Ilya, he did everything right, he played this ridiculous game of pretend-the-sh!tty-franchise-isn’t-sh!tty for eight years. The Thrashers told him to jump, and he said how high? The Thrashers kicked him in the balls, and he said yes, sir, may I have another? They told him to purge his teenage game of its reckless elbows and retaliatory charges, and he did. They told him to try to improve his defense, and he did. When they benched him, he worked harder. When they called him out, he proved himself. When they put the C on him, he embraced the responsibility. While the franchise around him explored every possible permutation of dismal failure and every known variety of disappointing collapse, while the Good Canadian Boy who’d won the Calder over him in their mutual rookie season brought down horror and scandal on the team, Ilya mounted solid season upon solid season, never playing less than 78 games, never scoring less than 68 points. Despite the language barrier, despite the criticisms of his defense and his work ethic, despite the helpless hopeless franchise he had to drag around like the Stone of Shame, he did everything right.
And what did he get for it? Four games of playoffs in seven seasons? He could have done everything right on that team for another eight years, and another eight after that, and never won. [N.B.: By this, I mean the Thrashers who are now dead and gone. I do not, like most, consider the new Jets to be the same team, so don't consider this to be a dire prognostication for the future of Winnipeg.] He could have gone into retirement stamped as just another skilled guy who didn’t know how to win, had he had the foolishness or sentimentality to sign long-term with such a team.
Sport's Least-known All-time Great
Brodeur has spent his entire career outside the limelight. That comes with the territory of playing in the NHL, the least popular of the four major U.S. sports leagues, and playing for the Devils, who lack the following of their rivals across the Hudson River, the New York Rangers. The Devils, despite their continued success, are rarely picked for national TV games.
That doesn't diminish what he could accomplish this spring. When Brodeur won his first Stanley Cup, he was just 23. Now, if the Devils continue their hot streak through the playoffs, he could win his fourth at 40. That would be a 17-year gap between his first title and his last one. There aren't many athletes who can match that, but two who did -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Babe Ruth -- are recognized amongst the greatest in sports history.
Kings GM Lombardi feels indebted to pair of mentors
Lamoriello invited Lombardi into his office in New Jersey and proceeded to unload all of his trade secrets on the young, brash, bold and quick-thinking new member of the NHL's fraternity of general managers.
"I'll never forget him taking me into his office, missing his own team bus, and putting up his organizational chart and explaining to me how an organization has to have structure if it is going to succeed," said Lombardi, now in his sixth season as the Kings' GM. "He gave me his blueprint. It was amazing. He wasn't even talking about his team, he was talking about his organization. But his point was if you're going to have a winning culture, this has to be in order. I still have the files, the quotes he gave me."
The lovable New Jersey Devils? You bet
Let’s face it, the Devils may have been the least popular team in this country over the decade between when they won their first Stanley Cup (1995) and their last (2003), as they became the face of the neutral zone trap and the Dead Puck Era.
(What many overlook is how high scoring some of those New Jersey teams really were. They had the second most goals in the league in 1998-99 and 1999-00 and then led the league a year later.)
Stylistically, they’ve changed considerably under DeBoer, but perceptions for franchises are often very hard to shake.
To many, the Devils are still this no-nonsense, Scott Stevens led defensive squad that celebrated its three Cup wins in the parking lot -- even though they’re now full of personality, led by Parise (who talked at length after Game 2 about how DeBoer pushes them to be aggressive in the offensive zone) and have a beautiful new rink that has a read-and-black pavilion out front to potentially parade around in.
Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk seeing happier side of life
“Last year I was by myself,” says Kovalchuk, in a red Devils T-shirt over a grey long-sleeve, still soaked with sweat from practice. “It was different. When you’re missing [your family], and especially when you’re not winning. The family, when you come back home after a loss, and you play with your kids, you change your mind in different ways. It helps a lot. But last year it was different; you come back to hotel by yourself, think about hockey, hockey, and it makes you crazy. I am a family guy. That’s the number one thing for me.”
So on every off-day, about once a week, he would rise early and fly to Miami, spend the day with his family, and then fly back to New Jersey for more of the same. And when it was over he had, on the balance, the least productive and least happy season of his career.
Edited by devilsrule33, 18 May 2012 - 06:50 PM.