The 2010 Empty Arenas Tour makes its first northern stop at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. On Monday's puckcast with Hockee Night I learned that Newark is part of the area that gave birth to the term "benny" which is apparently what the people from Jersey Shore really were as opposed to being from New Jersey. Yeah, I was confused by that explanation too but I guess Newark isn't really New Jersey. Either way, I love SNL's skits with NY Governor David Patterson where he makes non-stop Jersey jokes.
Having said all of that, I exchanged five questions with John Fischer of In Lou We Trust in order to learn a bit more about the New Jersey Devils ahead of the Leafs' first meeting with the perennial Eastern Conference juggernaut. His first answer is above the jump and the rest afterwards.
1. You guys are top of your division. Again. No matter what happens the Devils keep near the top of the NHL. Why is that?
The answer is simple: Lou. Management starts from the top and Lou Lamoriello has established a set philosophy for the team, he keeps close tabs on what the roster does and does not need, and he has high standards for everyone involved. Whereas other GMs in the league tend to follow trends, staying the course and building the roster around the principles of defensively responsible, transition-based hockey has made it such that the team is always competitive and therefore a desired place for players to play. If someone can fit in, then where they developed, how big they are, or other such metrics aren't so important. Likewise, if you're not willing to adapt to the Devils, then you will not last in New Jersey. While not every decision he makes or deal he signs is perfect, few can honestly say they have a good of a grasp on what the team needs both in the short-term and long-term.
2. Do quirks like this one in the schedule drive you batty or do you appreciate three easy wins before the Olympics?
With the way the NHL is set-up now, there are no easy wins. Taking it easy against any opponent is a great way to lose hockey games. That's a good thing, in general, though the Devils could really use some wins given their inconsistent form as of late. In terms of the schedule, the Devils have recently have had busy schedules in January and compared to last season, the Devils have only one more home game this season. Therefore, I'm not really convinced that game-congestion as an issue. The only quirky thing about the schedule is that it took 52 games before the Devils faced all 14 Eastern Conference opponent.
3. A New Jersey prospect, Patrice Cormier, was in the news recently for his attempted beheading of Mikael Tam. What did you think of Lou's response in not trying to get him to the AHL to circumvent his suspenseion like the Flyers did with Steve Downie?
I think Lou's response is completely appropriate. While he did say prior to the hearing that he didn't think the hit warranted a full season+playoff suspension, he also said that he has no say in the punishment and that he would honor the QMJHL's ruling.
In my opinion, I think the suspension is just for Cormier. I don't want to see something like that ever from him or for any other player. I can see why Rouyn-Noranda will go to appeal the decision considering they gave up assets to get Cormier. But I think they should just accept the initial punishment and go without Cormier, were the players switched around, R-N and their supporters would be screaming for a similar punishment or worse. As for Cormier, I really hope a message is sent to him personally; if he were to go to the AHL to play, then I doubt that message is fully sent. He'll be likely playing in the AHL next season anyway, his career will go on; so I don't see any reason from my point of view that this punishment should be reduced in any way. He can use this time to attempt to reconcile with his own issues - both personally and on the ice - as well as with Mikael Tam.
4. You guys seem pretty dependent on the quarter of Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner, Travis Zajac, and Patrik Elias for offence. Do you think that that will affect how the Devils approach the trade deadline? or will they even do anything?
Interestingly, Parise and Zajac were slumping through December in terms of scoring goals; but you are right that those four are the main drivers for the offense. While Brian Rolston scores, it's not nearly as often as he should; and the young players who have showed so much hustle aren't putting up any points. Nicklas Bergfors has been ice cold with 0 points in 11. Vladimir Zharkov has 0 goals throughout his extended call-up. Role players like Dean McAmmond and Rob Niedermayer, not really offensive players to begin with, are being used on scoring lines and power play situations. The team was winning games with numerous injuries, but that in conjunction with the recent lack of finishing from the team over the last 2 weeks has really made the situation much murkier.
Lou usually makes a deal or two at the trade deadline, usually a minor deal but sometimes a major one (e.g. swinging Doug Gilmour in the mid-90s; snagging Alex Mogilny in 2000). I'm not sure what the market really is and the Devils are generally so secretive with their interests that when a trade does come about, it's usually a surprise to most. If the team was able to score more from their shots - and they do shoot plenty of shots - then offense wouldn't be a huge concern. Would a trade really fix that? I'm not sure. A "playmaker" type player would help, a second line scorer would help, but how would they fit in as more and more Devils come back from injury? Who would the Devils give up to get this type of player? Or do they look to beef up the blueline by getting someone on defense who actually has some offensive skills and production?
Again, I'm wavering but Lou plays everything so close to himself that I truly don't know. He usually knows what the team really does need and could use based on what's out there. Hence, In Lou We Trust.
5. What's your favourite memory of a Leafs-Devils matchup?
Game 6 against the Leafs in 2000. The Devils played a near-perfect defensive game against Toronto, only allowing 6 shots against. This game was so memorable,it was ranked 5th overall by the fans for the 25th Anniversary Most Memorable Moments Countdown. Yes, this finished ahead of the actual Stanley Cup win in 2000!