The day after the Stanley Cup gets skated around an arena, I always feel the need to kind of look back at the season that just was. The playoffs and the season are a distant memory and this is the point where every team in the league now focuses on the task at hand, which is being the team to skate that cup next June.
Last September had so much hope and promise for Devils fans. Arnott was back in town and ready to reignite Patrik Elias and there was so much anticipation about the Kovalchuk/Zajac/Parise combination. The Devils were supposed to set the world on fire (not in the same way that the Canucks set the city on fire last night) and John MacLean, who once led the Devils on the ice was now supposed to do it from behind the bench. The signings of Volchenkov and Tallinder were supposed to give the Devils defense a look that we hadn’t seen since Stevens and Niedermayer patrolled the blue line.
When the puck dropped on the 2010/2011 season, the ZIP line as it was being called came out blazing but then all of the sudden, the Dallas Stars crawled their way into the game and eventually took the game in OT. The Devils would continue losing games and start to lose players to injuries and it was extremely obvious to everyone that an NHL team can’t really compete when you have a short bench, as was the case with the Devils who carried 18 skaters early in the season. In a few short weeks, the Devils would learn of an injury that would sideline Zach Parise for the rest of the season.
Truthfully, the beginning of the season is a blur because all I can remember is that the Devils were playing bad hockey. The puck never bounced are way and while there were moments of good hockey, like a 5-2 win against SJ and a 5-0 shutout against the Caps, those moments were few are far between. Before I knew it, it was a few days before Christmas, the Devils were a dismal 9-22-2 and MacLean was shown the door.
When Lemaire came back, I wasn’t overly thrilled as this was the guy who quit on them immediately after a disappointing show in Round 1 against the Flyers last spring. I always felt like, and still do that if he had just taken time to himself in June, July and August, maybe he would have been ready to finish his contract and we wouldn’t have wasted 33 games to begin the season because let’s be honest, when you throw away 33 games, you really can’t be successful.
Eventually though Lemaire had us believing that the playoffs were possible. It was such a huge hole to climb out of but the Devils really made the effort and Lemaire really proved to everyone that the problem with the NJ Devils from October to January really was the man behind the bench, which really proves the point I made in the paragraph above. If Lemaire would have stayed, what could have been this season?
As for the playoffs, it was a weird feeling not having the Devils in it. They’ve been in the postseason for so long and most Devils fans aren’t used to them not being there. When you talk hockey, the 2011 postseason was exciting, even for us Devils fans. You had a number of matchups featuring rivals, a number of series go the full length finished off by a very good series and matchup in the Stanley Cup Finals. I congratulate the Boston Bruins on their championship and I am certainly happy for Claude Julien., who I always felt that the Devils organization didn’t give much of a chance when we he was fired with a few games remaining in the 2006/2007 season. After the whole Rome/Horton incident, I didn’t know how the Bruins would respond and whether or not the Bruins could replace his offensive contributions. I do look at this Bruins team like I looked at the ’95 Devils. Both teams didn’t really have many superstars but had guys with superstar potential. Both teams were led by one man, Claude Lemieux then, Tim Thomas now and both teams succeeded because there were guys you didn’t expect to step up but did.
I’ll be honest; I am a little sour on the Vancouver Canucks, fair or not. I don’t think they carried themselves very well on and off the ice. Their play in my opinion was dirty, they came across as a bunch of whiny cry-babies and they were constantly trying to embellish situations to gain a call. The fans weren’t much better than their team. I’ll hate on Gary Betteman as much as the next guy but to boo so loudly that you can’t hear what he was saying during the cup presentation and to throw bottles and cups on the ice in his direction isn’t what makes this sport great. Then to take to the streets of your own city and burn and destroy things, you’ve left a mark that is big, black and ugly and this is what non-hockey fans will remember.
Again, congratulations to the Boston Bruins for a championship that was a long time coming and while this little fact doesn’t mean anything at all, at least I can say the Devils ended the 2010/2011 season by beating the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.