Friday, April 23, 2010

An Annual Day Of Mourning

Since I started writing this blog about three months ago, today is the first time we've hit one of those yearly milestones where I find that a team I had such high hopes for will not be bringing home the ultimate prize this year. In the case of this year, the offending party is the New Jersey Devils, and for the fourth straight year, they will be setting up their spring tee times much earlier than I had anticipated.

Pardon me while I tear my clothing and cover all my mirrors.

Ok. Unless you're a Devils fan, this probably doesn't have the same impact for you, but considering New Jersey was challenging for the top seed in the East for a large portion of the season and then added one of the top offensive threats in the game in Ilya Kovalchuk, well, this is kind of surprising. But watching this team last night made a few things abundantly clear. For one, the offense was completely nonexistent and most of the players didn't seem to really care, with the exceptions of Dainius Zubrus and Zach Parise. The Flyers, despite being the No. 7 seed and needing a shootout on the final day to make the postseason, had taken five of six from the Devils during the year. They were confident, New Jersey wasn't, and it showed. For another, the Kovalchuk deal was a gutsy move, and for that GM Lou Lamoreillo deserves credit, but Kovy clearly didn't fit into this system and he had a nasty habit of trying to play Superman every time he touched the puck.

What makes this most irksome is that more questions will start to come up around Martin Brodeur not being a big-game goaltender anymore, which, if you watched, is complete hooey. Brodeur played phenomenally in Games 3 and 4, but was behind an offense that wracked up all of four even strength goals in the series. No goaltender can manage to win when his team is making Brian Boucher look like a Hall of Famer.

Lord, I hate Philadelphia.

As a result, I am far too emotionally distraught to put together my weekly 1995 Mail Bag post -- I know you're heartbroken -- but I will make it a point to put one up next week. It is worth noting that I still, technically, have a horse left in this race in the Chicago Blackhawks, who very well might wind up winning the Stanley Cup considering they have the talent to do so. While the Hawks were on edge this week, their win in Game 4 in Nashville last night has everything square with Game 5 at home. As I've noted before, I have a soft spot for the Hawks after my employment there in college.

But let's be honest. The Devils are my team. Always have been. Always will be. It's irrational to think your team will win a Championship every season, but it doesn't make it less distressing when you have high hopes. I suppose there's always next year.

The unfortunate thing about this is that the Devils' elimination marred what had been a fairly good night for me on the sports front. The Mets won their first series of the year -- a four-gamer at that -- by taking out the Cubs for the third time in four days, the Hawks regained momentum in their series and the NFL Draft provided endless entertainment for all four hours of its first round.

I was miffed to see both Rolando McClain and C.J. Spiller gone by the time the Giants rolled around at 15, but Jason Pierre-Paul is apparently expected to be a very solid defensive end, and I'm of firm belief that youu can never have enough of those, so I'm satisfied.

Other thoughts:
-- I can't tell if Josh McDaniels is very clever or trying way too hard to meddle with his multiple first-round deals that eventually netted him Tim Tebow. No one's arguing the intangibles Tebow brings to the table, but scouts unanimously had doubts on him before he changed his throwing motion for a reason. Also, it could make it awkward that everyone on the Broncos will need to be baptized before joining the team now.

-- The Rams made a large mistake in drafting for need over drafting for the best player on the board. I know everyone says Sam Bradford has the necessary skills to be an NFL quarterback, but he is coming off an injury, and I won't believe a Bob Stoops Oklahoma quarterback is an NFL prospect until I see it proven to me (Josh Heupel and Jason White, anyone?). Moreover, stud quarterback prospects come along every year. Game-changing defensive tackles don't, and you need to grab one when the opportunity presents itself, which leads me to...

-- I'd say the team that had the best first round, by far, was the Detroit Lions. Ndamukong Suh will give that defensive line an incredible presence when he has a year or two under his belt, and Jahvid Best adds a new dimension to an offense that already has a top flight receiver in Calvin Johnson and a good-looking quarterback prospect in Matt Stafford. Get this team an offensive line and it will be a force right when the Vikings and Packers start to see their windows close in the NFC North.

-- It won't be long until the 49ers once again rule the NFC West. Alex Smith may not be the most dynamic quarterback to have back there, but he did play well down the stretch. Take into account that the Niners have Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore on the offense and add the two elite-level offensive line prospects they selected in the first round (Anthony Davis of Rutgers and Mike Iupati of Idaho) and they have the right pieces in place.

-- Minnesota would be smart to take Jimmy Clausen in the second round. That he has fallen out of the first is a gift to a franchise that is pinning its championship hopes on a man who may or may not play next year and may or may not decide if he is until August. If the Vikings don't grab him, I'd be stunned if Buffalo didn't early tonight.

-- Lastly, how have Mike Kafka and Corey Wootton not been scooped up yet? Seriously?

Ok, I'm done. Enjoy your weekends. It's time for me to forget about hockey for a few hours.

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