Our guest this week is Newark Star-Ledger Devils beat writer, Mr. Richard Chere. He has covered the Devils forever and his the authority on all things New Jersey hockey. He was kind enough to join us this week on "10 Questions with..".
SL: After 25 years, name one memory at the Meadowlands that sticks out the most to you.
RC: The Jim Schoenfeld-Don Koharski "Have another doughnut" incident during the 1988 playoffs. It was so explosive when Schoenfeld confronted Koharski. Then, when the referee claimed he had been pushed, those of us who were there knew otherwise. Because the incident became such a big issue within the league, the memory remains fresh.
SL:What's your opinion on the new arena. Will it improve the Devils attendance, or will hardcore fans stay away?
RC:The new arena itself will be a great place to see a game. It will be nice not to have to walk through such a crowded concourse, as in Continental Airlines Arena. As far as the attendance, there will undoubtedly be a bump at the start. However, I think the attendance will wind up being virtually the same figures they get now. The team will have the concession and parking money, so I think they'll be happy enough with a 10,000 average attendance on most nights.
SL: Who will drop out of the Atlantic Division race first: The Rangers, Islanders, both, or neither?
RC: The Rangers are certainly trying harder. I think the Rangers are a better team, but it's a concern when Jaromir Jagr loses interest or confidence. That said, I think both teams will remain in the race until the very end.
SL: Is the Devils first place position at Christmas surprising, given various factors such as the defense's insipid play at times, Elias' slow start, injuries, etc.?
RC: Quite surprising. Scott Gomez has been average and Patrik Elias, as you suggested, has struggled at times. The most surprising aspect has been the better-than-anticipated play on defense by Johnny Oduya (the rookie) and Brad Lukowich (whom many of us thought was washed up). They've exceeded their expectations while Paul Martin and Brian Rafalski have performed under their levels.
SL: How much longer can the Rangers keep playing the way they are until they decide to go with younger players (Dawes, Callahan, Girardi, Baranka)?
RC: As long as the Rangers stay within close proximity of a playoff position, they'll keep going with a veteran team. The need to make the playoffs. The coaching staff believes this team is much better than it has played over the past few weeks and, I would agree. I'd be surprised if they threw in the towel and started playing kids.
SL: Which of the 3 local teams need to make a trade the most?
RC: The Islanders have dealt some good players in York and Zhitnik. They've cleared some money under the salary cap, so Garth Snow needs to invest it somewhere to improve his team. His next moves will show us whether they are dumping salary or building with a chance to make the playoffs this year.
SL: The Islanders have pretty much surprised everyone with their play up until now. Can they sustain it?
RC: They're a solid team. I see no reason why they can't sustain it. What they really need to become a legitimate playoff team is for Yashin to continue to play well and for DiPietro to avoid a slump.
SL: Who has been the better captain so far: Elias, Jagr or Yashin?
RC: I'm not in the Islanders or Rangers dressing rooms much, so that's a tough call. Elias has taken his role very seriously, but you can't deny the impact Jagr and Yashin have had on their teams. I'd say it's a Jagr-Yashin tie.
SL: Will Tom Renney be gone at the end of the year?
RC: Only if the Rangers miss the playoffs. And, even then, he could stay. He is highly-regarded around the league. And the Dolans seem to stick by their coaches.
SL: Finally, Will Scott Gomez be back next year?
RC: My guess is that several teams are going to throw some serious money at Gomez. Imagine the Capitals with Gomez centering for Ovechkin... Lou Lamoriello will make every attenpt to keep Gomez, but we could see a repeat of the Niedermayer situation where he wanted to play in a new atmosphere. Gomez likes the West Coast, so I'd say the odds at this point are 50-50 that he stays