I haven't posted one of these in a while so I hope I'm not too rusty. You can follow me @MiikeLuci. I'll try to follow back.
Remember when the Devils started the season 3-0 and the fan's biggest concerns were Larsson not starting the season in the lineup? Well twenty-three games and sixteen losses later, New Jersey's season has made a complete one eighty. The've endured an onslaught of reoccurring problems ranging from injuries and offensive inconsistence, to routinely relying on a core of seasoned but aging players, whose inability to keep up with the speed of today's game, is reflected by the number of lazy penalties they've taken thus far, enough to make the Devils the second-most penalized team in the league.
Long gone are the glory days when the Devils were perennial playoff contenders. Perhaps one of the most unnecessarily overemphasized aspects of those years that I hear Devils fans somewhat desperately clinging onto the memory of, was how it overlapped with the seven year playoff drought that the team across the river went through.
The Devils certainly waged an era of local superiority in the Tristate area, whose success we took for granted. The tables have certainly been turning over the years.
As triumphant as the Devils were over the Rangers from the stretch of the late-nineties to the mid-00's, you would think the Devils would be smart enough to learn from their adversaries' mistakes. The underlying attributes that factored into New York's seven year postseason layoff are just as similar to what's going on in New Jersey as they are different.
After guiding the Rangers to an Eastern Conference Final playoff run in 1997, captain Mark Messier parted ways via free agency. Not only did the Rangers lose the heart of their team, but couldn't replenish Messier's instrumental role in the Ranger's offense. Although the Rangers got 150 more points out of Wayne Gretzky in his final two seasons with the team, it wasn't enough to get the Rangers back into the playoffs.
The Rangers, who tallied 258 goals in 96-97, couldn't break 220 for the next three seasons (remember this was a different era in hockey), getting 197 in 97-98, and 217 and 218, respectively, in the 98-99 and 99-00 seasons. Although the Rangers missed the playoffs by relatively wide margins during that year, it leaves a lot to be desired if they had someone to account for those 40 or 50 goals they had on their last playoff squad, whether it was someone to actually score them, or make the plays that led to them, both of which Messier was capable of doing.
Fast forward to 2012, when Zach Parise walked to play for the Wild. Devils fans hate admitting our team's playoff dry spell has been a devastating ramification of Parise's departure. The Devils finished the 2011-2012 season with 228 goals scored (which is a lot for the Devils nowadays). The following season, they scored 112 goals in 48 games, which equates to 191 goals in an 82-game season. Last year, after they lost their final franchise-caliber forward in Ilya Kovalchuk the previous summer, they scored only 197 goals and after last night's win, the Devils have 63 goals after 26 games, putting them on pace to score about 198 for the rest of the season if things keep panning out this way.
Take this into consideration too...
The 1996-1997 New York Rangers had 6 (technically 7 but Alexei Kovalev was out the entire 1997 playoffs) skaters (excluding goalies) that were on their 1994 Stanley Cup winning team. By the 99-00 season, only two players remained (although players like Kovalev and Messier made eventual returns down the road). Now what's interesting about the roster the Rangers iced during their 1997 playoff run is how quickly it was dismantled amidst the early years of the Ranger's lengthy playoff absence. Of the 24 or so players that participated in the Ranger's 1997 playoff run, only 12 were with the team the following year. In 98-99, only 6 players finished the year with the team. By 99-00, there were only 3.
Of the Devil's 21 players that participated in their run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, 19 returned to the team the following season. After 13-14, that number was trimmed down to 15. Presently, there are 12 (still more than half) of the original 11-12 playoff roster. It's also worth noting that Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez are the only two Devils skaters that ever won the Stanley Cup with the team.
Another riveting statistic to compare about these two teams through the first three seasons of their respective playoff droughts are player ages. The 96-97 Rangers, contained 12 players on their playoff roster that were older than 32 by the end of the 96-97 season. In 97-98, that number was cut to 9 and dropped to 7 the following season, before going back up to 9 in 99-00.
The Devils, who are earning a solid reputation as a graveyard for over the hill veterans, weren't always like that. In 11-12, their playoff roster carried 8 players that were 32 or older by the end of the 11-12 season. The following year, that number went up to 9. Ironically, the Devils had the fewest number of players that were 32 or older by the end of the season at 6. As things presently stand, that number has more than doubled as the Devils currently carry 13 players that will be 32 or older by season's end.
At first glance it might appear that the only correlation between these two teams during these respective eras in their histories is that both teams suffered the losses of their two best offensive talents in a cripplingly short period of time, and in both cases, severely stifled the offensive productions of both teams, enough to keep them exiled from the playoffs.
I used the respective times from '97-'00 for the Rangers and '12-'15 for the Devils because each span covers three years since each team's last playoff appearance before undergoing these similar circumstances. Obviously both teams lost more than just scoring, factoring even more in their mishaps, but teams lose franchise-caliber talents all the time and react differently.
At first glance it seems like both teams went in complete opposite directions on everything else I compared. The Rangers trimmed the older players from their roster (quantity-wise), while the Devils have added more. The Rangers continually made modifications to their roster since 1997, none of which could get them into the playoffs again until 2006. The Devils have made mild to moderate roster altercations since 2012 but the majority of the players that were on New Jersey's last playoff squad are still around, unable to replicate that had success from two, going on three seasons ago.
The commonality here is that both teams, despite taking different approaches on filling the offensive and leadership voids left by losing the heart and backbones of their offenses and coming up short in consecutive seasons, is that despite it being two different eras in hockey, both teams committed to the same general approach when comprising their rosters that yielded the same result.
It's the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result every time.