Let's Help Newsday's Arthur Staple Understand the New Jersey Devils

ILWT user Devilman3030 found this article in Newsday from sports journalist Arthur Staple about the New Jersey Devils over the weekend.   While the article was written on Saturday, it was, er, impressive enough to bring it up on Tuesday.   I read it a number of times and I'm just amazed at what Staple actually written.  I think the word I used the most in the article is "Really?"  In the resulting FanShot, other ILWT readers commented about how, let me be generous here, poor Arthur Staple's article was about the Devils.

Now, I don't want to become some kind of an attack dog going after every negative article about the Devils.  However, Staple's column got so much wrong that it warrants commentary.  I wonder if Staple is just unaware or stuck on stupid. According to Devilman3030, this is the sort of rhetoric that comes out of the NY/LI media market regularly. All the more reason to fisk this article.

Aside: For those who don't know "Fisking," an explanation.  A columnist for the Independent in London, Robert Fisk wrote an article so terrible and so idiotic shortly after 9/11 that other bloggers and commentators online just had to take it down point by point to highlight how bad it was. The practice of breaking down the entire article and commenting on each part is hence known as "Fisking."  Yes, he became a verb on the internetIt really was that awful of a column.  Regardless, the term is non-political and can be done anything.  You will see an example of this here.

The breakdown comes after the jump.   To all who read this, have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

Let's do it!  Again, here is Arthur Staple's Newsday article from November 21.

The Devils are off to another good start at 14-5-1, vying for a 13th straight season of at least 95 points. So the Devils are off and running, while the Rangers and Islanders sort out their kinks.

True. On November 21, the Devils indeed were 14-5-1 prior to the Dallas game.  That's a pretty impressive streak of season performances for New Jersey, no?   At the same time, per ShrpSports' archive of NHL standings, the Rangers were 11-9-1 and the Islanders were 8-7-7 prior to their games that night (which were losses).  Given that both were at the bottom of the division, this is a valid statement.  Good job, Arthur!

The Devils, defying explanation yet again

Oh, no.  Staple, you made your mistake here.  Here we go.  This is where the article declines.  This is where I'm reminded of Scott Burnside - and that's never good.

For those who don't get that reference, Burnside made a similar point of "inexplicable success" in his season's preview at ESPN which I highlighted.  The short answer to this is: It's not luck, it's the organization. 

But this isn't fair. Let's see this in context.

The Devils, defying explanation yet again, entered yesterday's action at 14-5-1, vying for a 13th straight season of at least 95 points. The Rangers have three such seasons since 1996-97, all in the last four years; the Isles have one.

Well, he restates his first sentence; but this is an interesting point.  I think the explanation here is that the Devils organization is well-run and is led by talented hockey players whereas the Rangers and Islanders have largely thrown crap at the wall and hoping it would stick since 1996-97.

In fact, Arthur, let me help you out with a related and impressive fact. The Devils are the second most successful team in the entire NHL since 1993-94.   You should check it out, Arthur. I think you'll find it interesting.

Lou Lamoriello has truly built a winner, and his entry into the Hall of Fame last week was a no-brainer.

Indeed.  In Lou We Trust, of course.

But Lamoriello has it wrong. He's had it wrong since the lockout, even though the Devils have won three Atlantic Division titles in those four seasons.

Arthur Staple is a big-talker. The Devils won the Atlantic Division three times, missed the fourth one by 3 points in 2007-08, and Lou Lamoriello has it wrong?   In each of those four seasons, the Devils had won 46, 49, 46, and 51 (a franchise high) games and Lou has it wrong?  What exactly is wrong?  Is winning division titles and at least 46 games per season not being a winner? Is this what you're saying Arthur Staple?

Lamoriello has cycled through a host of interchangeable players and coaches - eight coaches in the 12 seasons of excellent regular-season results - around Marty Brodeur. The Devils trap, or lock, or whatever you want to call it, to greater success than any other team in the league. So much so that the obstruction and goaltender puck-playing rule changes coming out of the lockout seemed targeted straight at Lamoriello and the Devils.

But they've persevered. And teams just don't seem to want to fight through the slog in the regular season.

The Devils don't trap anymore and haven't really done so since the lockout, but when you're Arthur Staple, why waste a good lazy thought?  Also, nice touch at the end at hinting the season isn't meaningful if teams don't want to give a good effort from night to night.  I understand that Newsday mainly focuses on the Islanders, so I see why you would say that as the Islanders usually have their playoff hopes die early in the new year.  Not sure that applies to the rest of the league, but whatever!

But seriously, the Devils didn't do the clutch and grab that other teams were involved with prior to the lockout. In fact, the Devils have consistently finished in the top 10 in penalty minutes per game since 2001-02, with no season yielding a per game average of more than 13 minutes.  And the only time the Devils were out of the top three was last season where the Devils averaged 12.9 PIM per game. This is all available at NHL.com, it's easy to look up Arthur.  Unless the referees love the Devils or the New Jersey skaters are just impeccable at hiding their infractions, I don't see how you can honestly say that obstruction was targeted at the Devils if you looked up these numbers.

Though you are right - the trapezoid was pretty much for limiting the excellent stick-handling of Martin Brodeur. Not that it has had any affect on his numbers or the team's results. 

So why does Lou have it all wrong, Arthur? This doesn't seem like a good reason as to why Lou isn't getting it right - whatever that means. 

The playoffs are another story. The Devils have won two series in five seasons because they don't have the talent to find an extra gear, just a strict system they don't waver from. They have Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Paul Martin. There aren't any other Devils who can take a game on their shoulders.

And we finally get to the why - I think.  Thanks for making the reader wait.  Though five seasons would include 2003-04, which was before the lockout, even though your point is that Lou has had it wrong after the lockout.  But whatever.  I don't see how you can say the Devils have a strict system when the Devils had four coaching changes after the lockout and each coach wanted the Devils to do different things on the ice. 

Yet, Arthur Staple is right to state that the Devils had not have much playoff success since the lockout.  They have only won as many playoff series as the Rangers and the Islanders since 2005.  I understand. 

As a mitigating point, I'd like to bring up the performance over the last 15 years - while the Devils have endured more first round losses than any other Cup winning teams, only Detroit has gone deeper more often than the Devils.  Then again, that wouldn't help Arthur Staple's point, so you'll have to read that here.

Yes, the Devils have Parise, Zajac, and Martin.  Unfortunately, they haven't taken a game entirely on their shoulders like, say, Martin Brodeur.  In fact, why did you neglect Brodeur, Mr. Staple?  Or is he appearing later on?

Then there's Brodeur. He's played 19 of their 21 games, on pace for his usual insane workload of 65 to 75 games at age 37. Lamoriello has no backup plan, as evidenced by last season, when Brodeur went down with an elbow injury and Scott Clemmensen assumed the starting job.

Oh, where do I begin.   Read this very carefully, Arthur Staple.

Last season, Martin Brodeur suffered a torn bicep tendon in his left elbow against the Atlanta Thrashers and missed the next 4 months or so.  Scott Clemmensen won the starting job over Kevin Weekes and went on to have this season:


GP MIN W L OTL GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008-09 - Scott Clemmensen 40 2356 25 13 1 94 2.39 1138 1044 .917 2

And the Devils went on to set a franchise record in wins with 51, which doesn't happen without Clemmesen coming in and playing as well as he did.   Not an ideal backup plan, but it worked pretty well, Arthur Staple, don't you think?

Now, back to Brodeur.  He's played 19 of the team's last 21 games because he was coming back from injury. Given that he's the team's #1 goaltender, he needed the minutes to get back into his groove.  Brodeur had done this and done it well from what I saw.

With respect to his workload, 65 to 75 games for most goaltenders at age 37 would be a lot.  But get this, Staple, Martin Brodeur isn't like most goaltenders.   You can't apply generalizations to a legendary goaltender like Brodeur or, say, Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek.  Brodeur has always been in excellent condition, always had great stamina, and, most of all, is willing and able to play as many minutes has he had been playing.

Moreover, why on earth would the Devils force a great player who can handle the workload just fine to rest more? Why would any team tell a fantastically talented goaltender to sit when it's not needed?  What is the benefit to doing so?  If the goalie is willing and able, then why not play him regardless of age?  What is supposed to be the right amount of games, whatever what other teams do with two goaltenders? Given that last season, where Brodeur didn't play 65-75 games, did we see any significant benefit to having Brodeur play less games?  Given Staple's initial point, I'm guessing he'd be inclined to say no - which undercuts this entire point. 

They were supposed to be done then, but they just tightened up that defensive system and kept on winning until the playoffs.

Really.  The Devils conceded 209 goals, the second highest total since the lockout, and scored 244, the most goals the team has scored since the lockout.   Given that Brent Sutter didn't use the neutral zone trap, I'm curious to know what defensive system was tightened up that led to 38 more goals than the 2007-08 total, Arthur Staple.  I'd say Brent Sutter had the team pushing more to score goals to win games; but I'd like to know your version of this revisionist history.  Just for curiosity's sake.

There's also the fallacy that the Devils are prolonging this amazing run with homegrown players. Parise and Zajac were first-rounders in 2003 and 2004 and 2005 first-rounder Nicklas Bergfors is playing well as a rookie now, but only fourth-liner Matt Halischuk has matured through the ranks of the Devils' draft picks the last four seasons.

Wow.  Just wow.  After the Brodeur/Clemmensen bit I thought it couldn't get worse.  For starters, I wasn't aware this was a fallacy.  Earlier, you said:

They have Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Paul Martin. There aren't any other Devils who can take a game on their shoulders.

But Parise and Zajac (and I suppose Martin, another Devils' homegrown player) now don't count in the argument that the Devils continue to be successful with homegrown players?  Why?  Is there some hidden time limit before a player doesn't become homegrown?  The Devils drafted them, developed them, and now take important roles - and they don't count because it would make your point invalid?  Because it is evidence that your doomsaying for the Devils is premature, if not ridiculous?  And am I reading that Nicklas Bergfors doesn't count, but Matt Halischuk does?

There's other players that are neglected here.  What about David Clarkson, Andy Greene, or Johnny Oduya, who have both been largely developed by the Devils and broke into the NHL with the team? If you're going to count Matt Halischuk, why not include Mark Fraser, Tyler Eckford, or Matthew Corrente - Devils draft picks who recently made it to the team?

Mercifully, there isn't much more:

They've plugged holes with Brian Rolston (two years, $10 million left on his deal), with Dainius Zubrus (signed through 2013), with guys who are overpaid to play the no-name Devils way.

Ah, the no-name way.  The way that has earned the team more success than the other local teams in the regular season and as much success as them in the playoffs.  To be fair, both Zubrus and Rolston are overpaid - so good job, Arthur Staple, you managed to not get this wrong.  I'd suggest eating a cookie except this doesn't make up for the idiocy earlier in the comment.

As one rival GM enviously put it: "I don't care [if they play ugly]. All they do is win."

Not when it matters most, though.

You hear that? 1995, 2000, and 2003 didn't happen everyone! The Devils just don't win when it matters, apparently.  Just ignore all those winning records, ignore the combined success of the Devils, and ignore the talent that they have developed. If you can ignore all that and the current standings, continue to believe it's still the mid-1990s, and avoid paying any attention at all to the New Jersey Devils then you too can be like Arthur Staple and say Lou has had it wrong.

That's the only way I can see him coming to that conclusion.  It's a shame his argument doesn't hold up to the reality and facts that are easily found with a little research.    It's a shame that Arthur Staple doesn't understand the Devils' success and as a result beclowned himself by writing a really dumb article for Newsday.   It's a shame I can't just say I disagree - I have to point out exactly what was wrong with this whole piece.

Thanks for reading and, again, enjoy your Thanksgiving and perhaps any holiday that you may have.   Proper hockey will return tomorrow.

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