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New Jersey Devils: The Disappointing Stuff

Puck Daddy has been running this summer series called “Puck Daddy’s Most Disappointing Summer Series” where you talk about your team and the biggest disappointments throughout your franchise’s history. Being that it’s August and not much going on, I thought this was a great thing to do about the Devils, especially since I haven’t seen it done on Puck Daddy just yet. This is my own version of what Puck Daddy is running and by no means do I mean to steal his ideas but “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Most Disappointing Team: 1996 New Jersey Devils

The Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995 but as Rangers fans so quickly liked to point out back then, the Devils did so in a shortened season. Having lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 1994 and then going on to win the cup the next season, expectations of the Devils doing very well in 1996 where high. Sadly, 1996 would be the first time in 26 years that the defending Stanley Cup Champion would fail to reach the playoffs, which only made the Rangers argument of the shortened season nonsense that much louder. The most disappointing game of that season would be the 5-2 loss at home to the last place Ottawa Senators on the last day of the regular season that bounced the Devils from playoff contention.

1995 Conn Smythe winner Claude Lemieux signed with the Colorado Avalanche in an ugly manor prior to the start of the 1995-96 season and left the Devils needing to fill a pretty big void. Steve Thomas would lead the Devils in Goals, Assists and Points for the season while guys like Stephane Richer and John Maclean didn’t have the season many expected. Fan favorites, Chris Terreri and Jim Dowd where traded out of town.

1996 was the year to prove that the New Jersey Devils were a team to worry about and that 1994 wasn’t a fluke and that the Devils didn’t win the Cup in 1995 because there were less regular season games to play but it didn’t pan out. Looking back at it, it was just one of those seasons that sometimes gets away from you and in a few more years, the Devils would prove that they were certainly the most successful team in the tri-state area.

Most Disappointing New Jersey Devil: Ilya Kovalchuk

Given the opportunity to acquire one of the biggest names to become available at a trading deadline, the Devils didn’t appear to hesitate when it came to getting Ilya Kovalchuk into a Devils uniform. While much hasn’t been accomplished by Niclas Berfors or Patrice Cormier since that trade, one could make the argument that Johnny Oduya has gone on to become a solid NHL defenseman and is a key ingredient to the continued success of the Chicago Blackhawks. But what it cost the Devils in a trade isn’t the reason that I put Ilya Kovalchuk’s name here. It was the need to re-sign him as a UFA that gets him listed here. Yes, the Devils managed to make a Stanley Cup Final appearance with Kovalchuk on the roster and he did play well during the Devils run that season but once Zach Parise left NJ, it became apparent that Kovalchuk wasn’t the key to the Devils success in 2011-12. Many, including myself, felt that the Devils pursuit of the UFA Kovalchuk after the 2010 season appeared to alienate Zach Parise and helped play into his decision to return to his home state of Minnesota. Give Kovalchuk credit for buying into the system that the Devils preach and changing his game to help fit into that system but like many, I expected to get a lot more out of Kovalchuk.  After the lockout in 2012-13 ended, Kovalchuk appeared to give NJ a hard time about returning to the NHL but said that was all media driven and untrue. Then, without warning, Kovalchuk announced his “retirement” from the NHL after the 2012-13 season. <insert argument that “Loophole Lou” had a hand in getting Kovalchuk to retire knowing he didn’t want to return after the lockout and knowing it would only benefit the Devils bank account>

I’ll be honest, Doug Gilmour did get a lot of consideration for this “award” but in the end I kept coming back to Kovalchuk.

Most Disappointing Moment: (Tie) 2001 and 2003

You realize that when you sit down and think about the most disappointing moments and you can only come up with ones that happened around the Stanley Cup, there isn’t much to complain about. In 2001, the Devils had a chance to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions and keep Ray Bourque from winning the cup, especially since he abandoned his Boston Bruins to do it. Up 3 games to 2, the Devils returned home with a chance to win the cup in front of their fans.  The Devils couldn’t deliver and got a beat down handed to them instead. The Avalanche would go on to win Game 6 by the score of 4-0 and then Game 7 by a score of 3-1. To date, since I start watching hockey, it is still the one on-ice Stanley Cup celebration I skipped out on. In 2003 the Devils would go on to win the Stanley Cup in 7 games over the Anaheim Ducks. Marty Brodeur would go on to shutout the Ducks 3-0 in Game 1, 3-0 in Game 2 and 3-0 in Game 7 but when it came time to announce the Conn Smythe winner, Anaheim Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere would hear his name announced over the very deserving Marty Brodeur.

Most Disappointing Coach: John Maclean

John Maclean joined the Devils coaching staff as an assistant in 2002. In 2007 Maclean was a candidate for the head coaching job but eventually lost out to Brent Sutter but remained on Sutter’s coaching staff. It was believed that someday, Maclean would find his way to the head coaching job in NJ.  In 2009, Sutter resigned as coach but Maclean was offered the position of head coach for the AHL Devils, not the NHL Devils. After Lemaire stepped down as head coach in April of 2010 after a 1st round playoff loss, Maclean finally found his way to the head coaching job in NJ. But it didn’t last long. After 33 games and a 9-22-2 record, the Devils fired Maclean and brought back Jaques Lemaire. It was clear the players didn’t listen to Maclean and their $100million dollar player (Ilya Kovalchuk) was frustrated by Maclean’s coaching style. It wasn’t that their wasn’t talent on this team because the Devils made a remarkable turnaround, went 29-17 under Lemaire and made a run at the 8th a final playoff spot. Clearly Maclean’s time with the Devils hurt them that season.

Most Disappointing Transaction: Zach Parise

It’s not so much a transaction as it was a non-transaction. The summer of 2012, the Devils were coming off a Stanley Cup run that almost got them the cup. When you think how close they were, the future looked like it might be a bright one. The Devils lost games 1 & 2 to the Kings in OT and ended up winning games 4 & 5. Much like the Rangers this season, had the Devils won just one of those OT games, who knows what could have happened. But we did know how valuable team captain and UFA Zach Parise was to this organization. On July 4, 2012, word came out that Zach Parise would be signing a 13 year deal with the Minnesota Wild for a whopping $98 million dollars, thus ruining every BBQ for the New Jersey Devils fan base. When the Devils would go on to miss the playoffs in 2013 and 2014, the realization of Parise’s importance to this team only magnified.

Most Disappointing Fashion Choice: It’s not a team thing

Thankfully NJ hasn’t become one of those teams that has come out with an unnecessary third jersey. In the early 90s the Devils went from their “Christmas Tree” red and green to the black and red that they still wear today. Occasionally they will break out the old “Christmas Tree” jersey’s but not often enough that I would consider them a 3rd jersey. Besides, those red and green jerseys hold sentimental value to the long time Devils fans. I will argue that the more disappointing fashion choice comes down to a player and not a team thing. The day that Marty Brodeur decided to remove the “J” from his mask and opt for the “MB30” instead was the day that proved to me Marty put himself above the rest of the team.

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