Yesterday, John took a look forward to 2014 with resolutions for some of the Devils. Today, I'll take a look back at the year that was. Yes, 2013 wasn't the best of years for the New Jersey Devils as it featured a lot of losses, the shocking departure of the face of the franchise, and constant frustration with a team that just couldn't seem win games it looked to be in control of. Also, the lockout indirectly contributed to the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk, so there's that.
Things That Were a Bummer
It's easy to forget, given it was way at the beginning of the year, but the dumbest labor dispute in history was still ongoing in early January. The league erased the Winter Classic and a whole mess of regular season games in what really amounted to nothing more than a cash grab by the league. Some sliver of sanity ultimately prevailed as the players got enough concessions from owners to go along with a salary rollback and 50/50 revenue split, but it was still a complete embarrassment that a league whose revenues had soared since the previous lockout wiped out half of a season. Of course, we the fans, being big dummies, showed up in record numbers as punishment for said transgression.
Missing the Playoffs
Goes without saying. We've become spoiled over the years in New Jersey, taking the postseason for granted, but that doesn't make missing out on the playoffs suck any less. The Devils followed up a fantastic run to the Cup Finals by falling flat in the shortened season. They would end up finishing in the league's bottom 10 after being 2 wins from hockey's ultimate prize.
Kovalgate 2: Electric Boogaloo
During the aforementioned dumb lockout, Ilya Kovalchuk decided to play over in his home country, and apparently, it was awesome for him. Rumors swirled about Kovalchuk not coming back at all and Devils fans were sent into a panic after losing other top scorer/jerk Zach Parise just 6 months earlier. Eventually the rumors cooled and he returned stateside, but as we now know, the saga wouldn't end there.
Kovalgate 3: Kovalgate With a Vengeance
Hard not to remember this one. In perhaps one of the most stunning offseason developments in league history, Ilya Kovalchuk announced his "retirement" 3 years into a 15-year contract. He would then sign on to play in Russia's KHL shortly after. It was a bombshell, and short term, pretty devastating for an offensively challenged Devils team. Anger, shock, and disappointment were among the many emotions elicited by this defection. It was also annoying because it gave perhaps permanent credence to the hackneyed, xenophobic "enigmatic Russian" narrative. We may never see something quite so ridiculous ever again, especially with term limits now on contracts.
Long Losing Streaks
Here's hoping the Devils can try to string together slightly shorter stretches of futility in the coming year. Last season was done in by a 10-game winless tailspin and this year was started by another, seemingly eternal, 7-game losing streak that dug them a big hole.
The Devils currently stand at exactly NHL .500 with one game to play this calendar year. Their overall record is 35-35-18 counting this year (16-16-8) and last (19-19-10). They have been immensely fustrating to watch.
Last season's Brodeur-Hedberg tandem was perhaps the worst in the NHL. It was one of the big reasons that last year's team faltered. When the Devils traded for Cory Schneider over the summer, the Devils' issues in net were supposed to be solved. While the new duo has been an improvement over the last (almost by default), the overall tending remains mediocre. Brodeur is still 41 and is about on par with what you might expect. Schneider is the heir apparent, but hasn't been able to wrestle control of the starting job away from Marty, due to a lack of goal support and a lousy December. Hopefully, a corner is turned in 2014.
Ugh. That's about all I can muster as far as analysis of the shootout. In an event that pretty much amounts to a coin flip at the NHL level, the Devils have mustered 2 wins in 15 tries, including zero this season. It has been detrimental to their place in the standings, particularly this season, where the race is so tight.
The Clowe Contract
Back in July, I tried to talk myself into the Clowe contract, even when it was met with a healthy bit of derision. Hard to disagree with a lot of that mocking at this point, though, as Clowe has appeared in only 20% of the team's games after yet another head injury. He also has lousy possession numbers and 1 point in his 8 games. It's bad. Hopefully 2014 will signify a fresh start for him as well.
Things That Were Actually Good
In the interest of not being a total Debbie Downer, I'll touch on some things that were actually at least sort of good about 2013.
Need I say more? The 41-year-old Czech winger has been everything the Devils could have hoped for and more. He has likely been the best forward on the team, particularly on offense, where he remains a force to be reckoned with. It has been awesome to witness.
The Schneider Trade
Maybe with a so-so start for Schneider, this can't be considered a definite win yet, but it addressed a glaring need for this team in net going forward. The heir apparent to Marty's cage was finally found, and assuming he stays with the team, I think we'll all be thankful for it in the future.
Being not involved with the contract that was given to David Clarkson this offseason has to be considered a huge win.
No More Kovalchuk Contract
That Kovalchuk deal was a ticking time bomb, and the Devils may be thankful they got out from under it in the long run, especially with the harsh "recapture" penalties installed by the new CBA.
Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill have given a huge boost to the blue line thus far and look to be, at the very least, capable NHLers. With Adam Larsson looking like he may have turned a bit of a corner himself, the future looks bright along the blue line. Forward Reid Boucher has also held his own after being called up in his first year turned pro. Some "homegrown" talent is something this team will sorely need going forward.
Happy New Year
So as 2013 comes to a close, go ahead and share some of the things you will/won't miss about this past year of Devils hockey. Also thanks so much for continuing to come here and read and comment, it means a lot to us. Happy New Year, and Go Devils!