I have been raised on hockey talk and sports columnists. My long-held beliefs have been ingrained into me by the Hockeycentral panel, the TSN panels, hockey experts, retired hockey players, and colour commentators whose encyclopedic knowledge of the game-within-the-game fills in the gaps between informed, descriptive analysis of exactly what I'm seeing. And I believed them all. I am a Child of Hockey Church, but Last night's elimination of the New Jersey Devils has deeply shaken my beliefs.
The Devils had it all. They got Ilya Kovalchuk at the deadline. They had the best goalie in the series. They had home ice advantage. And yet, they still lost. It's enough to wonder if the media has a slough of ridiculous cliches they trot out to fill space and build consternation among their followers, but it actually means nothing.
The trading deadline myth has been in the process of being thoroughly debunked for quite some time now. Often times, the team that pays high for the best player winds up going home early. My guess is that it's not an accident. Players of this sort demand the sort of ice time that eats into the structure and consistency of your team. The New Jersey Devils are, simply put, a different team when Ilya Kovalchuk is playing twenty-three minutes a night. It's a little different than, say, if the Canucks ice Nolan Baumgartner instead of Andrew Alberts. Those four and a half minutes arent really representative of the team as a whole.Kovalchuk was. But, if he doesn't jive with the system, if he doesn't develop immediate chemistry with his linemates--if he's never been asked to backcheck a day in his life--then the Devils system falls apart. Getting a superstar at the deadline is a little like losing an eye in a fireworks accident. Sure, you look way cooler with that patch, but you've handicapped yourself.
The goaltending issue. Is it a myth? I think, to use Ron Maclean's parlance, we can all agree that Martin Brodeur is better than Brian "The Mighty Boosh" Boucher. Brodeur has won everything. But, if he's so great, then how come he lost his starting job at the Olympics to a goaltender everyone claims looked shaky? And how come he lost a playoff series to a goalie who needed 40% of the other tenders on the Eastern seaboard to basically come down with freak cases of bonitis? We can't, in all seriousness claim that The Boosh is a better goaltender than Brodeur, can we? No? Nobody would ever say that, but if you followed the thought process of most of their criticisms of Luongo, you might be forced to come to this. We ought to admit that you can't always blame the goaltender when his team gets lit up. For all of Luongo's struggles, he's made it out of the first-round every single time. Not one of the Vezina candidates is playing for a team leading his first-round playoff series. I guess they all suck.
Home ice? Well, let's hope it's just an aberration that the Devils have been eliminated on home ice three years in a row, because Vancouver just got their home ice back. I know it has to matter. But I don't think it matters nearly as much as we've been led to believe.
Let's just hope it matters for us.