Hockey Matters to Chew On
They came into the season as the most disrespected Stanley Cup finalist in modern NHL history.
Nobody, but nobody looked at the New Jersey Devils when the NHL and union finally worked out their differences and imagined they would be a serious Stanley Cup contender.
No matter that the Devils were the class of the Eastern Conference last season and battled the Los Angeles Kings hard before falling in the Cup final.
All that seemed to matter was that Zach Parise was gone, Martin Brodeur was old and how could a team with Bryce Salvador as captain scare anybody.
Well, scaring the rest of the league is what the Devils are doing. Again. Like always.
Never the sexy choice, the remarkable kingdom that Lou Lamoriello built is 8-1-3 out of the gate after sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins on the weekend.
Chicago's Blackhawks have been better than anyone so far, but that was, if not expected, a possibility anticipated by many.
The Devils? Dismissed as a fluke Cup finalist a year ago. Yet while the 28th-place Kings flounder in the west with only three wins, Brodeur and the Devils just take care of business as always.
Even with Travis Zajac, he of the eight-year, $46 million contract extension, struggling along with only three points so far, New Jersey continues to be more than the sum of its parts. Missing Parise? Not yet, although Parise is off to a solid start in the Twin Cities with six goals.
How do the Devils do it? Super scout David Conte never stops finding players who are good to play with and hard to play against, while Lamoriello, regardless of who is coaching the team, insists on a team-first philosophy and never, ever wavers.
Only three teams have allowed fewer goals this season, with Brodeur ageless with a 2.29 goals-against average and solid .911 save percentage, and eminently affordable at $4.5 million per season (15th among NHL goalies. David Clarkson has nine goals and is slowly but surely inching his way into Canadian Olympic team consideration.
Sprinkle in a little Stefan Matteau here, a little Bobby Butler there, and you have the Devils, always underestimated, just the way they like it.
Other Monday morning hockey musings:
--It's fair to say Roberto Luongo's strong play means his trade value hasn't dropped but remains the same. The contract remains the critical element. At the same time, Nazem Kadri, who the Canucks have insisted must be in any Luongo deal with Toronto, has nine points and has significantly increased his value. You couldn't even do Kadri-for-Luongo straight up now. Kadri for Cory Schneider, maybe. But with James Reimer doing just fine, that's not likely, either.
--Devan Dubnyk is making believers out of many. It's been almost NINE years since he was drafted, but all that patience may finally be paying off and Edmonton has its new No. 1 netminder.
--With so many ex-Marlies contributing for Leafs at NHL level, the next most promising Leaf farmhand has to be 28-year-old defenceman Paul Ranger, plus-17 on the season. He's still on an AHL-only deal and can't be called up, which seems to suit both the Leafs and Ranger fine for the moment as he re-acclimatizes himself after a break from the game. But he may be a card to be played somewhere down the line.
--Terry Pegula, once the saviour of all things on the Sabres hockeys scene, it drawing some flak in Buffalo for the state of the team. A lot of money has been spent - Christian Ehrhoff, $12 million this year for a recently scratched Tyler Myers - and the results have just not materialized yet. Extending GM Darcy Regier, who is tied at the hip to head coach Lindy Ruff, hasn't gone over well either. Even the brilliant start to the season by Tomas Vanek hasn't quieted all the grumbling.
--The NHLPA just doesn't understand bad optics, never has. Weeks after the league unilaterally decided to increase its contribution to the Senior Player Benefit fund (retired players 65 and over) by 50 per cent, the union has yet to match it. For the record, the union says its executive board hasn't met since the league announced the move and says the actual payment of the new monies is months away, giving the PA time to make a decision on this matter. Fair enough, but the perception that the league cares more about ex-players now than the union is widespread.
--NHL's goal-less list still includes Henrik Sedin, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mike Cammalleri, Brandon Dubinsky, Max Pacioretty, Drew Stafford, Brian Boyle, Matt Stajan, Chris Kelly, Max Talbot, and Colby Armstrong, among others. Oh, and of course, Scott Gomez, no goals in eight games for the Sharks.
--The most interesting name in the NHL's top 20 scorers? Saku Koivu, No. 20, with four goals, nine assists and plus-11 on the season. Sheldon Souray, the defenceman who the Oilers said not only couldn't play for them but couldn't even be around their young players, is plus-10 for the Ducks.