Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rangers vs. Devils: Battle of the Hudson - I

From the desks of:  

Battle of the Hudson - I

New Jersey Devils
New York Rangers
8th Avenue Ice House

NJD: Life After Lou Lamoriello Leaves New Jersey Devils Without a Pitchfork.

That's probably premature to say...., but I doubt it.

These are no longer the goblins Lou Lamoriello nurtured to maturity and unleashed upon the NHL. That team fired up five Eastern Conference titles, and three Stanley Cup championships. 

These New Jersey Devils enter Madison Square Garden this afternoon in search of goals, points, their first win of the season, a new identity, and...  

You get the picture.

After nearly three decades as head demon in charge, Lou Lamoriello retired from the New Jersey Devils, but worse, joined up with the (original six) Toronto Maple Leafs.  That development will spell trouble for the rest of the NHL in short time.

For now, the finishing touches on his brilliant career will come when the Devils raise Patrik Elias' jersey to the rafters, and unveil the statue planned in honor of Martin Brodeur's status as one of the NHL's greatest goal tenders of all-time.

Today, the Devils have a new triumvirate with which they're attempting to move forward.
  • General Manager - Ray Shero.
  • Head Coach - John Hynes.
  • Team Captain - Andy Greene.

Sure, some familiar names remain - depending how old you are, that is.  Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, Travis Zajac, and a few others lend a familiar feel to things, while Cory Schneider is now well beyond being Martin Brodeur's heir apparent.

But, after four games played, the Devils have yet to record a win, and have posted all of one point.   They've been outscored 12-6 in regulation, and most recently lost a shoot-out in San Jose.

Today they get the Rangers...

In hindsight, when the Devils defeated the Rangers in the 2011-2012 Eastern Conference finals, the teams were ironically headed in contrary directions.  The Rangers transitioned away from John Tortorella, and sustained their competitive play under Alain Vigneault.

The Devils, meanwhile, lost in the Stanley Cup finals to the Los Angeles Kings.  The flames that once stoked New Jersey hockey simply flickered out with sudden haste, while years under Lou Lamoriello are now mere ashes on the mantelpiece of Devils history.

Lou arguably waited too long in breaking up the Devils after 2012.  Many would suggest he should have initiated a rebuilding right then.  After all, the Devils have failed to reach the post-season in each of the last three seasons.  Two seasons ago they dropped to 6th in the Metropolitan Division, then slipped further last season to 7th place.  Last year was also New Jersey's second losing season in their last five.

It's hard to pile criticism on Lou Lamoriello now - not after what he accomplished in the under-funded, if not handi-capped, shadows of New York City.

Much of their downfall also revolved around money, of course, and their inability to retain premium talents such as Zach Parise and Brian Gionta, just to name two.  And who knows what the hell Ilya Kovalchuk was thinking (or Lou for that matter, for giving him that absurd contract, although it almost paid off in 2012).

All that is just water under the Tappan Zee Bridge now.

As a Rangers fan, I confidently say Lou Lamoriello was the greatest hockey executive this town has known in my lifetime.  

That says much considering Bill Torrey's brilliant 20-year career with the New York Islanders.  I'm damn near reticent to even suggest such a thing.  In short time, Torrey piled Stanley Cups high on Long Island like an obelisk rising over ancient Egypt - his dynasty was powerful and enduring.  It took an unworldly Wayne Gretzky and the overly talented Edmonton Oilers to deny Long Island's Drive for Five.

Alas, Lou Lamoriello's tenure was longer.  During his 27-year career, the Devils made the playoffs 21 times, and played for Lord Stanley's Cup five times.  His first Finals appearance came in 1995, and within the span of nine years New Jersey appeared in four.  His last appearance in the Finals came 19 long years after his first, when the Devils bowed to the L.A. Kings in six games.  All of which, regardless of outcome, lay testament to his longevity, hockey integrity, adaptability, financial creativity, and above all, his executive mastery.

Between 1987 through 2012, the Devils failed to qualify for post-season play a mere three times.   Then starting in 1997 through 2010, they ran off 13 straight playoff appearances, with the only interruption coming in 2004-2005 during the NHL's imposed lockout.

For all of his years, it was either his way or the highway.  And one usually played for Lou at his price as well.  In the age of player entitlement and financial windfalls, that was perhaps Lamoriello's most amazing feat of all.

His propensity for firing and hiring head coaches was also legendary, but there's little debating his greatest appointment was Jacques LeMaire.

He did all this on the grandest stage of all - the New York metropolitan area.  Just like Bill Torrey did with the Isles, Lou Lamoriello took charge of an outlying organization playing deep in the heart of New York Rangers country and transformed the Devils into an NHL power, and turned them into a historical franchise in their own right.  On that note, both teams out-achieved their big city brothers whom supposedly own the high ground.

I met Lou Lamoriello during the pre-game skate at a Rangers/Devils games at Madison Square Garden a few years ago.  I'm happy, and feel fortunate that I did.  He signed my game ticket that I proudly display on my wall.


There ya go.

It's time to drop the puck.

Let's go Rangers.

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