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.
Brad Marchand Forgot the Puck and Presumably What Remains of His Dignity at Center Ice in Gifting a Shootout Win to the Flyers
Now that’s just some good, clean family fun. The rare watch that is endlessly enjoyable by 99.9% of men, women, and children that don't diddle themselves to grainy Bobby Orr highlights like they are scrambled porn. For someone whose career has been characterized by not having so much as a...ahem...lick of shame, as much as it has been characterized by an incredible offensive evolution, it was always going to take something truly and profoundly unique to finally embarrass Brad Marchand. That something finally coming in a 'PG' package that can be guiltlessly celebrated by the masses that silently wish him far worse is just an added bonus.
I honestly can’t help but feel like there was some divine intervention at play here. If the Lord working in mysterious ways can be used to unconditionally explain the otherwise inexplicable then I have no choice but to hold the sports gods accountable for upholding karma by having one of the best stickhandlers in the entire world be the first to ever graze over a stationary puck so slightly that it barely even budged across the slickest of surfaces. An overly proud prick costing his team a game in miserable and mortifying fashion, thus being left alone in the spotlight as a sitting duck for the scorn of the most belligerent fanbase in sports is just too perfect a storm for it not to have been conceived somewhere amongst the clouds.
Like, I don't know that it couldn't possibly happen to a nicer guy, but I do know that it literally hasn't throughout the hundreds upon thousands of shootouts attempts we've seen on NHL ice over the last decade or so. A puck left resting peacefully at center ice, as if it were oblivious to the outrageous asshole being mocked incessantly for causing it no more than a stiff breeze while skating right past it. A simple pleasure, indeed.
UPDATE: It appears as though the pest is...pestered...
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.
The Dallas Stars Canned Coach Jim Montgomery Out of Nowhere for an "Act of Unprofessionalism", and the Details of This One are Sure to Be Dirty
While it’s obviously bad news that yet another hockey coach was fired for inappropriate behavior of past or present, the silver lining is that we’ve reached the stage in the righting of wrongs process during which NHL teams take impropriety seriously enough to both self-report it and act on it. The fact that whatever Jim Montgomery did wasn’t only punished after being leaked long after the fact by either a player or executive that no longer felt sworn/strong-armed to secrecy is a sign of slight progress. After all, the Mike Babcock and Bill Peters cover-ups were even more symptomatic of the culture around the sport that was a breeding ground for their self-important, overbearing, and manipulative bullshit than their actual "crimes".
Speaking of, what in the hell did a coach of a ridiculously resurgent playoff team have to do to get canned, effective immediately, after an internal investigation that was so expedited that it ended with an unceremonious ousting before the public even knew it began? The Dallas Stars clearly found his behavior to be unforgivable, but whatever they are hesitant to say (or legally inclined to not say) has got to be about 100x more tame than the results of the investigation conducted by my imagination...
It reportedly wasn’t against the law, but jay-walking is technically illegal and I have a strong sense that whatever cost him his livelihood, in the midst of its success on the highest level, was far worse than turning his nose up at oncoming traffic.
With the dirty deeds we now know hockey teams to have swiftly swept under the rug, you can’t help but wonder the size of a skeleton that was presumably too big for the Dallas Stars’ closet while the rest of their house was in outstanding order. My mind immediately went to him stuffing a much more literal skeleton under the floorboards at team facilities, which is only as much of an indictment of how much time I’ve committed to Criminal Minds as it is an indictment of a sport that has apparently been complicit in creating monsters out of mentors and vice versa. With his (now former) team having recovered from a disastrous start and currently being in place to compete for a ring, it stands to decades of ass-backwards "reason" that they thought the underage prostitution ring he was potentially advertising on the back page of the team programs would eventually cut into his prep-time come the postseason.
Dark humor aside, I’m glad that a team got out ahead of either personal or professional misconduct from one of their most forward facing representatives, albeit vaguely, instead of biting their lip, crossing their fingers, and greasing the gears on the PR machine in case of emergency (i.e. unexpected exposure). Still, one would think it has to be pretty goddamn for an NHL franchise that is flourishing on the ice to forget about hockey and take it upon themselves to uphold organizational good off of it.
Joe Thornton Provided Goaltenders Everywhere an Unpleasant Reminder That Wearing a Mask Doesn't Necessarily Make Your Face Unpunchable
Like most, years spent watching guys get jumped by crease caretakers for making even incidental contact with the last line of defense has ingrained in me the long-standing belief that it's best avoid getting into it with goaltenders.
For that reason alone, I think everyone who has ever strapped on a pair of skates, crashed the net like they were told, and just barely gotten beaten to a rebound by a quick glove, a quicker whistle, and the quickest of slashes owes Joe Thornton a thank you for reminding puck-stoppers everywhere that, at the end of the day, they are just more highly protected players. A throat jab that would bring a self-satisfied smirk to the mouth of Mr. Miyagi might have been slightly excessive, but it's about time someone put a sizable dent in either the figurative or literal trachea of a stick-wielding puck-stopper and their self-conceived cloak of invincibility. Especially if we, as a hockey community, expect to cut down on their sword-like swings.
As far as I'm concerned, an elder statesman whose beard commands respect, connotes unquestioned wisdom, and speaks to his ability to age more ruggedly than the dustiest bottle of whiskey in your liquor cabinet simply restored order. It's too bad it had to be at the expense of Petr Mzarek's windpipe, but at least his frat-like group of heavily-padded peers while have to reflect on their own positional mortality next time they go ahead and start some shit with the expectation that literally everybody else will finish it...
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.
Ladies and Gentleman, The World's Biggest Douchebag has Come Forward With an Allegation That He was Once Kicked by Former Head Coach Marc Crawford
NYPost- “Marc Crawford kicked me once,” Sean Avery told The Post, before relaying details of the incident that took place during the 2006-07 season when they were together in Los Angeles.
“This was right after I [messed] up a drill and dumped the puck into the wrong corner, and it landed on Crow’s head and cut him for six [stitches],” Avery said. “He kicked me during a game.”
“Oh, so he kicked you during the next game because of the drill?” I naturally inquired.
“No, he kicked me after a too-many-men-on-the-ice call I took,” Avery said. “He didn’t have me serve it, we got scored on, and he let me have it.
“You know how I stand at the end of the bench? He came down and gave me an ass kick that left a mark.”
The incident can be traced to the Dec. 23, 2006, match at Nashville in which the Kings were assessed a too-many-men penalty at 19:18 of the second period, 36 seconds before J.P. Dumont scored the Predators’ sixth goal in a 7-0 victory.
On Feb. 5, 2007, Avery was sent to the Rangers for the first time.
“You think that incident was the reason you were traded?” I asked.
“No, no,” Avery said. “That was because I squared off with and tried to fight Mark Hardy, who was one of our assistant coaches, on the ice.
I was going to wait for clarification and/or corroboration on this one. After all, my gut - like that of many others, I'd imagine - tempted me to do nothing more than shrug my shoulders, as compassion falls about 400th on the list of things I feel for someone who was a shameless shithead on the ice and has proven to be a proud and public harasser of the homeless off the ice.
Luckily, attention will always come well before sympathy on Sean Avery's list of priorities, so I can confidently consider all parties involved in his story to be irredeemable assholes who love punching (or, for the sake of this argument, kicking) down...
With the stink of some cringeworthy burials leaking out from under the NHL's floorboards over the last week and change, I'm not at all ready to doubt that a member of the NHL's old guard, like Marc Crawford, is capable of being a crappy person with a insatiable power complex. On the other hand, with the person on the receiving end of that complex defending it in a way that jives pretty perfectly with his douchey demeanor and fake tough guy image it kinda feels like both people will ultimately get what they deserve.
For Marc Crawford, it's a long overdue investigation into his allegedly tyrannical tactics that apparently didn't begin and end with his foot meeting the crack of a complete prick....
...and for Sean Avery, it was the disappointingly literal ass-kicking he had coming to him for the entirety of his adult life.
All's well that ends well, I suppose. Especially if it ends with the NHL cleaning up their coaching circles and maintaining safer workplace environments than those apparently preferable to a sycophant like Sean Avery, in part because he was to thirsty for relevance to keep his fat mouth shut about getting booted after having spent the vast majority of his career ducking exponentially more justified jumpings.
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.
Akim Aliu's Story Has Been Corroborated and Bill Peters Looks Primed for the Unemployment Line, as the Surface Has Merely Been Scratched on Half-Witted Hockey Culture
TSN- Speaking publicly for the first time since he made the allegation on Twitter, the Nigerian-born Aliu said Peters made the remarks in the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs dressing room before a morning skate during the 2009-10 season while the 20-year-old Aliu controlled the team’s music.
“He walked in before a morning pre-game skate and said ‘Hey Akim, I’m sick of you playing that n----- s---,’ ” Aliu told TSN, with Peters, who was then the Ice Hogs head coach, referring to Aliu’s selection of hip-hop music. “He said ‘I’m sick of hearing this n-----s f------ other n-----s in the ass stuff.’
“He then walked out like nothing ever happened. You could hear a pin drop in the room, everything went dead silent. I just sat down in my stall, didn’t say a word.”
Two of Aliu’s Rockford teammates who were in the room at the time of the alleged incident, Simon Pepin and Peter MacArthur, independently corroborated Aliu’s account to TSN on Tuesday.
"I think everyone should be held accountable for their actions or words spoken," Pepin said.
Aliu said Rockford team captain Jake Dowell later confronted Peters about the incident in the coach’s office. Dowell declined to comment, but said he would cooperate in any investigation conducted by the NHL or the Flames.
When Peters then called Aliu into his office to talk about it, Aliu said Peters did not apologize. Instead, Peters again expressed his displeasure in Aliu’s choice of music for the dressing room, with Aliu saying Peters said: “You know, I’m just sick of this n----- s---. It’s every day. From now on, we need to play different music.”
When asked why he waited nearly 10 years to step forward, Aliu pointed to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a reason to stay quiet.
“This isn’t me being bitter. I sat on this a really, really long time. It broke my heart, I think it made my career go downhill before it started,” Aliu said. “
This isn’t to the degree of Kaepernick by any means, but if you play the race card, it’s most likely the end of your career.”
Aliu said he did not confront Peters at the time of the incident, nor in the private meeting that followed in Peters’ office.
“What am I going to say? I was 20 years old and a first-year pro. I was too scared to speak up,” Aliu said. “I beat myself up every day over it.”
Aliu said he believes that incident with Peters “ruined my career before it started.” Aliu already began his career with the public reputation of being a difficult player, stemming from his refusal to participate in a hazing ritual with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires that would have forced him and other rookies to stand naked in a bus washroom.
“Look at the numbers. I was on pace for 20 goals in my first pro season and I wasn’t getting any power-play or penalty-kill time. Zero special teams,” Aliu said. “I feel like this ruined my career before it started. I don’t think that can be disputed. Then you get sent down to the ECHL, then traded to another organization and it’s an uphill climb from there.”
“There isn’t much that you can do or say to me that I can’t accept an apology for,” Aliu said. “He wasn’t man enough to apologize to me and move on.”
So instead, Aliu admitted that he “turned sour against” Peters in the days and weeks that followed, ultimately leading to his demotion to the ECHL.
Aliu said two or three weeks after the incident, Peters snapped at him during a drill in practice and Aliu responded by saying: “Don’t f------ talk to me” to Peters. Within two hours of practice ending, Aliu says he was demoted to the ECHL.
“It’s tough to sit here while he just keeps climbing the ranks. After that incident, I got zero opportunity,” Aliu said. “I’ve made peace with it. I hope he’s honest and admits what happened.”
So, to recap...
A supremely-talented Nigerian-born prospect, who - as a teenager - was labeled an irredeemable rebel for having the gall to refuse to slip off his skivvies and get packed dick-to-ass into the bathroom of a bus, that held multiple future NHL coaches, for the entertainment of older teammates in the midst of a heterosexual identity crisis, was chillin' in his stall and minding his own business to the backdrop of some beats.
Then, his curmudgeon of a coach, who apparently takes his social cues from David Duke, decided to stroll on through and casually - pardon the pun - drop the mic with a bunch of targeted n-bombs that left his locker room in stunned silence. After being reprimanded on the matter by the player he elected captain, said coach proceeded to call said prospect into his office to double and triple down on his racist rhetoric, as opposed to apologizing. When going the extra mile to remind that prospect of his skin color's suppressed and stunted standing in the whitest of painfully white sports was oh-so-shockingly met with a grudge, that prospect had his then promising career path detoured out of spite.
The coach, on the other hand, went on to quickly rise through the ranks, reinforcing his resume by taking notes alongside another recently relieved coach whose team full of future Hall of Famers even thought he was a pompous prick. The student has become the teacher, as Bill Peters is coaching his second NHL team, despite his first one hating his fucking guts and making the playoffs exactly zero times in four underperforming years before undeniably improving as an exponentially more unified "bunch of jerks" immediately upon his departure.
That, of course, could change as soon as today, since it sure as shit appears that he's finally facing his first (and hopefully fatal) repercussion after a decade of being a divisive dictator, a discriminatory dickhead, and an abusive asshole...
However, if you don't think the timeline above speaks to how cancerous hockey culture can be then I regret to inform you that you've already contracted it, as stating the blatantly obvious does not make you any less of a hockey fan. As a matter of fact, I'd even take it a step farther. Defending the breeding ground of intolerance and toxicity that is the cesspool of insecure entitlement in which old, blubbering blowhards tread water while failing to evolve with the sport that keeps gifting them golden opportunities proves you are actively against the growth of a game that you view in a light bright enough to blind you to its ugly truths.
I'm not saying that every long-time hockey coach is, for lack of a more accurate term, a piece of shit that deserves to get run over and left for dead by the high horse they rode in on, nor am I saying that every player is suffering from the sports' equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome. Since the time Akim Aliu went head on with his head coach's hate speech, I'd imagine quite a few progressive steps have been taken in that regard.
That being said, if two insanely high-profile figures governing the highest level of hockey in a crazed media fishbowl of a country could have their fascist ways of counterproductively abusing both their pro players and their power fly under the radar for this long then it stands to reason that similar bullshit is still an epidemic in less supervised leagues.
This sad tale of Akim Aliu and a career at least partially undercut by the insatiable ego of someone that represents almost everything that is hatable about hockey is undoubtedly on the more asinine end of the spectrum. However, if you think this is the last skeleton in the closet of a community that, in part, was still worshipping every nonsensically nationalistic noise Don Cherry bellowed while glorifying brawn at the expense of brain, in a language that could only be translated by the nearest racist grandpa, then you might be in for a #MeToo level surprise.
Hopefully the Babcock backlash, as well as this story and its ramifications...::refreshes to see if Bill Peters has been fired (into the sun) yet::...
...serve as the distasteful saline solution that hockey has to choke down before a culturally constipated sport has its colon cleansed of decades worth of deeply embedded and inevitably nasty crap. Those that either have or plan to devote their lives to playing it (or were bullied out of doing so) will be better off for it, even if the over-inflated reputations of some of its most "revered" taskmasters won't be able to say the same.
Times have changed. Generations have changed. Membership to the Good Ol' Boys Club clearly hasn't. We're finding out there's a price to be paid that's long overdue, and - if the last week is any indication - the interest could prove pretty goddamn eye-opening.
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.
This Story of Mike Babcock Going Full ‘Mean Girls’ with Mitch Marner During his Rookie Season is a Massive Indictment of Him as a Coach, Never Mind a Person
To anyone with a mind that hasn’t long been afflicted by a disease that’s damn near as antiquated as smallpox, with that being the cancer that is half-witted hockey culture, the important thing to note here is that Mike Babcock, while being one of the most “well-respected” coaches in the NHL, had the social grace of Regina George while filling the role self-important professor for the Toronto Mean Gir…I mean, Maple Leafs.
Above all else, asking a rookie to create something that’s the sports' equivalent of a “Burn Book” with an unspoken intent to share its contents with the veteran teammates with which you, yourself, harbor a grudge is the type of asinine crime against human etiquette that’s resourced Larry David’s writing process for going on ten seasons post-Seinfeld. It was a clear (and obnoxiously-timed) abuse of power from an old stubborn bastard who failed to adapt and evolve psychologically as a sport that has an odd obsession with ornery assholes passed him by. That’s what we should be directing our focus to.
However, since that seems pretty indisputable and obvious, I think I’d rather focus on what that level of mental manipulation says about him as a coach, as opposed to him as a person. This millennial thinks it makes him a crappy one that is now incapable of relating to players and deserved to get canned far prior to leaning heavily on fourth liners en route to yet another underwhelming playoff exit. Honestly, from a strategic perspective, what was the best case scenario? That, try as he may, he failed to combust his own team’s chemistry by way of wide-spread social sabotage?
The truth is that the goon squad of grandpas governing a league that’s laughably more skilled than the one that damaged the brains of their peers, both physically and mentally, could spin emotional torture as the building of toughness with a little bit of elbow grease. Unfortunately, the fact that we only just heard this story now speaks to how hard of a sell it would have been to claim that a talented team that's been getting bullied, in familiar fashion, by the Bruins every postseason was successfully forged by the fire of over-the-top tyranny.
Aside from this being an act of immaturity you’d expect out of an unsupervised locker room at a highly hormonal high school in an exaggerated TV drama, the job security of a coach almost unconditionally comes down to wins and losses. You don’t exactly need half-a-dozen degrees as a head shrink to conclude that creating resentment amongst your own roster is not the way to get the most out of it. Never mind this story speaking strongly to Mike Babcock being a diabolical dictator and an insufferable infant of an ego maniac. It flat out screams to him being an unqualified leader of young men that are too enlightened to be brainwashed by good ol’ boy bullshit in what's unquestionably been a refreshing new era of sport where we appreciate athletes being afforded a bare-minimum amount of common courtesy from their coaches. I say so facetiously, but - relatively speaking - what a brave new world!
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...
The Ducks Flew Together...In Migrating From the Front of Their Own Net to Start a Stupid Fight While Getting Scored On
What some of you might see is an objectively hilarious instance of professional hockey players engaging in bantam-league bullshit and instantaneously disregarding all their on-ice responsibilities in sacrificing a largely uncontested goal in order to exact vengeance for an entirely legal bodycheck. What…ahem…you people (shoutout Don Cherry) clearly don’t understand, however, is what would come of the NHL if the principle behind throwing pointless punches as punishment for run-of-the-mill physicality was officially put out to pasture. Could you even imagine watching a violent sport in which the all-world athletes of ever-increasing talent worried more about playing through heavy contact and maintaining the flow of elite competition as opposed to breaking to bring vigilance justice to every player who dares to knock someone down? Whew, I shudder to think.
In all seriousness, I get standing up for a fallen teammate, especially in the wake of an illegal hit from either behind or to the head. However, we’ve reached a point in which every single semi-substantial collision is followed by the hand-to-hand combat of pushing and pissing matches that feel far more obligated than organic. Just watch the Anaheim Ducks flock behind the net, thus leaving an opponent all alone to collect the puck, his thoughts, his dreams, and at least one paycheck before firing one home against a team that was too busy showing “support” and "solidarity" via shoves. Now tell me it’s not a prime example of how patently ridiculous, regular, and regimented revenge has become amongst professional athletes that should, at least most of the time, be able to differentiate between a dirty play and a textbook dumping.
Though, I suppose with how overreactive and immature the league has collectively become in retaliation I should just be glad they haven't resorted to other middle school tactics like spitting on each oth...oh no...
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.