If anything, that PROVES that geography is a huge part of the problem. The Devils were that last team into the area. It's going to be hardest for them to get fans. Usually, you follow the team that your older relatives did. Add to that, it's the least popular sport when it comes to main stream media. The reason a trash team like the Rags from 1998-2005 were more popular than the Devils was because their fanbase had been ingrained here for generations. Plus main stream NY media rarely pays attention to hockey, but when it does, it thinks 1994 was last Thursday.
Here's a post I made in the McMullen thread...not only does it illustrate what the Devils were up against in 1982, but it shows that even though McMullen deserves kudos for being the guy who brought NHL hockey to NJ (doesn't matter if he's likable or not), he clearly wasn't the right guy to try to make inroads into the established fanbases of the Rangers, Islanders, and Flyers:
In bold: I think this is what McMullen deserves the most criticism for [poor marketing strategy or lack thereof], though I think he and Lou are a two-headed monster on this one. Not only was his team moving into an incredibly crowded hockey market as it was, but look at the teams: one was the very best team in the NHL at the time in the Islanders, another had a strong multi-generational fan base in the Rangers, and a third, the Flyers, had already enjoyed success with two Stanley Cups, and had pretty much nabbed whatever hockey fans there were in South Jersey as their own. McMullen needed to be as proactive and aggressive as possible in trying to dig into those fanbases, as well as attempting to reel in the casual fans who maybe thought the NHL was kind of cool, but hadn't committed to a team yet. This was especially crucial since the on-ice product he was bringing to NJ was clearly not going to be any good for some time. He seemed to think having a team with "New Jersey" in front of its nickname would take care of everything, and that fans would automatically show up because, hey, this team plays in New Jersey!
The team was the "best kept secret" in the NHL for far too long when McMullen was the owner, except when, of course, the Devils' success and the way they went about it put them on the map as hockey killers and sleep inducers in the eyes of the masses. It would be interesting to see where the Devils might be today, from a fan standpoint, if McMullen had some of Vanderbeek's more personable and creative personality traits.
And yeah, it doesn't help that that the Devils moved into a market that was already well-spoken for, as far as major league sports go.
I think the one guy who could've made a huge difference in the long run for the Devils would've been Mario Lemieux, if McMullen had said "fvck it" in 1983, and decided not to try to get the team to start playing better out of pride. The Devils had clearly had some good players back in the 80s, but a guy like Lemieux would've given them that all-time, all-century talent that would've given the Devils instant attention...even though the team would still have been bad for awhile, suddenly one of the two best players in the NHL would be a New Jersey Devil. I've often wondered how an alternate Lemieux/Devils timeline would've worked out, on a number of different fronts.