Saturday, January 9, 2021

Devils Preview: Claude Lemieux Autographed Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Caveats: at this point, despite the season being set to start in Mid-January, several impact players haven't found a team yet and quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

The New Jersey Devils (team links may bring forth referral money for me) started off with 6 losses, then in December proceeded to lose 10 of 12, leading to the justified and overdue firing of head coach John Hynes, who inexplicably found employment with the Nashville Predators afterwards. Rookie coach Alain Nasreddine was able to garner points in 26 out of the team's final 38 games, but that wasn't enough for GM Tom Fitzgerald, who instead went with Old Boys' Club lifetime member Lindy Ruff to lead the team in a shortened season with little to no real training camp and no pre-season games, which is a huge mistake in my book (and yet another example of a French Canadian getting the shaft uselessly). Playing it "safe" may cost him in the end.

What makes their odds look good:
Oh, boy. There are players who are doing an ok job in a first-line role when they could perhaps be better used on a second line instead (Nico Hischier at this point in his career and Kyle Palmieri), terrific prospects up-front in Nolan Foote (20 years old, 6'4" and 200 pounds, three years from an NHL job and five from his prime), Alexander Holtz (18, 6'1", pro-level shot, needs two or three years in Europe and to add weight), Dawson Mercer (19, dominating in Juniors, three or four years away) and Jack Hughes (19, never should have made the team last year). On defense, Ty Smith (20, best defenseman in the WHL, two years from NHL job, five from his prime) is a great cornerstone to build upon, and P.K. Subban, Damon Severson and Will Butcher can each play much better than they did last year. Mackenzie Blackwood has looked like the real deal, mostly, compared to Cory Schneider.

Question marks:
Well, technically, everything written above was true. But Subban and Butcher could also continue stagnating; Subban in particular seems at a loss when not playing for high stakes (then again, when the guy who acquires you pretty much loses his job over it, the best player on the team wants to leave, and the fanbase is hoping to tank for a high draft pick, it's probably hard to find motivation). Is Pavel Zacha's niche as a third-line center? There are active first-rounders who have thrived after finding a home in the middle of the lineup after aiming for more prime minutes, such as Lars Eller with the Washington Capitals, so it's not unheard of, but it's a far cry from calling him the steal of his draft year, as former GM Ray Shero did. Points given for enthusiasm, (more) points taken for failing to manage expectations.

I thought the team was trending up, I really did. Adding Ryan Murray and Dmitri Kulikov on defense solidifies the back end, Andreas Johnsson didn't cost anything and is a solid second-liner, and adding Corey Crawford to platoon with Blackwood looked like a great idea... until he retired earlier this morning, less than 24 hours after taking a leave of absence for personal reasons. He had yet to play a single minute, and it's still the team's biggest loss since Ilya Kovalchuk. I'll give him a proper send-off later this year.

Eighth in the East.

The Devils have three Stanley Cups (1994-95, 1999-2000, and 2002-03), which they won on the strength of playing the trap and a trio of unique defensemen: the speedy Scott Niedermayer, the punishing Scott Stevens, and the bruising Ken Daneyko. Stevens won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the 2000 Final, and opposing goalie Jean-Sébastien Giguère from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim won it in 2003.

1995 was a different, special beast. It was a lockout-shortened season, for one, and the first since 1980 where a Canadian team didn't make it to a Conference Final: the most efficient playoff performer of all-time, Patrick Roy, missed the postseason cut for the only time of his career; the first seed in the East, the Québec Nordiques, were ousted in the first round by the defending champion New York Rangers, opting to play rookie Jocelyn Thibault in a high-pressure situation he perhaps wasn't ready for; the Philadelphia Flyers plowed through Dominik Hasek and his Buffalo Sabres before sweeping the Rangers, while the West saw multiple sweeps leading to the Cup Final, but the fast-skating Detroit Red Wings of Sergei Fedorov, Paul Coffey, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Nicklas Lidstrom were unable to get through the wall of D at the Devils' blue line, and a certain Claude Lemieux, who they would get to know much better in the next five years as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, led all playoff skaters with 13 goals, including a couple in the Final, one of them a game-winner.

This is what he looked like wearing the Devils' red (away) uniform:
That's card #258 from Upper Deck's 1995-96 Series 1 set and Mike Milbury's Scouting Report sub-set, because you really want "Mad" Mike Milbury's take on players... here's what he had to say about Lemieux:
I've been prone to hyperbole myself and, sure, a case can be made for Hall Of Fame consideration when it comes to Lemieux, but to deem him to have Hart Trophy potential in prime Jaromir Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros, Dominik Hasek, and Fedorov era, and even compared to his own Avs teammates the following year in Roy, Joe Sakic, and Peter Forsberg is, well, madness.

No comments:

Post a Comment