I can't really say much in defense of the Devils' performance this post-season other than that it was a microcosm of most of their regular season, which consisted of them being almost good enough to get the job done, but not quite. Their regular MO seemed to be:
- Dig an enormous hole.
- Climb almost all the way out of it.
They went 4-7 in October, then clawed back, spending much of the season at the top of their division. They lost that position, but had multiple chances to regain it in the waning weeks of the season. And they were almost good enough to do it...but not quite.
And again in the playoffs. They were almost good enough to beat the Rangers - three of the four losses included empty net goals, and the one that didn't was a 2-1 final that even the most die-hard Ranger fan would have to admit was decided by the officials. And they mounted a heroic (though admittedly flukey) comeback in Game 5. In each case, almost good enough, but not quite.
So that's that. The Rangers were the better team this year, and while that hurts to say, it can't really be disputed.
What can be disputed was that Sean Avery deserved a handshake out of all this.
Regular readers of this blog know Ritch to be a huge traditionalist and lover of the history of the sport. So as soon as I saw Marty and Avery skate past each other without shaking, I knew Ritch was going to flip. I mean, he was on record as looking forward to it, for God's sake.
But Ritch, you're wrong on this one.
First of all, watch the end of the game. They skated past EACH OTHER. It's not like Avery had his hand out and got it slapped away or ignored. During the media tongue-bath after the game, he was quick to point out that oh, of course, he would've shaken Marty's hand. And yet Avery's hand was not out. Shocking.
But that's a minor point, really. I submit that what is great about the tradition of the handshake is not the physical act itself, but the respect that it signifies for a hard-fought battle on the ice. If that respect is not earned or given, the handshake is meaningless. And I believe traditions should be more than empty gestures.
I think we all agree that playoff hockey is a battle, emotions run high, and so forth. But after a two-year campaign of trashing Marty in the media, running him over and playing innocent, and saying God knows what in his ear when they were face to face in a pile (though he probably didn't get the opportunity to haul out any of his racial or cancer material), what did Avery expect?
He reminds me of Karl Rove, in that his reputation is more impressive than the man himself. Both guys have above-average ability, but enjoy greater success than that ability merits simply because they're willing to sink lower than any opponent they face. Does it work? Obviously. Does it merit a handshake? Not a chance.
So I'll watch while the hockey media (with a few notable exceptions) continues to pile on Brodeur and the Devils, their favorite whipping boys. But I promise you it'll be a different story once Avery starts running Carey Price, or calling out Sidney Crosby for whining - and fans of the sport will start to wonder if they spent this week throwing the right guy under the bus.