Before midnight on April 9, 2014, the New Jersey Devils' fate was sealed: they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Naturally, this was a big point for the media to ask many of the major figures on the team about what it means and what happens next. As it should be. The team did miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons and in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1986-87 season, which was then fifth time in a row they missed it. Incidentally, Lou Lamoriello was hired right after that one. That's right, this is the first time under Lou's reign that the team missed the playoff consecutive times. It speaks to both how well he's done over the years and how crushing this must be right now.
As per JRod2006 request in the Ottawa gamethread, I think it's worth highlighting and discussing a number of quotes from Lou, Peter DeBoer, Martin Brodeur, and Jaromir Jagr. Also known as: the boss, the coach who may be let go/fired over this occurrence, the legendary goaltender who found his voice this season, and the 42-year old legendary forward who was arguably the team's most impressive player and can do whatever because he's Jaromir Jagr. Among all other players and personnel on the team, what they would say would be the most interesting given their positions and roles this season.
Let's start with the general manager. Lou chose his words carefully as usual. As per this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, he wasn't pleased about not making the playoffs and he wouldn't discuss any moves being made. These quotes, though, stuck out to me.
"We’re expected to win and we expect that of ourselves," Lamoriello said. "So, anything less than that …"
Lamoriello did not finish that thought, but then bristled when I asked if missing the playoffs three times in four seasons was a disturbing trend.
"Let me put it this way – and I’ll look at it positive – if you can say one out of every four years you’d be in the Stanley Cup Finals, would you take it? Not would you miss the playoffs or not and approach it in a positive standpoint," Lamoriello said. "We’re here to win a Stanley Cup. We’re here to win, not to just get in the playoffs. So, you can hear that answer I gave and you can approach it any way you want as far as three out of four years out of the playoffs.
"And it if means missing the playoffs to do certain things to win the Stanley Cup, that’s what it means. That’s mediocrity, just getting in the playoffs."
Lamoriello also disputed goaltender Martin Brodeur’s suggestion Wednesday that the team has become content in recent seasons to just "hover" around .500 and then try to make a push to get in the playoffs.
"I can assure you .500 isn’t O.K. and I can assure you that it’s not acceptable, but words are cheap," he said.
When I asked if he thought that the "hang around .500 and try to get in" mentality had pervaded his locker room at all, Lamoriello replied, ""I sure in hell hope not."
Reading this, it appeared to me that Lou got more and more peeved about the suggestion from his goaltender. I can't say I don't sympathize. (And I appreciate his acknowledgment that words are cheap.) After all, the goalie who made the suggestion certainly hasn't been much more than mediocre at best in recent seasons. Personally, I don't agree that just making the playoffs is mediocrity. I also don't think mediocrity is all that bad. Getting into the postseason on a regular basis is a lot better than making it once in a blue moon (e.g. Florida, Islanders, Blue Jackets) or continuing to sell the future that doesn't come (those teams except for Columbus, add Edmonton and Calgary, I suppose. Beware, Buffalo fans.). That said, Lou sets a high standard for himself and the team and they didn't measure up to it in this season. I will agree that winning a Stanley Cup or going to a Stanley Cup Final does dull the pain. It's not as if the Devils have hit some sort of organizational slump outside of the whole scoring goals thing.
My big takeaway from these quotes plus the rest of Gulitti's post about Lou is that we should expect some kind of big changes. The Devils don't exactly have a lot of flexibility with their roster, but there's a lot of time to plan, think, and act. I can only hope they are smart changes.
Lou wouldn't discuss Peter DeBoer's status. Neither would DeBoer on Thursday, given his terse response to Gulitti. It's a valid question. As fantastic as his systems have been for possession, he's still the guy behind the bench of a team that missed the playoffs twice in a row for the first time under Lou Lamoriello's reign. Personally, I want him to stay because of those systems. I especially want him to given what Gulitti reported on Friday at Fire & Ice. Recent reports coming out of Toronto that new team president Brendan Shanahan - If you can get in the Old Boys Network, then you get in the Network - wants DeBoer. The Maple Leafs have been abysmal in terms of possession and defensive play under Randy Carlyle. I honestly think he's the worst coach in the league. Getting DeBoer, who has continued to help make the Devils a really stingy team for three seasons, would be a massive upgrade for them. The Devils quite possibly will have to compete with Toronto for playoff spots in the near future so the Leafs helping themselves does not help New Jersey.
Gulitti's report did note something I thought: DeBoer is on a three-year contract. This is the third year. If Lou really wants to change the coach, I hope he waits all the way to June 30 when it ends. This way if Toronto really wants him sooner, they may be able to get some compensation. Even then, I'd much prefer DeBoer sticking around.
So would Jagr. Oh, Jagr hasn't been quiet. Why should he be? He's Jaromir Jagr. He's been in "I'm Keith Hernandez" mode all season. Over 40? Check. Incredible resume that won't be tarnished short of some sick scandal? Check. Leading the Devils this season in scoring and deservedly playing a ton of minutes? Check. Here's what he had to say about the possibility of returning to the team and the system he's played in:
"I don’t have to see anything," he said. "If I come back or whatever happens, I feel like we have a good enough team to make the playoffs, maybe one or two changes. We had the nights when we were tough to play against and we beat even the best teams in the league. But there was a lot of nights we couldn’t beat even the worst team. So, just consistency.
"But I think our system is very good. I like the system we play. Especially for me personally, I really like that."
He's absolutely right to like it. He's been sensational. In addition to all of the points and shots, Jagr has a Corsi For % of 59.1 per Extra Skater. That's an amazingly high percentage; he's been present for 1,112 attempts for and only 768 against. It's even more impressive when you consider he's third on the team in 5-on-5 ice time. In other words, in 5-on-5 play, whenever Jagr is on the ice, the Devils are usually attacking. Given that Jagr is an offensive wizard, this gives him opportunity after opportunity to make something good happen. And even when it doesn't go quite right or the pucks aren't dropping in for him or the teammates he's setting up, he's still very active. He's been a difference maker. He's the biggest piece of evidence of how good a system can be with the right player seeing that Jagr has spent all of one season playing with DeBoer and in New Jersey. And it has been an amazing season. If keeping DeBoer means keeping Jagr around, then I'm more than fine with that. (And if DeBoer does go to Toronto, I really don't want Jagr to follow him.)
However, the Gulitti article I found that quote from Jagr also had this one from Martin Brodeur, which isn't nearly as praise worthy.
"I think he brought in a system and most of the guys bought into it through the time he was here," Brodeur said. "I can’t say he did a bad job, but at the end you’re getting judged of if you make the playoffs or whatever. One year we almost won it all, so it’s a coach that almost gave us something everybody dreams about, so you always have to consider that."
The bolded words are my emphasis. He's not wrong. This is a results-oriented business and, well, DeBoer doesn't have them beyond 2011-12. However, and maybe he doesn't realize this, but this applies to Brodeur too. After all, he started at least a significant portion of both season. It's one of those irksome statements that's in line with his public approach to this season. More and more fans have realized he's been at least a little passive aggressive over not being the #1 guy despite getting plenty of chances to do so. Brodeur has always been good for a quote; I can see why the media appreciates him since he's always willing to talk. But this season, it's been good for an eye-roll from time to time as a fan. Whenever he had to sit for a few games in a row, he suddenly has to speak about how it's Cory Schneider's team and they're in good hands and so forth. On Thursday, he was sitting for the fifth game in a row. He had plenty to say, as per this post by Gulitti at Fire & Ice. These quotes stood out to me amid another "Oh, I may have played my last game" sentiment:
"It’s hard. There’s no one to blame," he said. "I think it’s a situation that it’s really hard. There’s people that are made for that, but there’s other people that are not, the goalies I mean. It’s one thing if you get into a situation and they tell you exactly what’s going to happen. I’m not saying I was promised anything, but I definitely was not promised that – to sit back whenever games counted throughout the year.
"I had my chance. I had some games, but, again, it’s easy for him to make switches, but for a goalie to get on a roll when you don’t play. You look at Cory and he’s playing unbelievable right now and there’s a reason. He’s playing a lot. When I played a lot – I never really had more than three starts in a row – but when I did that, I felt good about my game. The last four years, if I played more than 50 in one year, I think it’s good. I don’t think I’ve done it and it makes it hard when you want to be in the net all the time."
I perfectly understand that it's been hard for Brodeur to accept change after being the man for the Devils for close to two decades. I do. But facts guide us to the truth. It's easy to understand why Brodeur has been in-and-out of the crease. He hasn't been good! Not only is his save percentage inferior to Cory Schneider, but inferior to 69 other goalies per NHL.com. Thanks to Extra Skater, we can learn that the team has actually been much better in possession and out-shooting their competition with Schneider in net over Brodeur in 5-on-5 play. The only thing that has went better in games Brodeur has been has been the shooting percentage. That's it. Short of Brodeur having psychic powers over his teammates or the other team's goalie, that's entirely a coincidence. Most teams would see a goalie play like this and not give him 37 games - the 38th came on Friday, after these quotes.
But don't take my word for it. Take the words of a legendary, Hall of Fame defenseman who's not even in the organization but had something to say about it. Rich Chere got an incredible take from Denis Potvin about Broduer at NJ.com on Friday:
"I don’t know enough about his personal life, but don’t go looking at your coach, your GM or the other goaltender or things around you," Potvin told The Star-Ledger. "It’s pretty obvious to me and everyone in the league that when Cory Schneider shows up, somebody is going to take a bit of a back seat.
"And, by the way, he’s played 37 games. I don’t know how many backup goaltenders in the NHL have started 37. So I think there is a little hurt pride. We all have good egos, otherwise we can’t do this. I understand that. I have great respect for Marty and I feel for him."
I've noticed over the years that athletes in pro sports tend to not be confrontational in the press. If it doesn't concern them and they're not a part of the media, then stay quiet. But the fact that Potvin had something to say speaks to how irksome Brodeur has been. Without saying it, he basically calls out Brodeur whining about his situation this season. He all but says he needs to put up or get gone. I can't disagree with that. He does so in probably the most respectful way of doing so. As he explained, he's been there. I'm very glad he said something and I'm even more glad Chere reported it instead of keeping it as a private conversation. Rangers fans are once again wrong, Potvin doesn't suck.
As for Brodeur, I agree with the larger spirit of Potvin's comments. He really should have been glad he got as many games as he did. He's not going to have same kind of sentimental leverage if he does play in 2014-15. I'd like to think Lou will tell DeBoer or the next coach that if Brodeur does stay, that he's most definitely the #2 guy and not use him as a #1A goalie, given what happened this season. The goalscoring was a big reason why they're not playing after Sunday, but the fact is that Brodeur playing as many games as he did was also a factor.
'm sure there will be plenty more from players, coach, and Lou in the next few days. It's the end of the season. Various players have futures to think about. Management will have more tough decisions to make. With a longer-than-hoped-for offseason, there's a little more time to do so. What do you make of these quotes shortly after the team's fate was sealed? What do you read in between the lines as to what could happen this summer. What do you hope to see in future days? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.