restricted free agency, the deal I'm ecstatic about is inking Blake Coleman for under $2 million per season for what will more than likely be the prime of his career.
As far as bang per buck is concerned, I like that contract more so than any that Ray Shero passed over in free agency. For whatever reason, some whiney, ungrateful Devils' fans have a problem understanding that players are actually capable of improving with experience, but enough about the idiots that clearly forgot how this team went from AHL-caliber to the playoffs. Point being, other than the obvious (Nico Hischier, Will Butcher, Jesper Bratt), Blake Coleman very well might have the most unrealized potential on the entire roster.
Even if he plateaus as a pain in the ass penalty killer with speed, snarl, and a sneaky amount of skill and scoring touch, $5.4 million over three years for someone that is basically the stylistic blueprint for a fast, attacking, and supportive team is an absolute steal. As it stands he's the perfectly pesky and versatile bottom six player, but it's not crazy to envision him as a late bloomer whose flashes of brilliance aren't as few and far between. He'll probably fall somewhere in the middle, but that would still give the Devils an even bigger discount than they already have on one of the last leftover picks of the Lou Era, who provides at least $2.5 million dollars worth of talent if his status remains quo...
It feels like the the ambiguity regarding the future of two guys who helped make for an intermittently awesome and dependable third line could have easily been averted, but all that matters is that the Texas boys are back! In the immortal words of John McClane, "yippee ki-yay motherfucker!".
Unlike some overreactive fans inevitably will, I'm not about to lose my lid over a hat trick scored in a scrimmage. I suppose I understand why some might look at a defense whose left side is nearly as lacking of qualified candidates as the most recent Presidential election and a left-handed defenseman who possesses the perfect skill set for long term success, and want to the force the latter into the office of the former as soon as possible. After all, you'd have to go back to a time well before Lou Lamoriello actively decided he was too damn old to adapt to find a Devils' development camp that was as rich with young talent, and even then you'd still have a hard time coming across one in which a defenseman was immediately the most consistent catalyst at both ends of the ice. Simply put, what Ty Smith did on Saturday was force the focus unto himself from a position that's not inherently flashy. For that reason alone, the stat line of the first round pick that fortuitously went without regard before floating to the top of New Jersey's prospect pool might encourage the idle hands that are the Devils fans' playground to start writing his name onto the wall as quick fix when he still has a long way to go before manning an NHL blue line.
The proper way to view Ty Smith is to treat him like a meal that's slowly simmering in the crock pot. We just got an intoxicating sniff of the first waft and were more than pleasantly surprised to see how the ingredients were coming together as perfectly as advertised in the recipe (i.e. scouting report). We're still a ways away from getting fat off the finished product, but - while patience is key to perfecting its preparation - the belief that there's not much tinkering to be done to guarantee the fulfillment of a true two-way, top-4 defenseman has been rationalized by way of sensory overload.
It's called developmental camp for a reason and it's not a reason that Ty Smith is an exception to. He still has a lot of maturing to do before he's comfortably maneuvering around all three zones of an NHL ice surface against those that have proven themselves on it. That said, it sure looked like most of that much-needed maturation is physical as opposed to mental, and thinking the game at a high level is the biggest hurdle for young defenseman. Surely the 19 year old still has a lot to learn as well, but he's already looking like someone that has the ability to take everything in stride en route to the finish line that marks the start of his professional career. That's great news for an organization that will more than likely be anxiously awaiting it.
The Devils Are Reportedly In On James van Riemsdyk, And I'd Really Appreciate It If Someone Knocked Them Out
I blame Ray Shero, but it's not because he has reportedly identified a need for more scoring and is at least thinking about addressing it by way of overpaying a player that doesn't necessarily fit the system. He wouldn't be the first, nor would he be the last NHL GM to voluntarily make an objectively unwise investment because he had the money at his disposal.
Instead, I blame Ray Shero because, much like a mother that thinks no one is ever good enough for her baby, his work in nurturing the Devils from the talent barren wasteland they were has pretty much convinced me that very few free agents are worthy of their time. It's actually quite impressive when you think about it. Fans in particular tend to fawn over free agency, but in three short years the franchise's new figurehead has made me largely numb to its allure with his meticulous scouring of the trade market.
To be clear, I don't think someone who is basically a lock for 25 goals from the tough areas of the ice would be the worst addition to a team that's currently depending on quite a few if's to come to fruition in building on a promising playoff appearance. I just don't think he would be the best building block for a team that has structural flaws elsewhere and that's what we've come to expect when Ray Shero gets to stacking the brick and mortar.
In JvR, you're basically talking about a player who brings more of a scoring touch than Pat Maroon, for at least 1.5x -2x the price and term, but almost none of the other characteristics that made Pat Maroon a solid contributor in the lineup down the stretch. Neither is fast, but at least one of them makes up for it by being hard on the puck and bringing a productive and possessive presence along the boards in the offensive zone. So while it would be nice to bring home a Jersey boy, doing so a cost that (within the framework of their attacking style) might not even seem effective if he does hit 30 goals next season seems like a reach.
With how long the Devils have waited to make a splash in free agency, James van Riemsdyk would make for an underwhelming prize. I understand the want, but yet another left winger doesn't come close to filling a need in the lineup. These 5x5, 6x6, or 7x7 deals that are given to secondary players in their late 20's so, sooo rarely seem smart in hindsight. That doesn't mean you can't offer them when you have the luxury of excess cap space, but it does mean that you should probably consider circumstances and put both the target and team in the best position to succeed in the long run when you do. Even at its most ideal this isn't a match made in heaven, so what happens when that honeymoon phase comes to an end as (::knock on wood::) the Devils' window to truly contend begins?
With What Was An Inevitable Induction, Marty Brodeur Is Officially Amongst Hockey's Finest In The 'Hall Of Fame'
I'm not sure there's all that much that needs to be said prior to the ceremony in which the full extent of Martin Brodeur's contributions to both the sport of hockey and the goaltending position will be truly honored. After all, his immediate induction into the 'Hockey Hall Of Fame' is only newsworthy in how non-newsworthy it is. The numbers, which are record breaking in all the ways that matter the most, have long spoken for themselves, and the voters who are more visual learners already had plenty of time to study up on the trophy case that's the size of a walk-in closet. Simply put, you could have set your calendar to this announcement years out and rested easy that you wouldn't be made to look either stupid or presumptuous, which is a rarity in today's sports' climate.
That being said, this does provide an excellent opportunity to take a walk down memory lane, and boy is it an absolute treat to anyone that has a shred of interest in the history of hockey. The fact of the matter is that due to both the dominance of the man who's been affectionately coined 'Marty' and the NHL's apparent familiarity with elementary geometry, we will probably never see another player like him. Even if you ignore that his style of stopping pucks was novel in how casually styleless it appeared most of the time, his ability to negate a forecheck as an All-Star caliber third defenseman revolutionized his position. So much so, in fact, that it made the league step in and force a devolution by actively handcuffing one of their most talented players while he was still near the peak of his powers.
You can loathe him as person, and/or diminish what we did because of who he did it behind. However, even if you remained insanely ignorant to the fact that he won two of his four Vezina Trophies behind an extremely mediocre defense and found himself in the Finals as he neared the age of 40, you'd still be foolish not to appreciate all that he brought to the sport. Whether he was the greatest pure puck-stopper of all time is up for debate. Whether he's the most accomplished is not. Accentuate those absurdly untouchable accolades with a highlight reel that epitomizes both creativity and athleticism. Add to that ridiculous resume a lasting impact on the game that unquantifiably unmatched. Whether he is the best or not is inconsequential, because - as the total package that didn't just stop shots, but undeniably suppressed and created them - Marty's universally better.
There's already plenty of reasons to believe that the G.O.A.T. of goaltending just officially received his set of keys to the house that hockey built, and there will only be more as his mere existence is responsible for the redecoration of future wings.
With Nearly Ten Teams Vying For The Suspect Services Of John Moore, It Shouldn't Be Too Hard For The Devils To Bid Him Farewell
Eight teams. EIGHT TEAMS. That's over a quarter of the league that made it a point to target the same player that they typically targeted when entering the Devils' defensive zone the last three seasons. If that alone doesn't tell how much the thirst for any type of talent trumps money management when free agency hits then the following definitely should.
In John Moore we are talking about a guy who probably cracks the 90th percentile in speed and skating during an era in which they are absolutely paramount at his position. A guy that made his biggest mark in scoring overtime goals that guaranteed victory for a team that's grown to appreciate each and every single win throughout his tenure. Somehow that guy, despite all those positives, still managed to merely make as big of an impact on Devils' fans as his name would on a suburban middle school teacher who has been navigating roll call since the early 80's. Over the last decade, New Jersey has been home to about as many defensemen that are capable of scoring in the double digits in goals per season as it has been to television shows that paint the state in a positive light. Therefore, hoping someone who has cashed in 19 times over the last two years leaves speaks louder than any fist could possibly pump.
To put it more simply, the only reason John Moore should be on stage at a bidding war is if he's the auctioneer for a player with far more hockey sense than himself. That's not to say he can't adequately fill a valuable depth role, but just because he played 20 minutes a night for a playoff team doesn't mean a team that has hopes of making the playoffs should plan on paying him to play 20 minutes a night.
If the league-wide level of interest in any indication then John Moore's immediate future is best compared to an oil change. It serves a purpose, but that purpose ends up being way more expensive than it should be when you prematurely agree to pay for any other problems that get found under the hood in the process. Assuming his agent is at all familiar with the handling of hot irons, he appears ready to brand a desperate team with a bad contract. The Devils have both the money and the positional need to be that team, but there aren't many emotionally invested in their success that hope that's the case. Considering their only other left-handed defensemen are an overage Andy Greene, a still-developing Will Butcher, and the unknown that is Mirco Mueller, you don't have to dig too deep to realize that John Moore might just seem more intriguing when he's not on your roster.
Since kneeling in worship at the work of Ray Shero has quickly become my customary response to almost all of his masterful acts of management, it brings me momentary sadness to inform you that not even I can fully credit the Devils' GM with the first round selection of Ty Smith. While he was the one that stood on stage and made it, the automated list by which your forgetful friend "drafts" his fantasy team could have just as easily done so. I don't know if you happened to catch the announcement of the Hart Trophy winner, but it provided a pretty good reminder that Ray Shero's standards of success are far above that of someone like...oh, I don't know...let's say Peter Chiarelli. Therefore, not falling victim to overthinking when the easiest of decisions fell right into his lap doesn't register as a huge win by him personally, even if it could turn out to be a monster victory for the franchise he's rapidly made reputable.
We're years away from finding out whether or not Ty Smith reaches his potential as a fleet-of-foot two-way defenseman that thinks the game at as high a level as he played it in putting up a ludicrous number of points in the WHL. That said, his potential was basically that of the lovechild of 'best player available' and 'organizational need' for the New Jersey. I would say that the left-handed blue liner with legs for days and leadership qualities (Captain of Team Canada U-18) could really Ty up some loose ends in the Devils' lineup. However, there will be plenty of time for the nauseating forcing of puns if he comes even remotely close to remotely close of fulfilling the promise of the Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith comparisons that I've seen (far too liberally, mind you) floated.
In making a laughably premature projection, the only opinion you could possibly come away with is that a ton of value was gotten out of the 17th pick and that's really the best you can ask for when predicting the development of underdeveloped teenagers. The area in which Ty Smith comes up the most short is size, but if he were three inches taller he probably would have been picked in the top ten instead of just being ranked there by a multitude of sources much more knowledgeable than I. If nothing else, that's a testament to his wide variety of merit-based talents that the Devils just added to a prospect pool that was specifically lacking in well-rounded defenseman that check all of the boxes that pertain to upside.
I don't know if the streak of success they stumbled upon with Nico Hischier, Will Butcher, and Jesper Bratt is a sign of what's to come from their scouting department, but just as things broke right for them this past season, they broke about as well as you could have hoped for them last night. Ty Smith could end being quite the addition to Ray Shero's resume, even if it would realistically be more of a black mark on those of the GM's that picked before him...
Considering the grace, professionalism, and - as officially evidenced by the award in his hand - perseverance with which he handled a preseason cancer diagnosis, I'm not so sure that the best compliment I can offer Brian Boyle isn't that he more than lived up to the contract he signed in free agency.
What's happened since then has been anything but ordinary, and he obviously meant a hell of a lot more than your average bottom-six center to a young team that benefited from the veteran leadership he provided on the ice and inspiration he served as off the ice. However, if not for the occasional heart-warming and tear-jerking moment, the most notable thing about his seamless fit into the lineup that he almost immediately aided was that it made tragic news feel like somewhat old news. Perhaps it's wrong to even speak on all that he went through, because the vast majority of his fighting was done away from the rink, but - save for the times in which his resilience was being celebrated - what he went through certainly wasn't evident when he was on the rink.
Of course, Brian Boyle wasn't a virtual lock to take home the Masterton Trophy because of the battles in the corners that he was quick to engage in, or the face-offs he won, or the goals he scored. Still, the willingness with which he did all those things without missing a beat certainly was made all the more impressive by the circumstances surrounding his personal life. We're not even just talking about a guy who kicked cancer's ass one month and was on the verge of returning to play meaningful minutes in the NHL the next. We're talking about a guy who wasted no time in becoming a proactive advocate for the fight against cancer while also dealing with a sick child as he was still indoctrinating himself into a locker room that he was originally added to as a "big brother". I think it's safe to say that he didn't just succeed in setting an example for the New Jersey Devils, but for the entire hockey community and everyone that's even mildly familiar with it.
There's so much to be said about a season that was undoubtedly of MVP caliber well before it was made official last night. There's no shortage of adulation just begging to be heaped upon a player whose incredibly enduring excellence was the driving force behind a unexpected playoff berth that was always in doubt despite the Devils never having left the proverbial leaderboard from October through April. What there is a scarcity of, however, is original endorsements of Taylor Hall's value to a franchise whose future was made to look far, far more luminescent by the blooming of a star into a superstar.
My ex-girlfriends might strongly disagree, but I'm not all out of compliments because I'm a stubborn S.O.B. that's hesitant to give them. Rather, I'm all out of compliments because falling back on the same two dozen or so for the umpteenth time would cheapen them. As tends to happen when someone rattles off a 26-game point streak (observe this, NHL ::violently grabs groin::) for a team that literally needed almost every single one of them to break their five year absence from the postseason, Taylor Hall exhausted any and all forms of authentic praise almost every time he took the ice.
For that reason, I'm just going to casually mention in passing that the statistical disparity between himself and second highest scorer on the Devils looked to be one that you might expect of a 12 year old playing out an entire video game season as his 99-overall created self. Strictly out of habit I feel inclined to bring up that Taylor Hall spent half the season dominating alongside two of three youngest players in the entire NHL, so you're welcome for suppressing that urge as best I could. Because I know you've heard it all before in what seemed to be a never-ending debate about the definition of 'value', I'll even be nice enough to save you the repetitive reminder that #9 was hotter than the pistol he appeared to be shot out of when it mattered the most for a team that made the playoffs by all of one single point. After all, as the voting shows, his candidacy spoke for itself...
I almost feel as though the Oilers don't even deserve a mention, for as much joy as I derived out of Edmonton's misery as Taylor Hall resurrected his character as those that assassinated it were left digging their own grave, his season was so much more than just a massive middle finger to the most meddlesome of hockey markets. With how much was expected of him on a game-by-game basis, there was only so much time to revel in what can retrospectively be viewed, in part, as resolute retribution in one of its most satisfying forms. Taylor Hall went the "let bygones be bygones" route, which is fitting as his success was the result of him putting his past in the past, and letting nothing more than each next game chuck up the most devastating of deuces on a one-for-one trade...
For proof of just how important Taylor Hall was to a New Jersey Devils team of which absolutely nothing was expected, read the second half of the quote above. A then 18 year old center who had the muscle mass of a middle school distance runner on a month-long juice cleanse. A General Manager who, while highly accomplished, was mired in the middle of a rebuild. A first time head coach that was coming off a destitute season that undid all the positives of the year prior. Nico Hischier, Ray Shero, and John Hynes were all unbelievable in their own right, but - let's be honest - they make for pretty mediocre help relatively to what it takes to win a Hart Trophy. That's not so much an insult to an organizational culture that took as many powerful strides forward as their MVP as it is an acknowledgement of said MVP's undeniable impact on those strides.
The Devils are now Taylor Hall's team in a way that's only been broached by Hall Of Famers that rest eternally in the Prudential Center rafters. There's not enough to be said about a player that gave an organization that won three Stanley Cups throughout two decades of perennial playoff contention their first Hart Trophy winner, and yet - in between the dropping of jaws - it was all uttered ad nauseam throughout a season that Devils' fans won't soon forget.
Garth Snow And Doug Weight Have Been Relieved Of Their Duties, And Lou Lamoriello Is Officially In Charge Of The Islanders
NHL- New York Islanders President of Hockey Operations, Lou Lamoriello announced today that Garth Snow and Doug Weight have been relieved of their duties. Lamoriello will take over the responsibilities of General Manager and immediately begin the process to find the team's next Head Coach.
"The New York Islanders would like to thank both Garth and Doug for their dedication to the franchise," Lamoriello said. "Both started their tenures with the franchise as players and grew as tremendous leaders to the positions they held."
Both will remain with the organization.
Ironically enough, considering their undying animosity for what was widely thought to be a never-ending contract, the last line of that press release shouldn't be all that much less encouraging to Islanders fans as the two paragraphs that precede it. Pity position or not, the fact that Garth Snow will still be lingering around the organization like a wet fart should make each and every decision that takes place in Lou Lamoriello's office look as though it was chosen from a bed of roses by comparison.
Maybe the architect that basically built the Devils' winning culture brick by brick doesn't need to be made to look better by having his own personal foil inside his new franchise. Maybe he's once again found the magic touch that he had in becoming one of the most revered General Managers in all of sports. That said, the work that he did just prior to getting systematically thrust from his throne in New Jersey and the supervising he's done since certainly hasn't convinced me that this upgrade isn't made to appear more massive by the frightening option that was status quo.
The Islanders' immediate future is largely dependent on retaining John Tavares, and while that was more unlikely under Garth Snow, I wouldn't exactly go raising the number '91' to rafters just yet. Lou Lamoriello can be just a stubborn as he is loyal, and that's led to plenty of shrewd negotiations with star players in the past. With the amount of cash that's going to get thrown at the feet of a number one overall pick that actually lived up to his billing, I don't know that I'm all the sudden ready to declare the team that drafted him the runaway winner in the free agency sweepstakes just because their money man is no longer bankrupt of the brains necessary to do the job.
I guess what I am trying to say is that while the Islanders absolutely could have done worse, until proven otherwise they are basically in the stage of the game where they think they are dating 'Mr. Right' solely because of how wrong they were about the ex-husband that ended up using their personal information to sabotage their credit. Lou Lamoriello could end up being a hugely successful hire, but given that his age probably doesn't make him long for a position in which he's undeniably decreased in prominence, there's probably a fairly decent chance that he ends up having to point to Garth Snow's tenure just to prove the progress he made.
Devils Legend Lou Lamoriello Is Joining The Islanders Front Office, And It Feels Weird Not Really Caring
There was a time, not as long ago as it feels, in which the news that Lou Lamoriello was taking up employment in the Metropolitan Division would have had me anxiously holding my breathe tighter than he grasps to socially repressed ideals and antiquated traditions. I remember my heart sinking when I heard that someone whose legacy will always be synonymous with the success that he had in building the New Jersey Devils from the ground up to the rafters that became more and more populated throughout his tenure was joining the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Fortunately, as is a credit to the nearly irreproachable work of his replacement, that memory is starting to fade. So much so, in fact, that coming across the increasingly inevitable news of Lou's move to the opposite side of an all-too-familiar river barely evoked a reaction from me. Hell, for the split second in which the idea of bidding against one of most highly decorated General Managers in sports history for the services of John Tavares failed to cross my mind, I actually wished him the best in cleaning up a defensive hellscape that comparatively makes the Devils' blueline look as though it's in the black...
While still being insanely grateful for everything that he did in crafting a winning culture in New Jersey for over two decades, I'm a little less likely to give a pat on the ass and a "go get 'em slugger" to a franchise figurehead turned division rival. However, I'm not desperately praying that he falls face-first into freezing the salary cap with a Kovalchuk-esque contract while trying to melt the glacier-sized missteps of Garth Snow, and that's a lot more than I could say had he done the unthinkable by joining the Rangers or Flyers.
The truth is, I'll be more than happy to honor Lou Lamoriello when his career comes to an end. Unfortunately, I get the sneaking suspicion that will require the work of the Grim Reaper, as he has undoubtedly made a "til' death do us part" agreement with his executive chair. Still, I'll be excited to show the type of unwavering appreciation that every Devils' fan should have for the man responsible for almost every one of the organization's many positive memories. Until then, however, he can do as he pleases (within reason, see above) free of harsh feelings, as his former franchise has become trusted in the meticulous hands of someone like Ray Shero, who has already shown huge signs of being just as adept and crafty in molding it to his liking.
So, to clarify, the bottom hand of their most skilled forward, the back of their most physically imposing forward, and the hip of a player whose job is entirely reliant on lateral movement. I didn't know that I could find myself more impressed by the late-season run the Devils went on to will themselves into the playoffs, but this news does a pretty good job of highlighting all that they overcame.
I don't really know that there is all that much left to say in praising Taylor Hall, but turning a great first half of the season into a dominant second half of the season while nursing an injury that he was able to keep completely unnoticeable transcends all sorts of logic. Not only was he the Devils' best player on a nightly basis (as evidenced by the point streaks), but - considering they made the playoffs by a single point - he absolutely had to be. How he was able to take his his game to such an unforeseen level with literally anything laboring him, never mind his shooting hand, is so incomprehensible that you just have to tip your hat to both his talent and his tenacity and recognize that your average, everyday asshole will never truly understand either of them.
I can't say I knew how badly Cory Schneider was banged up throughout a losing streak that overshadowed his excellent start and came to define his season, but I'm certainly not shocked that his hip required a fairly significant surgery. It was pretty obvious something was off, so if there's anything surprising about this injury it's that he was able to fight through it and give the Devils more than enough chances to win any of the last three games of their series against Tampa Bay. Five months is quite the recovery time, but it basically ensures that Keith Kinkaid will be sticking around while also delegitimizing any judgements that might have been made about his play since the start of 2018. His health is a bit of concern going forward, but apparently his head isn't and that's what a lot of people figured was ailing him down the stretch. There's now even more reason to believe that the Cory Schneider we saw in the playoffs returns in October, and this time with a fluid and full range of motion.
I don't know that Pat Maroon will be back with the Devils, though the mutual interest appears to be very real. If the money and term end up being reasonable, it's pretty easy to envision a scenario where he's even better at taking the abuse necessary to position himself in front and winning/protecting pucks in the corners. After all, the only way that job could be made more thankless is by quietly doing it through the type of back pain that typically keeps people glued to their bed 20 minutes longer than they'd like. In case you were unaware of just how absent his skill set was in the Devils' lineup, consider that the insertion of it was obvious to the naked eye all while the person who possessed it was left painfully sticking a protruding disc in the face of opposing goaltenders.
Since Last Checking In On The World Championships, Keith Kinkaid Has Posted Back-To-Back Shutouts And Will Butcher Had A Multi-Point Game
While this does leave me worried for the mental health of the sector of fans that are, for some reason or another, made more comfortable by always have a goaltender to shun, I can't help but enjoy every second of Keith Kinkaid proving that the stretch run of his season wasn't solely the product of having some undiagnosed horseshoe up his ass. Of course, with each passing overseas save and/or shutout, his trade value will go disproportionally up in the eyes of those that are approximately one month removed from treating Cory Schneider as the antichrist, but I couldn't possibly feel any better about the Devils rostering two goaltenders that look to be heading into their respective offseasons at the top of their games.
Other than his accolade-worthy performance against Canada, he hasn't exactly been facing world beaters while beating the world, but it's tough to argue with perfection between the pipes. I don't know whether an offer that is impossible to refuse ultimately lures Keith Kinkaid out of New Jersey or not, though I have my doubts given the league-wide devaluing of netminders. I do, however, know that the type of player who makes the most of his opportunities is one that serves as quite the insurance policy in net. As this tournament has rolled on, the co-pay on that insurance policy has looked like just as much of a bargain as it did when it was being heavily leaned on en route to the playoffs, and that should only reinforce the belief that there's no clock that's getting ready to strike midnight on Keith Kinkaid's capabilities.
UPDATE: Take your trade proposals and shove 'em...
Two weeks ago, the only reason to remain cautiously optimistic about Will Butcher's ability to noticeably improve in the offseason was that, as a 23-year old rookie, he was already further along in his development than most first year prospects. Two weeks later, and I'm already testing the direction of the wind with a little bit of caution. I haven't even watched every minute of Team USA, but throughout the little that I have watched? The shot that he prioritized improving hasn't only been on full display, but appears as though it's undergone some seasoning with how much of a kick it's had. The kid simply has "it", and "it" is only becoming more well rounded by being given a top-4 role and time on the penalty kill. Getting a little international acclaim should do wonders for his confidence, and there is more room for confidence on the Devils' blue line than I'd like to admit.
Keith Kinkaid Shut The Door In The Shootout, And Was Selected Team USA's Player Of The Game In Their Win Over Canada
There seemed to be some sort of prevailing school of thought that whatever magic Keith Kinkaid captured in playing the mid-wife to the Devils' first playoff berth in six years ran out once they got there. As it turns out, someone might want to check the availability of Alice Cooper, because that school is all the way out for the summer.
Two underwhelming postseason outings behind an overmatched team aside, the insurance policy turned opportunist is still very much at the top of his game. One preliminary victory over the odds-on favorite to win a tournament of arguable importance might not serve as all that much evidence, but it highlighted exactly why there's plenty of reasons to think of Keith Kinkaid's success as much more than a flash in the pan. The four goals against don't do justice to how imperative his performance was to a team with objectively inferior talent, for there was very little debate as to whose name was coming when it came time to announce Team USA's 'Player Of The Game'.
I think everyone's feeling approximately 35x times better about Cory Schneider's future with the Devils after he triumphantly took back his starting job in playoffs. If Keith Kinkaid finishes the World Championships anywhere near as well as he started them then hopefully the calls to trade away half of what could make for an excellent goaltending duo will be sent directly to voicemail.
I have absolutely no idea if Will Butcher is going to develop into the type of player that can fill a role as top-4 defenseman for a contending team, but I do know that he hasn't given me a single reason to think that he won't. As was the case towards the end of the year, he had moments where he stood out for all the right reasons against Canada. The shot he rang off the post after creeping in from the point was the result of him breaking up a 2-on-1 moments earlier. He's still got growing to do in his own end, but his calmness with the puck, as well as his overall instincts are second to none. The following feels like a weird thing to say about someone that broke the Devils' rookie record for points by a defenseman, but it's pretty easy to envision a scenario where he's able to contribute more on both ends of the ice next season. I didn't need to see him do so today to come to that conclusion, but it certainly didn't hurt my perception of him as a player.
Huh, Blake Coleman quickly forced his way up through a lineup that he just barely made? Why does that sound feel so...so...so...familiar?
Well, I guess the good news is that this isn't really news at all.
Seeing as I just want to put my feet up and silently enjoy the rest of the weekend, it would truly be awful if I had to go about the same old song and dance in explaining how Taylor Hall, at times singlehandedly, altered the weather forecast during the time of year in which dreariness had come to be expected by those associated with the Devils. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do is remind everyone that it was his dominance that helped ease the indoctrination of two of NHL's three youngest players into first line roles for a competitive team, so thank god this nomination was basically written in the consistency with which he was one of the 'Three Stars'. I think every hockey fan already knows how impressive a 26-game point streak is, so prattling on and on about how it put Taylor Hall in both exclusive and historic company would have really been overkill. Could you even imagine how annoying it would have been of me to go back to the game logs to confirm that his 9-game point streak, that came pretty damn close to the heels of the previous one, featured multiple game-winning goals and almost directly coincided with the Devils clinching a playoff spot for the first time in six years? Man, I'd hate myself for turning into that much of a fanboy, so I'm breathing quite the sigh of relief that I don't have to point out that if there were a hypothetical person in the lineup that made up the difference between Taylor Hall's point total and that of his next closest teammate then that person would be the leading scorer on any Devils' line other that wasn't Number 9's. An individual season that is arguably the best ever by a member of a storied franchise with three championships and a fistful of Finals appearances under its belt speaks for itself, and therefore I don't have to pick apart the definition of "value" on its behalf...
I just wanted to for the fuck of it.
In all seriousness, I'm not sure Taylor Hall will win MVP. With all due respect to Anze Kopitar, I imagine it'll basically come down to the flip of a coin between the Devils' Hart-and-soul and Nathan MacKinnon, and - while the failing of tails would leave me disappointed - cooler heads say both are more than deserving. That said, the fact that Taylor Hall's status as a finalist was all-but-finalized well before the season finale tells you everything you need to know about how valuable he was to a team that rode his coattails a lot more often than he'd ever admit. During a year in which there were more people in the Hart Trophy conversation than ever before, a New Jersey Devils' forward made it so that he absolutely could not be excluded. The only surprising part about that is that it somehow stopped being surprising awhile ago.
Be Still, My Hart: Taylor Hall Has Officially Been Nominated For The Ted Lindsay Award, As Voted On By His Peers
Here's what I am going to need you to do. Take those notes that you've used to carefully outline Taylor Hall's argument for the Hart Trophy, and push them to the side of your desk. Don't throw them out because you're probably going to need them pretty soon, but just remove them from your line of vision. Now take a deep sigh of relief, seeing as it has to feel pretty damn good not having to refer to them for the umpteenth time in a circular, never-ending internet argument that dissects the word "value" as if were some foreign concept that, much like Player Safety, somehow evaded the entire hockey community for decades.
You see, for the first time in a long time, the qualifiers and caveats aren't necessary. Never mind the team specific point differentials and short-lived playoff berths that could be used as signs of relative worth. If only for this discussion, even the irrefutable advanced analytics aren't worth the Excel program that was used to tediously type them out.
We're talking the three most outstanding players in the NHL, as voted on by players in the NHL, and - alongside Connor McDavid and Nathan McKinnon - Taylor Hall is officially one of them. Not Nikita Kucherov. Not Claude Giroux. Not Evgeni Malkin. Not Anze Kopitar. Taylor Hall, and if you've got a bone to pick with his inclusion then I sure as shit hope you've got a signed NHL contract lying around, or else your discretion in this discussion means about as much as your failed hockey career. Those paid to put him on his ass, as opposed to those paid to sit on theirs, determined that Taylor Hall was, at the very least, the player third most worthy of both their attention and respect. That not only speaks volumes about his sky-high standing throughout the league, but also the consistency with which he displayed his dominance.
Now, it would be crazy to assume that athletes that are far more focused on their own season than those of their opposition are the most educated of voters, but - despite being an unquantifiable stat - earning an award-worthy appreciation from your peers in the span of one standout season is quite the accomplishment. Even if he doesn't end up taking any of the accolades he's up for home, Taylor Hall deserves each and every acknowledgement of a season that apparently couldn't even be ignored by those that it came at the expense of.
As It Turns Out, Nico Hischier Played The Majority Of His Phenomenal Rookie Season With A Chronic Wrist Injury
As most things tend to do, this makes a whole lot of sense in retrospect. The agonizing grimaces and post-shift slumping that were a staple of his on-screen presence seemingly every time he came back to the bench. The hesitancy to shoot that, while becoming less and less of an issue throughout an otherwise unbelievable year, was definitely one of the few noticeable flaws in his game. The lack of power on a snap shot that somehow had the accuracy to get him to 20 goals in his first NHL season despite not being intimidating enough scare a fly off the crossbar.
Now, I'm sure a lot of those observations can also be attributed to the nerves that might be felt by a post-pubescent boy playing in a grown man's league while having to work harder to limit the inherent disadvantage that is being built like a middle school distance runner. Still, dealing with a chronic injury to the wrist of a shooting arm that would have needed a whole lot more than a high-protein, spinach-heavy diet to rival Popeye's regardless certainly couldn't have helped.
All jokes aside, the fact that throughout his first full season - of which he was the only Devil to play in every single game - not once did anyone consider that Nico Hischier was banged up is a testament to him having a hockey IQ that's wise beyond its years, a skill set that impacts the game in a variety of ways, and a tenacity that never had him shying away from the tough areas of the ice. As if I needed any other reason to be optimistic about the bright future of a kid that swimmingly assumed the role of number one center for an eventual playoff team, the mere thought that we have yet to see at him at full strength when that's sure to be added to over the summer has me ready to put myself to sleep until October.
Nico Hischier easily surpassed expectations and he did so while likely having to use his off-hand to masturbate. I don't know that that last part is relevant but it's definitely not a claim that can be made by members of a fanbase that largely found themselves aroused for the first time in years because of the first part.
You know what, in being a good enough sport to reprise a character he already looked absolutely ridiculous playing a good 20-some-odd years ago, the actor officially known as Patrick Warburton and cult figure known as David Puddy really hit the nail on the head with one of his signature lines...
The New Jersey Devils can, in fact, beat anybody. They damn near proved it in taking down a gauntlet of great teams en route to their first playoff berth in six years. That's why it's a little disappointing that "anybody" currently has a huge upper hand in a series that's starting to look like nothing more than a learning experience.
Now, unexpected is something it's definitely not, but I really can't help but feel like the Devils didn't just owe it to themselves to take this thing back to Tampa Bay tied at two, but also owed it to the 53 year old man that gladly painted both his face and his chest in maniacal support of the team. Granted, he probably basked in having both a non-obnoxious opportunity to go topless given his stunning amount of upper body definition. Still, that was a shocking amount of dedication to method acting from someone whose decades removed from having to do it to break into the industry. If for no other reason than it was at least deserving of a win in return, the Devils need to bring this back to New Jersey so Puddy can get his payoff.
My first inclination was to start off talking about the questionable Nikita Kucherov hit that left Sami Vatanen in the locker room, and - unfortunately - that speaks volumes about how ordinary the Devils' effort was in being pushed to within a loss of their offseason. There were certainly things to like about a flawless penalty killing performance that highlighted the work of a depleted defense that was without its most important player for the final forty minutes, but there were just as many things not to like a pitiful powerplay that low-lighted the work of an impotent offense that couldn't get much going after coming up empty on a couple point blank chances. Nico Hischier looked much like his bathroom scale reads and, on first glance, Taylor Hall appeared to fall victim to the Lightning's much more concerted effort to not let him beat them. While I think that considering New Jersey a one man show is insanely stupid, the Devils don't exactly have multiple headliners and their main one wasn't as much of a rockstar as he usually is. Like any top-end team would, Tampa Bay made adjustments that flustered an inexperienced group and coaching staff that's still learning the intricacies of the chess match that is playoff hockey.
Now, having their two-way defenseman that, mostly out of necessity, admirably carries their top defensive pairing and mans both special teams units available to them probably could have aided in creating some offense, and for his absence we have Nikita Kucherov to thank...
Honestly, if you had asked me last night then a stoning in the public square would be the only acceptable form of justice, but - having had time to digest the disappointment - I actually don't think the hit was all that dirty. Of course, "dirty" isn't supposed to be the only grounds for suspension, but that's neither here nor there...
At this point, I would be the most annoyed if I were Drew Doughty, for it's clear that the NHL just scapegoated the front-runner for the superlative Most Likely To Deserve It in trying to convince people that they really, really do give star players the same treatment. Seeing as I don't think Sami Vatanen spent two periods in the locker room with a bruised bosum after having his head jerked back in a fashion fitting of a fender bender, I think we've already begun to let semantics decide suspensions. Nikita Kucherov should have been temporarily sent to timeout for no other reasoning than the NHL's own goddamn reasoning. That fact that he's not going to be, during a series that has gotten increasingly out of the hands of the officials, is just another sign that the NHL values its predictable unpredictability over player safety.
I suppose it's also of note that someone who knows a thing or two about in-zone coverage decided to examine the lack of it from the player you'd most expect to get picked on during film study...
In turning his full back on one of the most dangerous snipers in the sport while he sat in the slot, Damon Severson basically displayed the situational awareness of someone trying to answer an e-mail while at gunpoint. What he was thinking? Well, much like the logic behind every decision that's forced the Devils to send one of their two most talented defensemen to a luxury suite, the world may never know. Scott Stevens broke down exactly why he's just as polarizing as he is both promising and infuriating. He's just as likely to be brilliant as he is to be braindead, and sometimes being flat out bad is easier on your teammates than being bipolar.
That's not to say that one blind box out or one uncalled hit to the head cost the Devils the game. They merely played pretty good against a great team, and - especially when you're not opportunistic - that's not going to cut it in the postseason. They've played their best hockey when their backs are against the wall, so counting them out completely - no matter how bleak things currently look - is a fool's errand. That said, if Sami Vatanen is out for any amount of time and the powerplay and penalty kill don't start clicking in conjunction, then that wall is going to give way pretty damn quickly.
Twenty four hours ago, the Devils were averaging five goals against during two straight losses of which they spent exactly zero seconds with the lead. Now, you could legitimately envision a scenario in which existing pieces could be put together to solve the puzzle that is the Tampa Bay Lightning, so I guess that's why you should wait until both teams get an opportunity to play at home before writing one of them off. Every small victory that could be taken from the games in Tampa Bay was moral in nature, but - in instilling a little bit of doubt into the heavy favorite - the Devils stumbled upon quite a few avenues to get this thing back to Tampa tied at two.
First and foremost, Cory Schneider was excellent in a way that makes me want to waterboard myself for questioning the decision to start him. I think the rap he's gotten since his return from injury has somehow been worse than every mumbled musical abortion that has been released in 2018. Still, the truth of the matter is that he was undeniably struggling and when his team needed him the most he battled through both the physical and mental bumps and bruises to give them a chance to win. The problem with making the call on goaltending controversies is that it's largely up to the 18 players in front of them to make you look like either a genius or an idiot with absolutely no in between. Continuing to ride Keith Kinkaid was the safe choice in that it would have made smaller that disparity, so credit to the selfless veteran whose ups have always been undeservingly overshadowed by his downs for making everyone look smart with a stellar performance. He was given the chance, but he earned back his net when a failure to do so would have effectively ended the season. The rest of the book remains unwritten, but Cory Schneider penned a hell of an opening chapter to his redemption story.
That said, acting as if a goalie switch was the only thing to turn the tides on Tampa would be quite the disservice to the rest of the team. Marcus Johansson's puck carrying ability was a breathe of air that was as fresh as his legs seemed to be. The endorsements of Travis Zajac rung louder and louder with each face-off leading to yet another even strength shift in which Steven Stamkos name went without mention. The dominance of Taylor Hall continued to be predetermined, even in the postseason. Guys like Blake Coleman and Pat Maroon spent just as much time annoying the opposition with their in-your-face styles of play as they did with the non-stop motors on their mouthes. For as strategically limited as Will Butcher's role is, both his goal and his blocked shot were necessary in making sure the Devils' powerplay didn't work against them at the worst possible time. The rest of the defense, while not exactly reminiscent of those that currently line the rafters, did an admirable job in avoiding the half-forced disasters that doomed them in Tampa Bay.
All in all, it was an effort that was a lot more like what we grew accustomed to seeing from a team that's makes up the length they are from perfect with perseverance. The Devils needed to be a difficult team to play against, and look no further than Tampa's temper tantrum for proof that they got back to that last night. A player who typically remains unfazed in playing a Norris Trophy-caliber brand of defense doesn't stick a 19 year old in the dick for no apparent reason because he has an elementary sense of humor....
Rather, he does so because he's clearly frustrated, and a hard-fought, fast-paced game devolving into a laugher complete with death threats was proof that he was far from the only one...
It won't matter much if they continue to take penalties against a Lightning team that treats powerplays like magic mushrooms, but the Devils clearly found their way under the skin of the superior team last night. If that was a precursor for Wednesday then there's no reason to think their relentlessness won't be relevant in a series that's more than likely going to be a hell of a lot tighter than the first three scores would lead you to believe. The Lightning can outscore the best of them, but they certainly aren't the type of team that excels at being forced to grind out victories. The Devils did just that in fighting their way off the mat that they were complicit in pinning themselves to, and - in a building whose raucousness has been six years in the making - they have a chance to reaffirm that they now have a better command of the postseason ropes.
Just listen to that reaction and tell me it's not amazing the difference a day can make...
After Months Spent Battling Concussion Issues, Marcus Johansson Is Making His Much Anticipated Return To The Devils' Lineup And Not A Moment Too Soon
I think I speak for almost every New Jersey Devils' fan in saying that a smile shot across my face as I read that Marcus Johansson was finally making his return from his second head injury of the season. Never mind what he brings as a player, because this is great news for him as a person, and I think he would agree that it feels long, long overdue.
Now, that said, I have absolute no idea what to expect out of him tonight. The optimist in me says it should be an infusion of experience, puck skills, and creative on the left side of the second line, as well as a desperately needed puck carrier and playmaker for the second power play unit. The pessimist in me says someone who looks like a shell of the player whose compromised health never allowed him to carve out a consistent role in a lineup that didn't truly take shape until well after Brad Marchand got a 5-game slap on the wrist for trying to end his career.
Considering that he's been skating for awhile now and John Hynes isn't currently in a position to be handing out pity plays in the Top 6, I'm inclined to believe it's closer to the former than the latter and that should bode well for a team that could benefit from any and all forms of offensive firepower at their disposal. I have no choice but to speak theoretically until he takes a shift or two, but the lineup should be one that's both deepened and improved by the presence of a proven playoff performer like Marcus Johansson.
More so, I wouldn't discount what this means in the locker room. If the decision to start Cory Schneider is at least partly an attempt to light a fire under this team, then seeing a guy that's been doing everything in his power to get back on the ice finally have the chance to lace them up when it matters most has to serve as at least a couple dozen squirts of gasoline.
I don't think that a lack of inspiration is what cost the Devils two games in which they reverted back to being disaster-prone defensively. That said, it'll be impossible for them to take this opportunity for granted having just got their MoJo back for the first playoff game in front of a fanbase that has been itching and scratching like Tyrone Biggums to finally, after six long ass years, turn home ice into a meaningful advantage. This Devils' team has proved they can play with the Tampa Bay Lightning for prolonged stretches, so the one thing this wealth of internal motivation doesn't provide them is an excuse if that next prolonged stretch isn't 60 minutes (and possibly +). They should be familiar with the concept of do-or-die hockey by now, and they should be more equipped to breathe some life into this series than they have been at any point this season.