We had been in the middle of a week-long series of looking back at this past regular season and trying to think of nice things to say, but today’s scheduled post, about the Oilers and the Blackhawks, has taken a backseat to current events. If you weren’t watching it, Gentle Reader, you probably felt the Earth shift on its axis last night as the winner of the latest cycle of America’s Next Top Model was announced. The crowning of Whitney as, well, America’s next top model was so shocking, so unwarranted, so wrong that we had to drop everything and compose a response. Today we bring you the only way we know how to put Whitney’s win into perspective — ANTM in Devils terms. We’re imagining what a cycle of “New Jersey’s Next Top Devil” would be like, if the prize was the Devils captaincy, and the winner was the Devils equivalent of Whitney.
Episode 1 24 Devils semifinalists arrive at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, hoping to be selected to the 12 finalists for the competition to be the Devils new captain. The NJNTD judges are there to put the boys through their paces: Head Coach and NJNTD executive producer Brent “Chairman” Sutter, noted talent scout David Conte, renowned General Manager Lou Lamoriello, and former top Devils Captain Scott Stevens. The editing allows us to meet captain wannabes Arron Asham, Vitaly Vishnevski, and David Clarkson, all of whom are on the bubble. The challenges, led by Assistant Coach and Challenge Coordinator John MacLean, are rudimentary skating leadership drills, designed to show off an understanding of easy-to-defend offensive schemes. All three bring a remarkable physical presence that the other semifinalists lack, but of the three who get a “getting to know you” edit, only Clarkson is named to the finalists. In tearful exit interviews, Asham and Vishnevski both vow that the Devils have not seen the last of them.
In a surprise Episode 1 twist, Chairman Sutter claims he is not able to cut the field down to 12, and has to break his own rules by adding a 13th finalist. The lucky baker’s dozen are: Clarkson, Johnny Oduya, John Madden, Paul Martin, Brian Gionta, Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias, Jay Pandolfo, Sergei Brylin, Travis Zajac, Colin White, Zach Parise, and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Episode 2 The boys move into the house, which is adorned with poster-sized photos of the Sutter brothers in their playing days. In this week’s challenge, the boys congregate in the Prudential Center classroom, where they are greeted by a professorial Assistant Coach Larry Robinson. They are tasked with explaining their captaining style, then are put through a training camp combine-style series of exercises to measure their physical strengths and weaknesses. John Madden wins the challenge, his hard-nosed approach to leadership matching well with his hard-nosed approach to overcoming his physical shortcomings. Dainius Zubrus and Zach Parise are the bottom two; Parise is singled out for not recognizing his own lack of speed, while Zubrus is criticized for having a small man’s captaining style in a big man’s body. Zubrus gets the ax.
Episode 3 The boys get a real treat this week when they get to work with Chairman Sutter himself on a challenge to determine how well each contestant interacts with his head coach. Zach Parise, who confessionals that he is desperate to make up for being in the bottom two the previous week, excels at this challenge, while the rest of the contestants all struggle. The two who struggle the most, though, are David Clarkson, who seems unable to understand the rules completely, and Johnny Oduya, whose blandness borders on flatlining. During judging panel, Chairman Sutter’s admonition of the bottom two is cut off by Jay Pandolfo, who volunteers that he doesn’t want to be in the competition anymore. Chairman Sutter is left spluttering as Pandolfo explains that there are plenty of guys in the world who want to be captain more than he does, because he knows he can lead by example just as well without a letter on his chest. He calmly walks out, returns to the house, packs his belongings, and goes home. But Chairman Sutter is not to be denied, and he cuts one of the bottom two despite the unexpected departure; Oduya’s lack of personality is considered a greater offense than Clarkson’s rawness, and he’s sent packing, too.
Episode 4 This week the boys get to work with Scott Stevens, who instructs them on the art of intimidating your opponents. The results are highly comical, as the likes of Patrik Elias, Sergei Brylin, and Zach Parise all look a lot more cuddly than they do scary. At panel, Colin White and David Clarkson are praised for their rough-and-tumble intimidation tactics, with White getting called first. The bottom two are Brylin, who is chastised for being too small, and Paul Martin, whose intensity is questioned by the judges. Despite their misgivings that Martin doesn’t want this enough (an assertion based on no visible evidence), the judges give Brylin the heave-ho.
Episode 5 John MacLean leads the boys this week in a drill to demonstrate how clutch each contestant can be with a game on the line. David Clarkson and Patrik Elias impress the judges with their ability to score timely goals with extra flair; Chairman Sutter sends mixed messages while praising them by saying that Devils aren’t about hot-dogging, but a good captain should be able to assert his own personality on a game or on the team. Elias gets called first, as the judges are utterly charmed by his ebullient personality and generous hugs. Paul Martin once again finds himself in the bottom two, and Sutter chides him that he’s not there on account of his lack of finish, but rather because the judges think he lacks personality. However, Martin is saved by Jamie Langenbrunner’s complete failure to score in any setting, clutch or otherwise, which is the basis for his getting the boot.
Episode 6 World-famous Starting Devils Goalie Marty Brodeur appears this week to teach the boys about planning social events for the team, as hosting holiday parties and dinners out on the road is a key role for Devils captains. John Madden impresses the judges with his back-to-basics organization of a trip to a local watering hole and a strip club, while dark horse Travis Zajac gets called first for his unorthodox yet surprisingly effective macrame party. The bottom two are Paul Martin, again being chastised for his apparent lack of personality (he also took the team to a local watering hole and a strip club), and Patrik Elias, who arranges a complex and festive series of outings to restaurants specializing in a wide array of exotic cuisines, then tops the whole shebang off with an All-Star Break cruise to the Galapagos Islands. Elias is criticized for having too much personality, and is cut.
Episode 7 MacLean leads the boys through the basic Superskill elements this week, in a challenge meant to drive home that a captain is most often his team’s most talented player. Brian Gionta, Zach Parise, and Paul Martin all tie with the highest scores, while David Clarkson and Colin White have the lowest. The judges decide that Parise was the most impressive of the three top scorers, with his always-evident work ethic, so he is called first. David Clarkson is called in the bottom two, as the judges think this week’s poor showing is especially glaring considering his previously strong efforts. Viewers are puzzled, as he has been serviceable, but hardly stellar on a consistent basis. The other in the bottom two is Paul Martin, who the judges refuse to believe has any personality despite his high scores. Martin protests that he has a strong record of leadership, particularly with young gophers, but Scott Stevens cuts him down by sniping, “You can either be a Devils captain or an airplane mechanic for young gophers.” Martin is shown the door.
Episode 8 This week the boys are challenged to demonstrate their versatility in the face of fluctuating ice time and rotating linemates. While all the boys struggle to a certain extent with this challenge, John Madden and his egotistical insistence that he is a third-line center with a top-line scorer’s touch gets called first. David Clarkson gets a stern talking-to when he’s the third-to-last guy called, and is warned by Chairman Sutter that the judges are worried he’s losing himself in this contest. The bottom two are Zach Parise, who shows a troubling inability to accept lower-line assignments while claiming, “As captain I have to be on the top line!”, and Travis Zajac, who just grows increasingly lost while moving from line to line. It comes as something of a mercy killing when Zajac is sent home.
Episode 9 Scott Stevens steps in again this week to instruct the boys in speech-making to a dressing room with a motley assortment of nationalities represented in it. Each contestant is given the challenge to memorize a scripted speech in English, Czech, and Russian for a players-only meeting. John Madden stuns everyone by delivering the speech flawlessly in all three variations, and gets called first again. The bottom two are David Clarkson, whose speeches are a wet mess as he lacks both focus and stamina, and Colin White, who blanks on the memorized words as soon as he gets in front of his teammates, and can’t read cue cards on account of his eye injury. White is shipped out.
Episode 10 World-renowned General Manager Lou Lamoriello makes the boys very nervous when he instructs them in this week’s challenge. Zach Parise explains that, since Mr. Lamoriello is the GM, he’s the judge they most need to impress. The challenge is to talk to the media as captain during a long losing streak. Brian Gionta is quite good at delivering somber platitudes to gathered reporters while leaning, shirtless, into his dressing room stall, but once again it’s John Madden getting called first on the strength of his forthright assessments of a team that’s coming up short. David Clarkson finds himself in the bottom two for the third time in four weeks, with the judges singling him out for his immaturity and the rambling nature of his answers. Zach Parise also disappoints the judges, who believe his approach to placating the media — insisting the team is playing well enough to win no matter how obviously they aren’t — smacks of his wanting this too much. It’s Parise who gets cut.
That sets up a season finale with the NJNTD Final Three of Brian Gionta, David Clarkson, and John Madden.
Episode 11 The first elimination challenge in the big finale is a net-crashing exercise overseen by Chairman Sutter himself. John Madden wins it in a romp, as David Clarkson appears to lack the physical strength this late in the season to fight his way to loose pucks in front of the net, while Brian Gionta remains, despite the nature of the drill, committed to playing on the perimeter. The judges worry that Clarkson has hit the wall hard, but are more concerned that Gionta seems to be afraid, so it’s Gionta who goes home.
The Final Two are John Madden and David Clarkson, and the deciding challenge is for each to take a full day at the helm as captain of the Devils. Madden’s team runs like a well-oiled machine, strong on defense, focused and alert on offense, and, most importantly, steeped with a one-for-all-and-all-for-one team mentality. Clarkson’s team disbands after just 45 minutes under his leadership. During the final panel, the judges rave about Madden’s qualifications, temperament, and overall body of work, but admire Clarkson for his youth. Chairman Sutter tells the two after deliberations that the decision was a difficult one, but he is clearly lying. And then, in a stunning turn, New Jersey’s Next Top Devil is revealed to be…
Yeah, it was that bad.