February 16, 2011
There hasn't been a day since October in which I haven't been asked about (my) New Jersey Devils. It started with "What's wrong with your team?" and "Do you regret signing that bust Kovalchoke?" and "When will they fire MacLean?" and "What sucks more: Being from New Jersey or the Devils this season?"
Those were the old inquiries. Now all I hear is: "You don't think they can really pull this off, do you?" Which is a different kind of question, but creates the same level of annoyance as the previous queries did.
"This" of course being the staggering reversal of misfortune that's occurred under Jacques Lemaire's watch, as a team 27 points away from the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference on Jan. 9 has closed to within 14 points, with what absurdly amounts to a "playoff game" tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes.
My answer is always that I'm of two minds as a fan. First, there's a sense of pride in seeing this team not go out like a punk. That the team has excelled completely without Zach Parise(notes) and largely without Martin Brodeur(notes). That Ilya Kovalchuk(notes), for all the chuckles earlier this season, has 12 points in his last 9 games.
Yet there's also a sense of melancholy that they didn't tank in a season that practically invited it, and that this run has produced delusions of grandeur, if not among the fans then within the organization.
Which is to say no, I don't really think they can pull this off. So quit buggin' me.
James Mirtle, in his latest "push for the playoffs" tally, reports that the Devils would have to go 21-5-0 in their last 26 games in order to hit 90 points, his threshold for the playoffs. Which means for the Devils to make the playoffs, they will have had to go 33-6-2 overall in the second half of the season.
Sports Club Stats is a site that you've seen featured in our Playoff Death Watch, one that tracks the probability of teams making or missing the postseason. Currently, the Devils have a 0.025785 percent chance of finishing in the No. 8 seed. There is a better chance "Gnomeo and Juliet" wins the 2012 Best Picture than the Devils making the playoffs.
Now, those odds will change if the Devils beat the Hurricanes. Not dramatically, but they'll increase. Which means more hysteria from the true believers, and more real talk from John Fischer of In Lou We Trust:
Most of the simulations require the Devils to win at least 17 of their next 26 games - and even then it's not a guaranteed trip to the postseason. Sports Club Stats has the Devils more likely to finish where they are in the Eastern Conference. Basically, I don't believe the Devils will make the playoffs - it's that unlikely to happen. Therefore, they should look to sell at the trade deadline
One of the players they'd sell, in theory, is Jason Arnott(notes), who is in the last year of his contract and has a no-trade clause. Which makes him the canary-in-the-coalmine on the Devils' faint postseason push: He wants to play for a Cup contender, so if he asks out of Jersey then stick a fork in them, right? From Fire & Ice:
"We've still got a long way to go and I think it will be a little more clear more towards the deadline," [Arnott] told me today. "If we win every game from now until the deadline, it's going to be a real tough decision because then I've got to gamble on whether we're going to win out, win the rest of the season or try to get on a playoff team. As it gets closer, it will become more clear and we'll see what we do."
"We've talked a little bit about it," Arnott said. "For the most part, he's been great about things. When it comes down to it, it's my decision ultimately. He never approached me and asked me (to waive it). I think we both knew the time would probably come if we didn't start winning. That was my goal. I want to play in the playoffs. I don't have many years left, so I want to try to win another Stanley Cup. I think he'd be gracious enough to move me to a team that has a chance. But it's a hard situation now."
It sure is. So the Devils will bring it down to, like, eight points, keep Arnott, and Lou Lamoriello will be content that the roster he built last summer would have been good enough to qualify for the postseason had conditions been different in the first half.
Which means there's a better chance that the Devils will sign Pat Verbeek and Bruce Driver this summer than begin reloading with young players.