Well if two of the twelve stages of recovery are denial and anger, I've already had plenty of both and am just hovering in disbelief right now at how bad this Devils season has gotten before the end of October. Our third consecutive blowout defeat since the Ilya Kovalchuk scratching has dropped our record to 2-7-1, as this once proud franchise now sits last in the entire NHL. Don't expect this team to get out of the hole anytime soon either, with tough teams like the Kings, Canucks and Blackhawks to close out this trip after we go to Anaheim Friday for the first time since Scott Niedermayer's retirement. Without Niedermayer or long-time rival Jean-Sebastian Giguere at the Pond, for the first time in a long time playing the Ducks is just another game.
By the same token, nothing's just another game right now for the Devils. Of course our spoiled fans expect GM Lou Lamoriello to make liberal use of his quick finger and dispose of Johnny MacLean after just ten games. If that does happen - even if the GM takes over the team himself - I'll lose a lot of respect for Lou. You can't expect anyone to win with a roster that's been dogging it since January last year and a defense core that makes last year's mediocre overachievers look Norris-like. About the only way I could see a coaching change is if this team drives Johnny Mac to Larry Robinson-like emotional despair, which might be possible as the blowout defeats multiply. Heck, some people think the coach was fighting back tears last night.
However, when you do change the coach once as we did with Jacques Lemaire after last year's poor second half, and the core portion of the roster continues to underachieve then you're forced to conclude one of two things...either you gotta start getting rid of some players or your GM just can't pick coaches. Either way, that doesn't suggest any coaching change will make a difference to the rotting corpse that is the New Jersey Devils. I've already been on record as saying certain players must go, it's to the point of saturation where I'm tired even talking about it. While it's true it doesn't look like this team is playing any discernible system right now (offense, defense or special teams), it's hard to implement any system when you have guys either aging, underachieving or too green to play any system without making a ton of mistakes.
In addition to the Johnny Mac bashing another thing I'm getting tired of reading on the internet is the Kovalchuk bashing. Yes, he's underperformed like everyone else with just two goals and eight soft points in ten games...six after the first seven minutes of the season. And his being late to meetings isn't helping anything, though at least he was punished for that. Where's the punishment for other players that are dogging it? When Danius Zubrus has been the best forward so far (and pretty much the only one making over $1 million giving 100%) that's a problem.
Everyone knew there would be an adjustment period to fitting an individual talent like Kovalchuk into the team concept but nobody could have suspected the team would melt down around him as it was happening. If I have to hear one more time how the team won't shoot under 5% for the season I'll tear out my hair. Of course the offense will pick up eventually, it has to. Unfortunately that might not be until we're already too deep in the hole to get out a la Carolina last year. However, this defense is a bigger concern right now.
About the only good news with the defense right now is that help might be on the way soon now that Anton Volchenkov has begun skating, trying to recover from his mysterious injury that's kept him out of the lineup these last eight games and forced us to go with three rookies on defense instead of 'just' two. As foolhardy as it was to assume our D would go on playing well or even competently with kids like Matt Corrente who's not ready or Olivier Magnan, who wasn't even on anyone's rader to be on the team before the injuries to Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador, the real surprising part is a couple of the veterans haven't been playing well either.
My first reaction when we signed Henrik Tallinder was ugh...I thought he was just another one of those workmanlike no-name defenseman who got overrated because he was on the first pairing in Buffalo. I was talked into thinking it could be a good signing but I should have gone by my first instinct - he hasn't just been awful, he's been a total nightmare. As much as people want to crap about how Kovy ruined our cap, signing him and Johan Hedberg for a combined $5 million this year (and Tallinder for four years total) is far more of a waste of cap dollars. And we might have to decide whether Andy Greene's really worth giving an extension after the season. In spite of his goal last night he's looked more like the player pre-first half of 2009 than the one who turned the NHL on its ear for about 40 games.
Not that I really want to see another vet bite the dust, god knows our D's already at critical mass as it is with defections like Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and Paul Martin. Signing Volchenkov and Tallinder was supposed to fix the decay but Volchenkov's played four periods and Tallinder's already a Vladimir Malakhov-like nightmare. Maybe it's a good thing we didn't trade Salvador after all but if we do have to deal him at some point, he'll have far less value post-concussion than he would have if it was the offseason. Our defense sure can't be any worse with him though, after we allowed Joe Thornton to get a hat trick with relative ease in last night's 5-2 defeat at the Shark Tank.
So the question everyone wants to know is when does this season reach critical mass for the GM? He's certainly not without blame for the construction of this roster and more importantly bad cap dollars but he's not being replaced either unless owner Jeff Vanderbeek channels the late George Steinbrenner (a la the '70's version) or Lou himself resigns, which the cynics think he might do anyway after the embarassing mess of the Kovalchuk signing since people think that wasn't really his call. I'd have to think something happens any day now, and really it has to. You can't be getting blown out every game with this kind of roster and not make any changes at all.
Of course the second question is what happens when the other shoe drops? Everyone assume it'll be the coach...god knows if we had hired an outsider like Mike Haviland and this had happened he might be gone already. Everyone knows the coach is the easiest piece to change and Lou's had enough random coach firings to basically expect it but again, we already did this after last year. And I don't think Lou wants to do that to Johnny Mac, not after all the time and effort he spent getting him back in the organization and grooming him for the job. To can him after this short a period of time with all the other problems on the team would be Len Barrie-like (giving Barry Melrose the hook in Tampa after sixteen games).
Whatever happens needs to happen fast though, otherwise there's no point to doing anything at all other than blowing up the team on our own time and rebuilding. Not a word you want to even consider with 39-year old Martin Brodeur playing out his final days in this mess.