NHL Lockout: 6 Teams New Jersey Devils Fans Should Follow for Their Sports Fix
The New Jersey Devils have not played an NHL game since getting embarrassed in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup in June. One month later, captain Zach Parise left for the Minnesota Wild. For Devils fans, it has been a rough few months after the glorious elation of the team’s Conference Final victory over their bitter rivals, the New York Rangers.
Devils fans want nothing more than to see their team play again; however, it looks as if there will not be any NHL hockey until 2013 as the NHL lockout remains steadfast.
So how does a diehard Devils fan get his or her sports fix?
To help bide the time, I have scientifically researched all sports teams in the world to provide you with a list of six teams (from four sports) to follow during the prolonged offseason.
Hockey: The Albany Devils (AHL)
The most obvious choice to fill the void left by Devils NHL hockey is Devils AHL hockey.
Watching Albany will give listless Devils fans the opportunity to watch their favorite NHL regulars—such as Calder Trophy finalist Adam Henrique and future franchise defenseman Adam Larsson—as well as hot prospects that may eventually impact the NHL team—such as the speedy Mattias Tedenby and the punishing Alexander Urbom.
With identical colors, jerseys and rival organizations (the Connecticut Whale, Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Adirondack Phantoms are farm clubs of the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, respectively) as their big-league counterpart, the Albany Devils will be an easy follow.
To help with your transition to the AHL, featured Bleacher Report columnist Joseph Kuchie wrote a guide on the top five Albany Devils games to see this season, and I wrote an article on the nine Devils players to watch in the AHL.
Hockey: SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL)
Similar to Albany, SKA Saint Petersburg provides Devils fans with the chance to see a few familiar faces.
The key figure for Devils fans in Saint Petersburg is beloved winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who is tearing it up in the premier Russian hockey league with 24 points in 15 games.
Devils fans will also recognize ex-Rangers Petr Prucha and Dmitri Kalinin as well as ex-Flyers goalie—and current Blue Jacket—Sergei Bobrovsky. Ex-NHL star Maxim Afinogenov and 2008 training camp tryout Fedor Fedorov also lace up for SKA.
SKA Saint Petersburg may not have the same star-studded roster of your average NHL team, but the Russian club gives Devils fans their only opportunity to watch the team’s best player prove why he was given a $100 million contract.
Hockey: University of Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
Watching University of Michigan will keep Devils fan informed of the team’s future—a future led by stud defensive prospect Jon Merrill.
Entering his junior year, Merrill is coming in as Michigan’s star defenseman. Merrill scored 11 points in 19 games during last year’s suspension-shortened season and had 25 points in 42 games during his freshman year.
As reported by Tom Gulitti, Merrill is out with fractured vertebrae. On his return, he will be expected to lead the Wolverines defense in what will most likely be his last year of college hockey.
University of Michigan also has strong Devils ties, giving the team John Madden and Brendan Morrison in years past. Michigan was also where Albany Devils Brandon Burlon and David Wohlberg played their college hockey.
Football: New York Giants (NFL)
The defending Super Bowl Champions are the go-to NFL team for Devils fans.
The Giants play at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, just yards from where the Devils won three Stanley Cups. Similarly, New Jersey legend Bruce Springsteen has played the Giants’ home stadium many times—supported by Devils fan and drummer Max Weinberg—and his song “Glory Days” is a Devils victory standard.
The New York Jets also share these similarities with the Devils; however, the Giants' on-field success and ethos are more similar to that of the Devils.
Like the Devils, the G-Men are known for having a strong defense. Both franchises have had recent success as the Giants have won two Vince Lombardi trophies since 2007, and the Devils have been in four Stanley Cup finals (two victories) since 2000.
The Giants, unlike the Jets, have a heated rivalry with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Devils fans will gain satisfaction in seeing the Giants beat the football brothers of the hated Flyers.
Basketball: San Antonio Spurs (NBA)
Many NHL fans swear off the NBA, but with the lockout, the NBA is the only option for Devils fans who miss 82-game seasons and the sweet smell of arena sports.
Unfortunately, the local NBA teams will not do for Devils fans.
The Brooklyn Nets have spurred New Jersey for the bright lights of New York City’s most populated borough, and proud New Jerseyans will refuse to follow these traitors to New York.
The Knicks share too many similarities with the New York Rangers for Devils fans to seriously consider following. Not only do the Knicks share the same city and arena as the Rangers, but the two teams also share the same owner—James Dolan. A successful Knicks team would help ice a successful Rangers club, and this will not do for Devils fans.
In order for Devils fans to watch the NBA, they need to pick a team outside of the local market. A team that has had similar success. A team led by a homegrown future Hall of Famer as beloved as Martin Brodeur. A team that never gets the respect they deserve. A team that has won championships playing a “boring” style of play. A team like the San Antonio Spurs.
Yes, Tim Duncan and the Spurs would be the perfect tonic for Devils fans who want to watch the NBA. The Spurs and Devils are both hardworking teams that do not receive the appropriate respect, and Devils fans will love the chip-on-the-shoulder mentality this breeds.
Soccer: Chelsea Football Club (EPL)
For Devils fans looking to get into "the beautiful game," look no further than Chelsea.
Having just won the UEFA Champions League and currently sitting first in the English Premier League standings, Chelsea is guaranteed to put up an entertaining fight for the title.
Both the Devils and Chelsea have a well-earned reputation for defensive play. Even so, both franchises have been transitioning to a high-octane offense under young coaches—coach Peter DeBoer for the Devils and manager Roberto Di Matteo for Chelsea. Similarly, both franchises are notorious for a never-ending coaching carousel.
Chelsea lost their Zach Parise during the transfer market as star striker Didier Drogba left for Shanghai. Despite these blows, both teams have seen an influx of valuable youngsters. Whereas the Devils have Henrique and Larsson, the Blues have Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard and Brazilian football Oscar—players that promise to be the future cornerstones of the two teams.
Both teams famously acquired high-profile forwards in recent years—Kovalchuk to the Devils in 2010 and Fernando Torres to Chelsea in 2011. Both forwards were stars before their transfers, but were met with harsh criticism from fans.
Kovalchuk has since recovered, leading the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals with his all-star play. Torres had a miserable start with Chelsea, scoring seven goals in his first 46 games. The Spaniard has four goals in nine games this year, and if he can continue scoring, he will follow Kovalchuk’s lead in converting skeptical fans.