"Tee hee, I give you 8 months before you call me back. You always do."
With the Board of Governors convening earlier this month in Florida, it is time for Gary Bettman to declare the Devils are in a State of Emergency and the NHL will simply not allow the current ownership to maintain the franchise as currently steered toward the hell their nickname has long implied.
Last winter Jeff Vanderbeek got his Ilya Kovalchuk. That does not give him the right to compound his starstruck short-term purchase by signing the one-way Russian forward to a lifetime, cap-crippling deal -- and then worse, when the NHL gave him a chance at a do-over this summer, commit an even bigger cap hit over the next 15 years to a dangerous sniper whose precious prime-age seasons are, this year at least, being wasted on a disaster in Newark that is haunted by success last seen in 2003.
The product on the ice is shockingly inferior, through little fault of the players on a roster that has been decimated by injuries to a good forward in Zach Parise, a good defenseman in Anton Volchenkov, a good goalie in Martin Brodeur, and a cap management trainwreck by Lou Lamoriello that entailed dressing an incomplete lineup for the season's opening games, leaving his new long-groomed coach John MacLean to start his tenure off behind the 8-ball, until the dead man walking was given his walking papers today, just two days before Christmas, replaced by ... the guy he replaced 8 months ago -- the guy with whom the captain did not see eye-to-eye. Right. The minor-league lineup Devils fans have seen this season accounts for, including injuries, an unfathomable $65.8 million in payroll, some $6 million over the cap with only timely injuries to put off serious roster decisions.
There is Broadway, there is off Broadway, there is Long Island, and then there is Newark, where the owner -- once perceived as a benefactor (as was the late, canonized man who almost moved the Devils to Nashville) -- was so determined to mortgage the Devils' future on the one-dimensional Kovalchuk that he did it not once, not twice, but three times in 2010.
It is impossible to determine what the endgame is here for Vanderbeek -- who allegedly tried to sell the team last summer, according to one rather odd report -- other than to create a marketing buzz for his chronically under-marketed team and hope that from 2013 to 2020, a $6.6 million cap hit for a 30 to 37-year-old speed-dependent forward doesn't sound as foolish as it sounds in 2010. After that, presumably, the hope is that the forward with the heavy salary and by-then-diminishing skills just retires already, rather than subject his adopted team to that cost all the way to 2024-25.
Perhaps the idea was to give legendary and much-debated goalie Martin Brodeur one last kick at the can before he escapes this mess, but if so it was a curious move to sacrifice the franchise's 13 or so post-Brodeur years to do it.
And then of course there is the small matter of it not working, not at all, as witnessed by this season, which has gone down the toilet faster than you can say, "Is $20.25 million on an over-35 contract for Brian Rolston really the way to go?"
Bottling All Anti-League Grievances in One Tidy Paragraph
The league props up Phoenix, it'll prop up Dallas and the league will stand behind franchises in Sunrise, Fla.; Tampa and Atlanta, but in this case the league seems to stand behind the Devils only when it comes to letting your entire league-wide product descend into a boring, rules-ignorant, zero-sum game of clutching and grabbing to lay waste to an entire decade of NHL hockey (R.I.P. '90s, you are not missed) -- only to be rectified after a year-long lockout that gave people time to ponder just how boring were those three obstruction-aided Cups for the Devils. Memo to Bettman: Three Stanley Cups -- why, even four, as Isles fans know all too well -- does not a permanently healthy franchise make.
Appeal to 'Atmosphere'
What kind of atmosphere is this for Ilya Kovalchuk -- once the 26-year-old center of trade deadline attention across all of Canada who is hiding in plain sight in Newark -- to ride out his "put me on an existing winner so I can call myself a winner" years? What is young Zach Parise to think of things, with his free agency looming and his knowledge that making as much as his highest-paid teammate on his next contract will only doom both to further cap-mismanagement-induced hell?
How can the many interchangeable parts of whom the organization always seems so very proud of -- maybe products of the Lemaire-inspired system, maybe not -- possibly flourish in an environment that has, "We'd like to dress a full 18 skaters, but we kind of screwed the pooch with the cap this summer, so hopefully someone gets a concussion or something and spares us a decision" written on the tenement halls through which the players pass on the days they are allowed to dress?
The league is believed to have have bowed to its rich owners at every turn, so it is not as if Bettman can somehow turn to that same group and ask them to install some sanity into one of their own. However, if the most respected and objective, hyperbole-free pundit in all of hockey -- and make no mistake, it is so very not personal with him or Bettman -- can argue that the league must intervene to save the Islanders, surely the same should be said for tonight's opponent, the team who sits tied with the Isles in the standings (though with considerably more money spent to get there).
Surely Bettman can at minimum plead that Vanderbeek never, ever, ever, cross-his-heart-and-hope-to-sign-Malakhov be allowed to make such a short-sighted, long-handicapping move as this ever again. Put it another way: The Devils will have Ilya on the books for 10 years after Alexei Yashin's buyout is done. He will be a Devil for four years beyond the end of Rick DiPietro's contract.
Far be it for this humble observer to suggest that money does not, in fact, automatically buy happiness nor a good hockey team. But evidence indicates that whatever you hope it buys you, such cannot be acquired if reason is neglected, if the long-term is sacrificed for the very near-term, and if -- get this -- the unpredictable variable of injuries and health are capable of making your product look much worse than advertised.
Note: Credit WebBard for the idea for this satire, and Larry Brooks for the inspiration. If parody isn't your cup of tea, you're probably in the wrong corner of the Internet.
Past the Satire: The Actual Gameday Preview
New York Islanders (7-18-6, last) @ New Jersey Devils (9-22-2, also last)
7 p.m. | [finances of some sort] Center | MSG+/+2, NHL audio - WRHU 88.7
Kicking MacLean, Welcoming(?) Back Lemaire: In Lou We Trust
For both teams, the triage lists is long. Devils: Zach Parise (knee) and Jacob Josefson (hand) and defensemen Bryce Salvador (concussion) and Matt Taormina (ankle) on injured reserve. … Islanders: Add Radek Martinek (wrist, day-to-day) to the existing list of Rick DiPietro, Mark Streit (shoulder), Kyle Okposo (shoulder), Doug Weight (back) and Trent Hunter (knee).
In the only previous meeting, DiPietro got the shutout in a 2-0 win on Coliseum ice -- the game that finally ended that 14-game winless streak.
As goes with coaching changes -- particularly ones where a former coach who "retired" under curious circumstances less than a year ago returns -- it's hard to guess what kind of form the Devils will display tonight. Also hard to guess how the Islanders will respond after playing last night, getting the OT win, and maybe-just-maybe starting to feel good about themselves.
- Staple with a little update on Mike Mottau's discovery of his hip injury
- And more with Capuano on Bailey
- And don't forget, Charles Wang and Garth Snow on "NHL Hour" tonight (XM) between 6 and 7 p.m. Those who get to listen will surely update the rest of you on anything of substance that crosses the air.
As per usual, you can leave your First Islanders Goal pick here or in the game thread -- before puck drops. You know the rule though: Leave it in a reply to the first FIG comment, or it may be overlooked and you will be publicly shamed and forced to watch the league's two worst teams battle for 29th place.
Let's. Make it. *Four!
*You know, like four games with a standings point. In a row. That's the goal for tonight, is what I mean.