Players are skating, and NHL training camps are within sniffing distance. So we are warming up our emotional engines to conjure all the irrational excitement, hatred and other strongly worded feelings that accompany an eight-month devotion to watching men making billions playing a game.
This is part of a quick game of considering our rivals, with love (er, envy), and hate.
For today's team, some of you have been waiting to unleash fury (or strongly worded annoyance), some of you have mixed or even guilty feelings about, and some of you couldn't care less.
I fall in the latter category. The entire franchise's existence for me has been one of pity (Scouts, Rockies, and half the Devils era) mixed with a few periods of frustration or nagging irritation.
Even though it went through the Islanders (a six-game series that still stings), the Devils' first playoff appearance in 1988 struck me with some sympathy: The "Mickey Mouse" organization, barely over .500, required an OT win (back when that was hard) on the final day of the regular season at Chicago Stadium, one of the toughest venues in the sport.
Their truly Cinderella ride included an upset of the Patrick Division champion Islanders, delivery of yet another seven-game heartbreak to the poor Capitals, and a scare into both Don Koharski's doughnut baker and the Boston Bruins in the conference finals.
Years later, however, a string of periodic Cups led by the era-suffocating Jacques Lemaire and his imitators turned that bemusement to increasing levels of aggravation. But that's a story for another day.
Love Envy and Hate: The Devils
Hate: For this we must focus on the hatred of today. Who to hate on the Devils, now that Martin Brodeur has left to publicly campaign for other people's jobs and Ilya Kovalchuk has "retired"?
Their roster is a collection of misfit old men, a veritable 2005 NHL All-Star team (if, you know, there were NHL hockey in 2005). Ryan Clowe can be annoying, Tuomo Ruutu certainly crosses the line between agitating and cheap-and-dirty, and Cam Janssen, when he's in the lineup, finds things to punch.
But are any truly worthy of fan hate? I suspect the season will reveal them.
Love/Envy: Likewise, I have little envy for any of the Devils' players, save for their bank accounts and their past performances. But to see Jaromir Jagr still excel to this day, despite missing (only) his speed, is a thing to behold. It's a shame for the record books that he discarded a few post-peak years in the KHL. The guy is a force and deserves to be near the top of most all-time scoring categories.
And you? Which (current) Devil do you hate most, and which one to you kinda, you know, privately, think is an alright guy? (You can base this on talent, admiration for a certain skillset, traditional passion-fueled fan hate and jealousy, or, I don't know, facial expressions.)