Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Parise shelved for three months with torn meniscus

Is it possible to be astounded and yet not surprised at the same time? Those were my emotions when I got home from the movies and found out that Devils' star winger Zach Parise is now done for the next three months after surgery was needed to repair a torn meniscus. While I wasn't expecting something that dramatic even after the initial reports of a potentially serious knee injury, it fits in with the theme of our season.

As a sports fan your worst nightmare is to have a season blown up either in the preseason or early in the season due to key, long-term injuries. Perhaps the only time I ever felt anything comparable to the way I feel now was in 1999, when coming off a 12-4 season and AFC Championship appearance the Jets lost All-Pro QB Vinny Testaverde for the season in the first half of the first game. Other injuries followed and the Jets started 1-6 and never fully recovered, though they did rally to finish 8-8. Of course the Met season blew up in a similar haze of injuries two years ago, but that was more like a slow leak in a tire that eventually turned into a flat starting around midseason.

This total confluence of events is like nothing I've ever seen before though...historic underachieving by an offense that was supposed to be one of the best in team history, laughable mistakes by the defense and a frightening injury tally worthy of a Halloween horror flick. We aren't even a month into the season and I give this team zero chance to make the playoffs. Not even .00001 percent but zero. Am I being premature? Maybe. But with our 3-9-1 start, losing our best forward for such a protracted period and so many key players strugging at this point the team really needs everything to go right just to squeeze out an eighth seed.

For starters it would be nice if the $100 million man starts living up to his contract. Not to mention our other dissapointing forwards picking it up like Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac (who has a ghastly one point in his last eleven games). Having Anton Volchenkov come back Friday should help the defense tremendously but it would be nice if fellow vets Henrik Tallinder and Andy Greene - he of the -11 after thirteen games - started playing better. If the rookies are going to make mistakes, at least the veterans better step up. It's a given that Martin Brodeur needs to play better...but even if all that happens, you still need almost perfect health for the rest of the season to mount a surge and on a team with so many 30+ year olds who haven't been on IR yet that's probably too much to ask.

With still almost seventy games remaining I'm reduced to having more modest goals - for starters, a team that tries...and honestly they have (from what I've seen) for much of this trip other than the first two periods at the Garden. While I don't want a full tank job, especially with some 20+ more home games to attend among the 36 remaining on the schedule, it would be nice to see the youth develop like it has been doing across the river.

That has to start with rookies like Matt Taormina and whatever other kid defenseman stands in for the injured Bryce Salvador until he returns (right now either Olivier Magnan or Tyler Eckford). If the other rookies aside from Taormina can't hack it then get a hold-the-fort vet to fill in, god knows we have the cap space now! Not to mention forwards like the gritty Rod Pelley, who's finding a niche as a popular fourth-liner or more skilled players like either Matthias Tedenby or Vladimir Zharkov, assuming one of them eventually gets called up to go along with Jacob Josefson whenever he comes back.

Plus we need to find out which of the vets have to go and which ones should remain as Brodeur makes one last run for the Cup next year. If Langenbrunner's not going to be traded to shake up the core, he might ask for a mercy deal anyway as the team continues to struggle. Who knows who else of the NTC/NMC crowd (Elias, Jason Arnott, Colin White or Brian Rolston) will be persuaded to either ask for or accept a trade. This season doesn't have to be a total loss, even if there isn't going to be a Stanley Cup at the end of the rainbow, or even another empty division banner.

What will be key now is how Lou Lamoriello will shape this team in the coming months for not only next season but the next few years as well. Assuming Parise returns as the player of old, there's no reason not to give him an extension before the end of the season presuming he still wants to sign one. We have to find out whether UFA-to-be Greene was a first-half fluke in the '09-10 season or if he's worth keeping on a multi-year, multi-million deal. If not, we might have to go shopping for the puck-moving defenseman we've sorely lacked in recent years. Maybe Tomas Kaberle on a short-term deal or perhaps the Canucks' Christian Erhoff. Not to mention we have to commit to Johnny MacLean as the long-term coach, there's no reason not to at least give him a full season and probably beyond at this point.

Yes, I know it's way too early to be talking about next offseason already. Especially when we're just coming off the offseason that wouldn't end. Maybe it's just the only way I can keep my sanity at this point. I know people want to point out that we overcame the loss of Brodeur two years ago, but with as great as Brodeur is in a post-lockout NHL it's easier for a team to cover up for a goaltender if they play better defense and/or score more to compensate. You can't invent offense and the 40 goals you're missing from Zach.

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