Not so long ago, the New Jersey Devils were an annual lock to make the playoffs come season's end.
With a Hall of Fame netminder, a plethora of defensive legends and a defensive scheme that kept the puck out of their net, the Devils were a constant powerhouse in the Eastern Conference for more than a decade that saw the organization win three Stanley Cup Championships in eight years.
Since 1994, the question for all Devils fans has not been whether or not the Devils would make the postseason dance. No, for years the questions have been: What would the Devils’ seed be and how far would their playoff run go?
In retrospect, after examining teams that constantly crushed the hopes of their faithful for decades such as the Vancouver Canucks or Philadelphia Flyers, this naive attitude wired into the hearts and minds of Devils fans everywhere seems both arrogant and ignorant, but could anyone really blame them for having the utmost confidence in their team after years of defined success?
It always seemed as though general manager Lou Lamoriello kept the prospect pool deep and fully loaded with young talent as players from college, Europe and free agency occupied the ranks of the legendary Devils championship squads.
Fans were spoiled, never having to worry about if their team would be able to compete or have the personnel to dominate the Atlantic Division.
Times have changed.
Now, Devils fans are wrestling with feelings of disconcertion and nervousness; relatively uncharted territory after having missed the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons last year.
The somber feelings of uncertainty are justified as an aging Martin Brodeur is slowing down and team leaders, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias are either dealing with complicated contract situations, nearing the ends of their tenure in the league or simply not producing at the level that it is expected of them in a proud organization.
These facts, coupled with the unfortunate reality that the days of defensive domination in the Garden State have long since ceased to be, are cause for concern that is exponentially increased for a fanbase as accustomed to success and prestige as the Devils' faithful.
However, to all the Devils' supporters gazing over the ledge and writing off this team, stop it.
Just stop it. Have faith that this squad and the historically top-flight management of the organization know what they’re doing.
Are there issues that need to be addressed? Sure. But every team experiences its own myriad of issues and the Devils have been better than most at making their shortcomings seem less like shortcomings and more like advantages.
Fourth overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft, 19-year-old Adam Larsson has shown extreme defensive prowess, while fellow rookie Adam Henrique has helped to provide some much needed scoring on the front end. The return of first-line center Travis Zajac is imminent.
And if the last week or so is any indication of what the future holds for superstars Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, then they too will be just fine and more than capable of leading this team to playoff contention.
Give this young squad a chance to blossom before passing judgment. This team has showed great promise at numerous points during this season, but like most inexperienced teams, have had moments of bitter disappointment as well. Keep the faith and believe that, as this team plays more and more games together, all of the pieces will fall into place and the short glimpses of chemistry that we have seen thus far will only grow stronger as time passes.
In the scheme of things, a rough patch at this point in the season is nothing more than a rut in the long road to the postseason. This is your team, like it or not, and it has given plenty of reasons for the faithful to believe that brighter days lay ahead.