Tomorrow morning is Locker Clean Out Day for the 2007-2008 New Jersey Devils, which means there will be much exchanging of memorabilia, plenty of signing of team pictures, and many teary “we’ll be BFFs forever!” goodbyes. In short, it will be like the last day of sleep-away summer camp. (We think. We’ve never actually been to Locker Clean Out Day. Or sleep-away summer camp.) And so tonight is the last night at Camp Firewood, so to speak, so there is supposed to be a gala talent show. Unfortunately, over the last couple of weeks we’ve noticed a distinct lack of talent among our little Devils sleep-away campers, so they’ve lost their talent show privileges. So in lieu of fun and laughs, we are going to take the stage as camp directors and hand out a bunch of merit badges. It’ll be as much fun for them as the last month of watching them play hockey was for us.
Merit Badge For Exceeding Impossibly High Expectations
Marty Brodeur already has a sash groaning under the weight of about 10 of these badges, but this year we’re giving it to Paulie. Oh, sure, no one else probably had impossibly high expectations of him, but PaulieMartinNation sure did. And after spending a frighteningly long portion of last year playing under his superhero alter ego “Putrid Paulie”, there was a very good chance he wouldn’t be the #1 guy we were counting on him being. But in the end, he surprised even those of us who thought the world of him. Sure, he’s comically got no finish, but the fact is that somewhere along the way this year, the d-corps stopped being led by Colin White and instead started answering to Paulie. He turned Johnny Oduya into a stalwart (in as much as any Devils defenseman could be considered one), he became the go-to puck-carrier with mad defender-eluding skills, and he thrilled us shift after shift with his death-defying Houdini escape-artist act. And above all else, he didn’t embarrass us for proclaiming so publicly and so often that he was our favorite.
Merit Badge for Breakout Season
Johnny Oduya surprised us more than anyone else in terms of having a good season (one Travis Zajac surprised us more, but not in a good way; more on that later). After last year’s depressing showing in the post-season we weren’t thrilled to see him make the cut to stay on the big team this year. However, as soon as he got paired with Paulie, he took off and never looked back, as if the second half of the season was just, oh say, the entire Carolina Hurricanes line-up standing listlessly in front of their goal.
Merit Badge for Falling so Far so Fast
Dude, what happened to Travis this season? And more than that, what happened to Langer? Trying to figure out which guy contributed more to the other’s great season last year, and whose consequent collapse precipitated the other’s failure, is a total chicken-and-the-egg thing. Just when we’re about to blame Travis for falling off the face of the planet, we remember that he was producing hugely on the Poppers line last year with a functional Langer, so maybe it’s not all his fault? Of course, then we think that Langer’s career-best goal total from last year was maybe prompted by playing with a functional Travis, so his pathetic showing this year maybe wasn’t entirely within his control? We don’t know. In the end, all that matters is that both guys sucked by comparison to what they accomplished a year ago, so they both earned this badge.
Wicked Awesome Badge
Jay Pandolfo is used to studiously sewing this one to his badge sash at the end of every season, but this year we’re handing it to Mike “Applemotherfuckingsauce” Mottau. As Chief Priestess of PandoNation, Schnookie refused for a large portion of the season to admit that Mottau could out “pahk the cahr in Boston yahd” Pando with one vocal cord tied behind his back, but finally the truth had to be acknowledged. There’s a new sheriff in town, boys and girls!
Merit Badge for Half a Good Season, First Half
For the first three months of the season we kept finding ourselves spontaneously offering to have David Clarkson’s babies. Well thank God he didn’t take us up on the offer, because the last three months of the season were a bit of a disaster for him. He went from being a scrappy underdog with surprisingly good offensive instincts who was also unafraid to challenge guys twice his size to being a tired-looking, ineffectual, easily-knocked-off-the-puck nobody. But let’s not dwell on the negative, shall we? This is a merit badge to celebrate the good times!
Merit Badge for Half a Good Season, Second Half
It’s hard to say whether the last 10-15 games of the season qualifies as a “Half a Good Season”, but in Mike Rupp’s case those 10-15 games were surprising enough that we’ll give it to him. He spent a goodly portion of the first half on the outside looking in, but he won us over there in the stretch run when every other guy was sucking. Thanks, Rupper.
Merit Badge For Single-Handedly Dragging His Team Into The Playoffs
Marty Brodeur, come get your badge! Without Marty backstopping this team, those tickets we bought in October for the Good Ship Lottery Pick would still be redeemable.
Anyone who says he’s just a product of the “System” should watch a few games of this season to see how his superior abilities overcame a complete and utter lack of scoring and a nine-man defensive corps that boasted just 3 1/2 NHL-caliber players.
Easy Target Badge
Gentle Reader, you know we like to amuse ourselves with spinning tall tales and zany mythologies about our players, and there is no better inspiration for that impulse than Mr. Zachary Parise. He just walks right into the character of the spoiled, richie-rich coach’s pet who employs a turtle-of-affairs. And when the season drones on, and the team look less and less like one that’s capable of winning the Stanley Cup, a little humorous distraction like discussing what kind of health benefits a turtle-of-affairs might get is just what we need to keep going.
Badge for Outstanding Achievement in Failing to Grasp the Basic Tenet of Hockey That the Team with the Most Goals Wins
We’re not entirely sure whom to give this badge to, because we think the fact that the Devils were so thoroughly and consistently unprepared for play in the offensive zone, night in and night out (it was, in fact, the only consistent trait this team showed all year), should probably be the responsibility of one of the coaches. Now, we’re big into drinking the Kool Aid (or, to keep with the summer camp theme, Bug Juice), so we can’t pin this on Sutter. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t Jacques Caron’s fault. We don’t think Tommy Albelin does anything with the team other than be smoking hot. And Larry’s the defensive coach, and had to spend all his time trying to figure out how to drownproof Greene, Oduya (first-half), Vish-Dog, Rachunek, Brookbank, Salvador, et al. So we’re giving this bad boy to John MacLean. We think we’re beginning to understand why Lou keeps passing him over for the head coaching gig.
Merit Badge for Attention-Deficit Disorder
It’s the “everyone gets a badge” merit badge! All the Devils, from Lou all the way down, get this one, because it was an organization-wide problem this year that the team couldn’t play 60 minutes a night, and the team wasn’t able to show up for 82 games.
Merit Badge for Outstanding Achievement for Making the Season Bearable — 2nd Runner-Up
The masterminds behind “Chico Eats”. Thanks to Chico being willing to shovel all manner of arena food into his face while mugging for the camera, the start of the 3rd period became destination viewing. “Chico Eats” will be what we all remember from the inaugural season of the Prudential Center, be it Chico treating a 12-year-old’s birthday party to cookies, or walking to Newark Penn Station to get popcorn with Doc, or the classic dancing with Grace Sutter. (This is not to say that “Chico Eats”, in all its glitzy new-arena showiness could possibly overshadow the real star of FSNY (or MSG+ [aggrieved sigh]) — Chuck the Duck.)
Merit Badge for Outstanding Achievement for Making the Season Bearable — 1st Runner-Up
Lou Lamoriello for ensuring that the “new look” sweaters look as much like the “old look” sweaters as humanly possible. Coming into the 07-08 season the thing we worried about the most (other than the Rangers winning the Cup — thanks a lot, boys) was the reign of terror that the league-wide completely-redesigned slim-fit jerseys were sure to impose on the NHL. But aside from a few small glitches (the weird way Paulie pushes his sleeves up over his arm pads, the distracted constant tugging Langer does to his collar, and the lack of flowing drapery on Patty) we’re pleased as punch that for the most part, the Devils sweaters don’t contain new patches, color-blocks, or piping.
Merit Badge for Outstanding Achievement for Making the Season
You, Gentle Reader. This was our first full season blogging the Devils, and we cannot thank you enough for making Interchangeable Parts so much fun to write and participate in.