2012-2013 Lockout: A Blessing in Disguise for the Devils?
By Mike Luciano (@MikeLuci)
In the wake of recent news of talks between the NHL and NHLPA on structuring a new CBA, the possibility of the 2012-2013 season being cancelled has become much more realistic.
I could write yet another piece about the details of what was proposed by the league, but that, along with my thoughts on the matter, is just another shade of gray.
I’m a Devils writer for the Hockey Guys and my sole priority is to write articles with a focus on the team I cover. With that said, I’ve decided to speculate how a potential lockout could affect the Devils.
The last thing anybody wants is a lockout to cancel another NHL season. It would set back everything the NHL has achieved over the past seven years, including the mounting interest in the game. It would also give other sports the opportunity to capitalize on the vacant time slots the NHL would normally have during the season. A cancelled season wouldn’t bode well for players in the twilight of their careers like Martin Brodeur and Teemu Selanne.
But a lockout could harbor some hidden benefits for this Devils team that’s still shaken up after seeing Zach Parise, their most coveted homegrown player, depart via free agency.
One of the biggest factors that allegedly contributed to Parise’s departure was the uncertainty of the financial state of the organization’s ownership. Despite an ongoing campaign of reassurance from Devils ownership and general manager Lou Lamoriello, reports have continued to surface describing the doomsday-like state of the team’s financial status.
As it stands now, the Devils are going into the coming season with budgetary restrictions in place. But Lou Lamoriello said something when he hired current head coach Pete DeBoer that led to this revelation of the lockout’s potential benefits to this team: “When time is on your side, you use it.”
Keep in mind this piece is based off exploring the potential benefits for the Devils resulting from the worst possible scenario, a season-long holdout.
A lockout could give Devils owner Jeffery Vanderbeek a comfortable grace period to stabilize or even indemnify his current struggles. If this extra time shows he’s incapable of properly maintaining his role as a team owner, Vanderbeek would have until next spring to find a suitable buyer (unless the league confiscated the team first).
Considering the Devils’ ownership situation, one must wonder if the team could even survive a lockout, which could span the course of an entire season. They’ve only been settled in the Prudential Center for five seasons, and are coming off a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Finals, but one thing has nothing to do with the other.
A full year without revenue could lead to nightmarish outcomes, especially if the new CBA prohibits revenue sharing. A lockout strengthens the chances of a worst case scenario to unfold: relocation.
If relocation occurred, instinctive reactions of despair and outrage the Devils faithful would have over losing their team might overshadow the benefits of moving the team. Not only does it present the franchise with a chance of gaining stable ownership, but the organization would likely start anew in a more individualized market.
Since 1996, the Devils have made the playoffs every year but one. They have won three Stanley Cups out of five Stanley Cup Finals appearances since 1995, and have showcased some of the league’s most notable players, including Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur, and Ilya Kovalchuk. It’s inexcusable for their fan attendance to rank in the mid-to-low twenties every season, and to have home games against local rivals such as the Rangers and Flyers consisting of half (or more) of fans from the visiting team.
Yes, they play in the shadow of the region’s big markets such as the Rangers, Flyers, and arguably the Penguins, and are smack dab in the middle of a Tri-State fan base that’s divided among as many as four or five NHL teams. This should raise awareness that this section of the country has an overabundance of NHL franchises. It raises question whether the existence of the Devils, and even the Islanders, is justified when the region predominantly consists of Rangers and Flyers fans.
Considering the competitive nature of the team, the Devils would make an ideal candidate for relocation because they could vie for playoff contention during their inaugural season. Along with stable ownership, this would make an admirable first year success story.
More likely, a lockout would put the team on hiatus until the league gave the green light for general managers to start making moves again. Although a few notable names have already come off the list of the 2013 unrestricted free agent class, it still promises to be much deeper than this offseason’s class. The notable 2013 UFA Devils are Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Marek Zidlicky, David Clarkson, and Danius Zubrus.
Considering the departure of Zach Parise, the time between now and the projected start of the coming season, as well as the 2013 offseason (if the 2012-2013 season were to be cancelled) should enable Lamoriello to address the Parise setback, and to create a different-looking Devils team for the 2013-2014 season.
It’s virtually impossible to predict what Lamoriello would do in this or any situation, which restricts our projections to speculation. Lamoriello would have plenty of flexibility with cap space, and more options in 2013 compared to what’s available on this year’s market. As painful as it would be to go a whole winter without hockey, Lamoriello would have the opportunity to ice a competitive team when hockey resumed, only remotely affected by losses endured during this offseason.