Friday, September 9, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Mark & the New Jersey Devils

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 22 of 30: the New Jersey Devils


HOW THE DEVILS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

For the Devils, the summer of 2010 was defined by "Kovalchuk saga" and this summer was defined by "Parise watch". In between came one hot mess of a year -- during the first half of their season, the Devils went 10-29-2, putting them on pace for what might've been the worst season on record.

Coach John MacLean led the team through December 23rd (9-22-2); he was replaced by Jacques Lemaire, who came out of retirement for the season. Lemaire then went on to coach the Devils to a second half record of 28-9-4, but it wasn't enough -- the Devils had their first losing season since 1991, and missing their first playoffs since 1996. over the summer, Lemaire was replaced by Peter DeBoer (formerly of the Florida Panthers).

Collectively, the Devils came out of last season at a +/- of -129. Ilya Kovalchuk, the "$100M man", finished -26. There were many reasons the team did so poorly during the first half of the year: shorthanded roster; injuries; you name it. But the second half of the year showed what the team was capable of doing.

The Devils had very little movement over the summer. While the rise in the salary cap allowed them to breathe, the team really didn't need a lot of tweaks. The team let go of a few players who haven't been re-signed by anybody else and made a few small trades. The Western Conference will breathe a sigh of relief to see Cam Janssen depart to the East; Janssen has been one of St. Louis's best-known players, but not for his scoring ability - he is a fighter and an agitator. In 54 games last season, Janssen racked up 95 hits, 131 PIM (including 13 minor, 17 major), averaged just 4:51 TOI, and ... had just 16 shots on goal.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Eric Boulton (WPG), Cam Janssen (STL)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Tyler Eckford (PHX), Trent Hunter, Jamie Langenbrunner (STL), Pierre-Luc L├ętourneau-Leblond (CGY), David McIntyre (MN), Mike McKenna (CBJ), Brian Rolston (NYI), Anssi Salmela, Colin White (SJS)

After last season, the Devils have nowhere to go but up. Martin Brodeur, 39, will be playing his 20th season for the New Jersey Devils. Brodeur's season was marred by injury, and he posted his worst save percentage (.903) since the 1994-95 season. 

Brodeur should be healthy and ready to go for the season. He should at least reach the 650 games won plateau; if all goes really well, 675; he currently has 1131 regular season games under his belt (not to mention a Calder, two gold medals, three Stanley Cups, four Vezinas, and five William M. Jennings). With injuries affecting his play last year, there were questions of how many more seasons will Brodeur play; but a healthy Broudeur (and no doubt he's looked to peers Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson) should be around for a few seasons yet. He's been the face of the Devils and it's hard to imagine anybody else in NJ's net any time soon.

With Brodeur and Zach Parise healthy, the team organizing under a new coach, and a roster full of returning players, the Devils will be eager to prove that last year was simply a horribly off year, and that they're eager to return to the playoffs in the spring. If their play in the spring of 2011 is any indication, they're going to give the Eastern Conference plenty to worry about this season.

* * *

For the Devils, we talked to Mark, who's been a fan of the Devils since their 1995 Stanley Cup win. Can find him on Twitter at @markdoesnttweet.

photo courtesy of Mark
Let's talk about your fandom to start.

I became a fan thanks to the '95 Stanley Cup championship, followed by endless replays of NHL 96 with my brother. I've been following hockey pretty closely since then - largely just staying in touch with what's going on. Unfortunately, living in Chicago means that I rarely get to see the Devils, but naturally I've gotten caught up in Blackhawks mania here. The town really blew up when the Hawks won last year, and that was definitely one of the best hockey memories I've had. I even got my picture taken with the Cup!

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Definitely Adam Larsson. It's been a long time since the Devils had this high of a pick. If he doesn't make the team though, I'd suggest Zach Parise since he was a total non-factor last year.

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on? Who do you think will wear the "C" next?

Well, the good news is that after a disastrous and abysmal 2010-11 season, the 2011-12 Devils have nowhere to go but up. It's really interesting that the Devils really didn't make that many moves in the off season - they were not big players at the trade deadline or in free agency, mostly resigning their own guys. But the few changes they made (getting Zach Parise back from injury and re-signing him, hiring new coach Pete DeBoer, and finding a taker for Brian Rolston's horrible contract) are huge. Just goes to show that you don't need to make a big splash to take steps in the right direction.

I'm not that familiar with Pete DeBoer - his record in Florida was iffy at best, but that's certainly at least partially due to the lack of talent he had there. His hiring came as a surprise to me since he wasn't one of the popular candidates, but I'm cautiously optimistic about him. I think he's young enough to understand the new NHL, but experienced enough to not get in over his head like John MacLean did.

The first order of business will be to name a new captain, after Jamie Langenbrunner. This is a bit of a conundrum - Zach Parise is the odds-on favorite, but he is only signed for a year. The other names that have been thrown around are Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk. I think giving it to Parise would be a good message that we're committed to keeping him here, but if we're at all concerned about him bailing in the off-season or the trade deadline, I think it goes to Kovalchuk instead. He often seemed like the go-to guy, who always had a timely goal waiting.

Other than that, I'm excited about how much young talent we have. The good news is that a lost season means plenty of time to try out our prospects, and many of them did quite well. I'm really looking forward to seeing how guys like Palmieri, Josefson, and Tedenby do this year. If there is one thing that worries me about the Devils, it's what the future holds after this season. Between the Parise situation, Brodeur and Hedberg being free agents, and the fact that the Devils are on a budget now, I really don't know what's going to happen next year. We've got a ways to go before our young guys can carry the load, but for now I don't think we're contenders for the short term. Regardless, I'm really excited to wash away the bad memories of 2010-11 and get back to competitive Devils hockey that I love so much!

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

9th in the Eastern Conference

What existing hockey rule would you change (and how) if you could?

Not really a rule, but the charity point needs to die. It sort of made some sense back when there were ties, but nowadays it just serves to inflate every team's winning percentage until something like 20 of the 30 teams are over .500. Either award 3 points for a regulation win, or just keep track of wins and losses like every other sport.


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