Bill Simmons, a writer for espn.com and the new Editor in Chief of the website Grantland.com, took two shots at the New Jersey Devils in his article, "Proud to be an NHL front-runner", in which he discusses his recent connection to the Boston Bruins during their Stanley Cup run. The article, which I suggest reading, can be found here.
Though I enjoyed it, I felt Simmons (a common fan of the Bruins from his childhood to the mid 1990's, and then more recently) was unfair in saying that the Devils helped ruin the NHL by using the neutral zone trap.
More specifically, he writes everything was right in the NHL until "the Euros and Russians flooded the league, along with the helmets and face shields, and suddenly there were no more potbellied bald guys, and they started cracking down on the chippiness, and the Devils trap ruined the flow of the game, and there were suddenly 10 new teams in cities that never should have had a team, and … wait a second, what the hell was I watching? I just couldn't adjust." In his second quip at the Devils, Simmons says the Devils "ruined all momentum [after the 1994 NHL playoffs] with their stupid trap".
Lets start with the New Jersey Devils aspects of the article, given that this is a Devils based blog. Simmons implies the Devils were unfair in installing their trap. This could not be farther from the truth. The Devils did not invent the trap, but were the ones to emphasize it most in their gameplan. The fact Simmons uses the words "stupid" also makes the trap sound unethical. The Devils knew that they had defensively responsible players, along with the greatest goaltender of all time, who could foil any opponents' offensive gameplan. Though the NHL changed the rules after the lockout to effectively eliminate the "overuse" of the trap, it was only after the rest of the league had taken notice that the trap was the best way to win games in the NHL. I would argue the league began to decrease its popularity because they allowed the "hook and ride" and "clutch and hold" techniques that slowed down the game. In fact, I found an article about the 2002 Winter Olympics (which can be found at http://www.slate.com/id/2062072/ ), in which writer Ben McGrath explains some difficulties mens hockey players could have during the 2002 Olympics - more specifically, to bigger rinks and different international rules. McGrath goes onto explain "as much as people complain about the prominence of the neutral-zone trap in the NHL, European leagues emphasize an even more defensive trapping game". Therefore, it is unfair to say the Devils singlehandedly ruined the "flow of the game" - 1 team could not make the NHL change its rules if 29 other teams did what Simmons would most likely consider the "honorable thing" and abstain from a strategy that could win games.
The other part of the quote I could not stand was the fact that Simmons argued that the addition of "Euros and Russians" helped to ruin the game. My first thoughts were "are you kidding me?". Look at this year's Stanley Cup Finals. For the Bruins, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, and Tomas Kaberle are all outstanding European players helping Boston. For the Canucks, Daniel and Henrik Sedin are the two best Europeans on the team and arguably top five forwards in the NHL. In the rest of the NHL, players like Ovechkin, Malkin, Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Elias, Kovalchuk, Semin and Backstrom, to name a few, are some of the most talented "non-North American born" players in the world who have helped increase the popularity of hockey in the NHL with their tremendous ability. Though recruiting international talent may keep some fans away, the best hockey league in the world cannot truly be called such when it alienates players who deserve to showcase their talents at the highest level.
I do not believe Simmons was trying to personally attack the Devils by saying their utilization of the trap ruined the NHL, but I do believe that, in this case, Simmons used sloppy and subjective journalism.