An uncertain time in Jersey

By Gary Norris Gray, BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: January 26, 2011

CALIFORNIA (BASN) — The New Jersey Devils have a long historic journey in the NHL. This proud franchise has won three Stanley Cups, nine divisional championships while appearing in four Cup finals.

But now, they have fallen on hard times.

They started out as the Kansas City Scouts, an expansion team in 1974. This was part of the second wave of NHL expansion. The Scouts only won 27 games in two seasons. This caused the fans to lose interest in hockey.

The NHL’s solution?

Move a team to the Mountain West region – and Denver this was their choice. With the California Golden Seals struggling in Northern California and The Scouts struggling in Kansas somebody would have to move to Colorado to stop the financial bleeding and become the Colorado Rockies.

This was 25 years before the current baseball Rockies. The Hockey Rockies used the Blue Mountains symbol on their jersey with a big red C in the middle. The Golden Seals moved to Cleveland to become the Barons in 1976-77.

In 1982, the team moved East and became the New Jersey Devils. The Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders, and New York Rangers were not happy with the Devils moving into their territory;but this move relieved the season ticket holders waiting list on each team.

The Rangers had a 10-year waiting list for season tickets, while the Flyers had a seven year waiting list. This list was cut in half when many Metropolitan area hockey fans in New Jersey finally had a team to root for in their own state.

New Jersey is currently in last place in the Atlantic Division (16-29-3), but there could be a sign of life at the Rock. Over the last two weeks, the old Devils started showing up on the ice and started winning.

It is going to be a struggle to make the playoffs this spring, something they’ve done every year since 1997, the era of number 30, Martin Brodeur. This season started out odd with a four-game losing streak.

The team was losing games by one and two goals. Nobody seemed to worry because the Devils have always started out slow. In the season opener, Jersey defeated the Islanders 4-3.

However, October was not kind to the Black and Red. They ended the month with a 4-10 record and a horrible losing west coast road trip starting with their crosstown rival, the Rangers.

Then it was on to California where they fell to the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings before beating the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 in another nail biter. Jersey fans started grumbling because the Devils were losing close games unlike the other great teams.

In most years, Jersey would start cooking in late November and December to get back into the Eastern Conference race, but this year it has not happened.

It was evident that they missed number 30 in net and it would not be changing until the future Hall of Fame goalie returned in the middle of December.

Brodeur chipped his elbow in the third week of the season on a fantastic spread eagle save. All of his body weight landed on his two elbows. Martin sat out the first full two months of the season.

The Devils did not help backup goalie Johan Hedberg with spotty defense. The 2010-11 tail spin seemed out of control. Over the past four years, Jersey has traded away most of their defensive core and it has begun to catch up with them.

The back breaker for most Devil fans was the trade to Atlanta two years ago to get the so called scoring guru, center Ilya Kovalchuk from the Thrashers. The experiment has failed, and as a result the team landed in last place.

Ex-Devils defensemen and forwards are all over the league. Nigel Dawes and Johnny Oduya are new stars in Atlanta. Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez are playing outstandingly with the Montreal Canadiens.

Brian Rafalski went to the Detroit Red Wings, Scott Niedermayer was lost to free agency moving west to the Anaheim Ducks before retiring, and Defensemen Anssi Salmela was placed on wavers earlier this month and has not returned.

The Devils still miss their goalies as well. Goal Brother Kevin Weekes, who retired in 2009-10 and Scott Clemmensen, who was traded to the Florida Panthers. Both goalies ably backed up Brodeur many years ago.

The defensive closet is almost bare and it showed by the way they are playing on the ice this year. Many Devil fans long for the days of Hall of Famer Scott Stevens and Bruce Driver.

The Devils are known for their defense and that famous Left Wing Lock or Neutral Zone Trap system. This system has been MIA this year. The Devils have let in more goals at the halfway point than the entire 2010 season.

Jersey fans cannot blame Goal Brother Mark Fraser or defenseman Colin White for the beyond blue line lapses; nor Goal Brother Bryce Salvador who has been out of the lineup indefinitely with a concussion injury since October.

The whole team is at fault and did not played together in the first half.

A month ago, New Jersey sent Captain Jamie Langenbrunner to the Dallas Stars.

That event sent shock waves through the organization. This was a warning shot by management to all of the players. The message was that nobody on this team is expendable and could be leaving the Rock at anytime.

Even Mr. Brodeur was on the trading block after his lackluster play the last two years. Many believe that his poor goaltending started two years ago at the Olympic Games in Vancouver. The Canadian Hockey Team coach pulled Martin in the second game of the Olympic Games and he has not been the same.

Former Montreal great Jacques Lemaire was re-hired as head coach for the third time in December 2010. He immediately changed their practice routines, making them longer and harder.

Lemaire created a sense of urgency that was not present on the ice. He made each player practice, and take responsibility for his zone on the ice (Yes, practice, Allen Iverson, practice).

The results are beginning to show up on the ice.

The Devils beat the Broad Street Bullies 3-1, yes, those pesky Philadelphia Flyers Saturday afternoon in Philly with old school-DEFENSE. It looks like Lemaire may have turned this huge hockey battleship around. The Devils have won six of the last seven.

The question is, is this streak too little too late for the Devils? They are still mired in last place two points behind the third place Islanders in the Atlantic Division and 15th overall in Eastern Conference entering Wednesday’s action.

New Jersey continued the winning serge with a strong 5-2 victory Sunday night against the Florida Panthers and chased ex- teammate Scott Clemmensen out of the net.

It is also a bad time for the All Star Break. Teams want to keep the momentum, keep playing when they are winning. It just seems like it is not the Devils’ year.

They could miss the playoffs for the first time since the 1996-97. The team might still have to reevaluate each player this summer, including number 30.

1st Period: Gray 4 (Ingram, McClean) (sh) 1:26