Being good, dutiful Devils fans we hate superstars. We booed Mario, we booed Wayne, we booed Messier, we booed ‘em all! Even though the Mikey Mouse fiasco was before our time, it still seemed like our right as Devils fans to be above the superstar thing. But then something strange happened: the NHL went away for a year and when it came back it was “The New NHL”. This New NHL offered Devils fans all kinds of surprise benefits. A 48-goal season from Brian Gionta. A Marty Brodeur who could prove his success wasn’t all about the Devs’ D. A ridiculous winning streak to close out the season, snatch the division title from the Rangers and the Flyers, and prove all the Devil haters wrong. But an even bigger surprise was looming as well — superstars we could love.
By all accounts, we should hate Sidney Crosby with the passion of a thousand suns. All that hype, all those giant endorsement deals, all those times we had to sit through “Honey, why is Sidney Crosby in our shower?” We should hate Alex Ovechkin for his one-sided play, his obnoxious apres-goal routines, his potato-chip commercial. We should loathe the run-and-gun Buffalo Sabres for the hockey media praising them for being everything the Devils aren’t (and never stopping to point out that the Devils have had a better record for all but the first month of the season). But a year without hockey did something strange to the cold, empty spaces in our chests where our hearts should be. Instead of lumps of coal, hardened by years of cheering for (dare we say it) interchangeable parts, we now had little piles of pumice, pervious to the charms of Sid Crosby’s highlight reel plays, Alex Ovechkin’s over-the-top goal celebrations, and the entire high-flying line-up of the Buffalo Sabres.
Is this something we should be concerned about? Have we gone soft not just in our hearts, but also in our heads? We can remember years when, after the Devils crashed and burned, we turned away from what was left of the playoffs while spouting bitter torrents of bile against the perceived heinousness of the rest of the hockey world. We were hard, mean and difficult to please, and we liked it that way. But this new NHL… there’s something undeniably pleasant about it. We’ve put our DVRs and Center Ice package through their paces this year, recording hundreds of hours of Penguins, Sabres, Capitals, even Hurricanes (it’s a Mike Commodore thing…) games. And as much as it pains us to say it, there are teams that are not the Devils that we actually — gulp! — like. We’ve had ample opportunity this year to prove to ourselves that when pitted against each other, our loyalties always, always, always lie with the Devs. But faced with the almost certain early-round demise of this year’s playoff hopes and dreams (thanks Forechecker for pointing out how deadly getting the #5 seed is) can it be anything other than a good thing that we’re looking forward to seeing how much Sid and his Sidguins can overachieve, or that we’re actively hoping Ryan Miller can prove the Sabres fans wrong that it was bad idea to let Biron go, or that we spent the summer telling ourselves Mike Commodore was more deserving of the Conn Smythe than Cam “One Season Wonder” Ward?
While discussing this strange new affinity for players and teams other than our very own Devils, Schnookie began by saying “It’s this new NHL. It’s not….” and the only word she could think of to finish her thought was “poop”. And Pookie had to agree with her. Will this new it’s-not-poop NHL love continue if the Devils are somehow single-handedly slayed by Sid Crosby and his mad “aren’t I special I can split 5 guys and score while falling down” skillz? Well, we weren’t vomiting in our mouths while watching the Hurricanes skate with the Cup last spring, so it’s a safe bet to say yes. Back in the Golden Age of being new fans we watched every game we could. We had players on other teams we loved, we had teams we followed avidly, we could survive the nights between Devils games. But as the years wore on, our hockey world-view shrank until the point came when we didn’t even bother watching the 2004 playoffs after the Devils bowed out with nary a whimper. This New NHL is like a hockey Renaissance for us. Bring on the hype! Bring on the Sid and Ovie commercials! Bring on the run-and-gun ‘Slugs! As Mike Commodore said of his day with the Stanley Cup, “Game. On.”