Letter-Writing Campaign

Cross-posting this here in the hopes some of you will add your voices. Deadline has been extended until tomorrow (Tuesday, August 2) and I might be able to make accommodations if you need an extra day or two.



The Tragic Demise of Hate

Devils fans hate the Rangers.

Aside from the Stanley Cups and the consistently fantastic goaltending and the general thrill of rooting for a team that almost always seems to outpace expectations, hating the Rangers is the best part of loving the Devils. It’s something we all share, something we know about each without ever needing to say it (although we do say it. We say it a lot, and at as high a volume as the situation allows). Hating the Rangers is our birthright and we enjoy it immensely.

Or, we did. I can’t speak for anyone else, but these days I just can’t hate my team’s biggest rival the way I used to.

The spark went out of my capricious hockey hate when I started leaning about all the hockey teams that have earned my disdain through legitimately loathsome behavior. The Los Angeles Kings tried to shield domestic abuser Slava Voynov from punishment at every turn, and continue to maintain ties with him. The Nashville Predators knowingly signed and promoted sex criminal Mike Ribeiro. The Chicago Blackhawks’ treatment of rape allegations against star forward Patrick Kane is well-documented and discouraging as hell. This list, of course, is nowhere near complete.

How am I supposed to wallow in glorious hatred of the Rangers, whose only notable crime is being a doted-upon area rival, when other teams harbor rapists and abusers? At a time when I’ve begun to hate the NHL itself for cause, how much passion can I spare for a franchise just trying to win hockey games.

I’m sure there are some nasty skeletons in the Rangers’ closet, and that someone will try to make a gift of them to me in the same way a cat drops a dead mouse at its owner’s feet. Please don’t. I don’t need another dead mouse. There’s no joy in hating a team for being an actual scourge on society.

People have also gleefully shoved the Devils’ skeletons in my face in an attempt to crush my passion on the topic of sexual assault and domestic violence in the NHL. That’s not going to work, either. Learning about my team’s transgressions made me sad and a little sick to my stomach, but it neither shamed me into silence nor obliterated my love for an organization that has brought me decades of joy. It lessened my joy, so kudos to the messengers for that, but it didn’t destroy the memories nor the excitement of what could be to come.

The irrational love, if somewhat diminished, still remains. Without the accompanying irrational hate, though, my fan experience feels incomplete. I might talk trash with a Rangers fan or take a little extra pleasure in seeing the Devils beat the guys in blue, but there are at least three non-conference teams I can’t bring myself to cheer for when they play against New York. Rivalry-wise, I’m going through the motions.

I want hockey players to stop assaulting women because I’m a decent human being and no more assaults would mean no more victims. I want the NHL and its teams to do something about abuse and abusers for the same reason, and also because it would help combat some of the entrenched sexism and misogyny currently festering in the league (and in most pro sports). There’s a long list of reasons why I want to see progress in this area, and most of them boil down to trying to make the world to be a better, safer, kinder place. But down at the bottom of that list, after all the noble causes and positive aspirations, is the desire to rekindle my wholesome hate.

I want to hate the Rangers again, lustily and with abandon. I want to revel in their failures and boo their stars. I want there to be no doubt whatsoever that if the Rangers made it to the Cup finals I would whole-heartedly root for the opponent, no matter who it may be.

I’ve lost that hating feeling. I just want it back.


No Fat Chicks

I guess I should start by making it crystal clear that I am disgusted by gay slurs and all anti-gay sentiments.

I had to get that out there because I’m not going to write in this post about the damage gay slurs and anti-gay sentiments cause. That’s been the headline in the aftermath of Cam Janssen’s nasty little radio interview, but enough people have weighed in on that already.

Full disclosure: I have not actually heard the interview with my own ears. By the time I first heard about this, the audio and video had already been taken down. But I have read quotes from the interview in enough places that I have every reason to believe they’re legitimate. Janssen’s ensuing apology also supports this belief.

Anyway, like I said, I’m going to forgo commenting on the homophobic comment and focus instead on the line that seems to bother nobody but me: “Damn fat broads, man … [The LA Kings are] the fat broads you just regret banging. I’ve been there and done that.”

I’ve spent more than my share of time in NHL locker rooms, and I am in no way shocked that this kind of crap gets tossed around when a room is soaked in testosterone and every male feels the need to prove he’s an alpha. And to an extent I guess that’s what was happening on the radio that day, too: Three guys who pride themselves on crudeness were closed up in a little room where the whole goal was to sound raw and real.

In fact, the bashing of women in general, and overweight women specifically, surprises me a lot less than the homophobic comments do. People are increasingly uncomfortable with gay slurs, and NHL players in particular have been made acutely aware of how harmful these words are (for more about this, Google Brendan Burke and check out the You Can Play site). The battle to extinguish homophobia is far from over, but at least it’s being fought in a very public way.

There has been some outcry about misogynistic language in sports, too, although not nearly as much. I get the sense that this is a case of people believing it’s more effective to fight one battle at a time, which might be true but makes it no less dispiriting to see women constantly pushed to the back of the queue as the sports community targets offensive language about race, then religion, then sexuality. If a professional athlete gets caught using slurs in any of those categories, he can expect a call from the league office and likely a fine. But “insult” a teammate or opponent by calling him by a woman’s name and most people laugh right along with you. Mike Milbury does it on TV all the time while commenting on hockey and I’ve never once heard the NHL express dismay over it. I can recall exactly one punishment doled out by the NHL in response to a misogynistic comment, and that was really more about the sexual innuendo implicit in the phrase “sloppy seconds” than the underlying sentiment that women are items to be used once and thrown away. Plus, it was Sean Avery, and pretty much everyone was itching to punish that guy for something.

So the sports world is mostly OK, but not completely OK, with guys like Janssen crowing about his skill at convincing “broads” to let him “bang” them, presumably in large numbers.   Make no mistake, though – the sports world is 100% on board with showing contempt for those “broads” based on their weight.

Weight is, after all, the ultimate measure of a woman’s suitability as a potential sexual partner. Macho men sleep not with women but with women’s bodies, and bedding a body that doesn’t look like the ones in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is nothing less than shameful. (That Sports Illustrated publishes a swimsuit edition is a patently scuzzy fact, but I digress.) It could go without saying the decision to have sex with any woman in possession of such a body must by definition be regrettable, but guys like Janssen feel the need to say it anyway, just in case.

The theory, of course, is that overweight people got that way through laziness and lack of self-control, and thus deserve ridicule. Let’s put aside the fact that in any given case this may well be a faulty assumption, and focus instead on people’s need to demean one another based on utterly harmless characteristics. What does another person’s weight have to do with you? About as much as that person’s race or sexuality does. Don’t find overweight women attractive? Don’t sleep with them. But if you do, through some cruel twist of fate, awaken next to one such woman one morning, just politely excuse yourself and go on with your life. There’s no need to broadcast how very humiliated you are over having had such and encounter (which clearly you’re not because – duh – if you were you wouldn’t broadcast it in the first place). And you surely have no cause to discuss the obvious shame of such a tryst in a highly public forum so as to guarantee that all women in earshot who feel unattractive due to their weight (which represents a much bigger segment of the population than you realize) are made absolutely certain that all they can ever be to you is a fleeting regret.

As a Devils fan I always liked Cam Janssen: He seemed like a humble, affable guy who was genuinely grateful to be playing hockey for a living. I don’t like him any more, and I won’t like him again even if he apologizes for his anti-gay comments in such a way that I actually believe he means it. I won’t like him again because I now know that he has no respect for me despite the fact that he does not know that I, specifically, exist. Not that he has any reason to care that I exist; he’s “been there done that” with fat broads already, so I’m of no use to him. That might not bother the overall sports world but it’s still hurtful to me, and in theory I know better than to care at all. Imagine how it feels to the plump 16-year-old hockey fan who just learned that she’s been cheering for a guy who finds her about as appealing as he finds losing a shot at the Stanley Cup.

Farewell, Zach

Zach Parise signed with the Minnesota Wild today, disappointing Devils fans (and fans of a few other teams) but doing nothing to elicit the kind of anger and bitterness that some seemed to experience. I heard New Jersey fans call Parise disloyal today, and that is just patently ludicrous. Parise’s choice to return to his home state, live closer to his and his fiance’s families and play alongside his close friend demonstrates absolute loyalty, especially when you consider that he clearly left money on the table to go to the Wild.

What bothers my fellow Devils fans is that Parise’s 7-year stint in New Jersey didn’t produce in him a strong enough loyalty to the team that drafted him. It’s silly. Parise did not choose the Devils in the first place; he was plunked down in New Jersey by powers beyond his control. Throughout his time here he was a humble, hard-working, team-first guy. He was named captain because he demonstrated all the qualities you would want a teamful of players to emulate. He didn’t whine or grouse or project anything but a mature, positive attitude toward pretty much everything that came his way (the stray questionable ref call notwithstanding). Devils fans loved him, and for good reason.

But then, this week, he committed the sin of taking an extra day or two to decide the direction he wanted the rest of his life to take. Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve become a prominent enough member of your profession to have all the top employers in the country falling over themselves to woo you. They’re all desperately trying to hand you more cash than you’ll ever be able to spend, so much money that the minor variations in amount are rendered all but meaningless. More importantly, you know that you will be making a long-term commitment to whichever organization you choose, and consequently to the city in which that organization is located. You and the person you’re set to marry have to decide where you want to raise the family you’re about to start. Do you decide that within hours of hearing each potential employer’s initial offer? This is no time to be impulsive or lazy in your thought process. Two days is far from an unreasonably long amount of time in which to make a life-altering choice, even if the extra 36 hours or so of mulling might inconvenience a bunch of strangers, or even a few colleagues.

Parise made a reasoned, thoughtful decision. And let’s be honest – had he come back to New Jersey, Devils fans would have instantly forgotten about the slight wait they endured before Parise made that commitment. Instead, though, some fans feel he was stringing them along, which demonstrates a disheartening level of egocentrism on their part. Worse still is the idea that New Jersey fans and the Devils organization somehow deserved a greater degree of loyalty from Parise than his own family did. Parise said today that the last two teams in the running for him were Minnesota and New Jersey. Basically, it was a choice between the only team he had ever played for and the place where he grew up and where his parents still live. How could anyone view his choice of the latter over the former as a betrayal?

Many people across North America are snidely comparing Parise/Suter to James/Bosh/Wade, and that’s just as unfair (although I have no problem with James/Bosh/Wade, either. But that’s for another time). The big three players for the Heat collectively decided to form a superteam in Miami with the idea of establishing a dynasty there; Suter and Parise are friends who just wanted to play together. It’s hard to imagine that these two signings have rocketed the Wild – a non-playoff team since 2003 – into Dream Team territory. Parise wanted to play close to home and he wanted to play with his buddy. He had the ability to realize both of these desires, so he did. Given the same opportunity, who wouldn’t?

Scott Niedermayer made a very similar decision seven years ago, except it took him much longer to decide to play alongside his brother than it too Parise to decide to go home. In both cases the then-lifelong Devil said New Jersey was the runner-up, in both cases family won out over team colors and in both cases many Devils fans acted as though the departure was a slap in the face to them rather than an expression of preexisting love for someone else. I’m guessing those same fans have no problem with Stephane Matteau instantly becoming a Devils fan, team baseball cap and all, as soon as New Jersey drafted his son. The difference is that Matteau was a Ranger before his child was born, whereas Parise’s parents were at his side when the Devils called his name at the 2003 NHL draft. Is it really so unforgivable for a son to move toward his parents rather than the other way around?

This wasn’t about greed, spite or machiavellian scheming. This was all about loyalty – loyalty to the people who earned it long before the Devils entered Zach Parise’s life. I wish him and the Wild well and I hope that, after the initial sting of loss wears off, the rest of Devils nation will join me. He’s earned our admiration and appreciation. He’s earned our respect and understanding. He’s earned our loyalty.

A Tale of Two Free Agents

Given the choice, I’d take Martin Brodeur over Zach Parise.

It’s a terrible hockey decision. Brodeur is 40 and in decline while Parise is just shy of 28 and one of the top forwards in hockey. If I were looking at this from the perspective of any of the other 29 teams, it would be a no-brainer to take a decade of prime Parise and leave the last year or two of Brodeur’s career for someone else. From the perspective of the Devils, though, it’s also a no-brainer. Because while 29 other teams have the opportunity to get one or two years of stale Brodeur, the Devils stand to lose some measure of the Brodeur we’ve adored for 18 years.

Losing Parise would dim the team’s prospect of competing for the Cup next year, and maybe beyond, and nobody is excited about that. Devils fans really like Parise, and for good reason. He’s been a strong leader, a reliable point producer and, at any given moment, the hardest-working guy on the ice. Plus, it’s always fun to reminisce about that time the Devils stole him at #17 overall in the 2003 draft. We are very fond of Parise and we want him to stay, but if he doesn’t, our hearts will go on.

We aren’t merely fond of Brodeur. We’re in love with him, obsessed with him, devoted to him. He completes us. Brodeur has been a catalyst for all of the Devils’ greatest moments but one (ask your Devils fan friends about “the Johnny Mac game”), and the Devils have helped lift Brodeur to all of his spectacular on-ice achievements but one (ask your Canadian friends about the Salt Lake City Olympics). For a fan base cursed from Day One with a built-in inferiority complex, knowing that one of the true greats of the game is a career Devil is a source of genuine pride. Brodeur has long made it seem like it’s a source of pride for him, too. He’s vocal about how much he loves being a Devil and, almost as importantly, how much he hates the Rangers. In his 2006 autobiography, Beyond the Crease, he called himself a “company man” and devoted a chapter – “Me and Lou” – to the agent-free contract negotiations he traditionally conducted directly with Lamoriello.

New Jersey has won the Stanley Cup three times with Brodeur in net, and nothing can undo that. But if Brodeur opts to finish his career elsewhere, that decision will cast a pall over his Devils career. He’ll still be the all-time leader in wins and shutouts, but some small percentage of those totals will belong to some other club. He’ll still be a Hall of Famer, but his plaque will be cluttered with more than one team name. He’ll still have been a spectacular Devil, but his name won’t be a source of pure joy to New Jersey fans any more.

If Parise leaves then the team might falter without him, or it might thrive with whoever Lamoriello brings in to replace him. Whichever path he chooses, we will never know what would have happened had he gone the other way. It’s just the opposite with Brodeur: We know that if he leaves we will feel betrayed, and if he stays we will continue to cherish him wholeheartedly. The choice is between possibly gaining a good tomorrow or definitely losing a great yesterday. Like I said, it’s a no-brainer.

Five reasons I’m a traitor to Devils Nation

This is a peaceful moment for Devils fans. We’ve come to terms with the fact that our team drafted Stephane Matteau’s son, Stefan (and really, what’s up with the same-name-but-not thing? is this some kind of quirky French Canadian custom?), and we have a few days before other teams are allowed to try and sign away our beloved and be-needed captain. So, while we breathe deep and prepare for the utter crumminess of seeing our star become the prettiest girl at the free agent debutante ball, I figured I’d take this opportunity to alienate my Devil-fan readers. Five times. Right now.

5. I never fell in love with Scott Clemmensen: When the Martin Brodeur machine finally started to show signs of wear in November 2008, the Devils found themselves without their franchise goalie for an extended period of time for the first time since… well, it seemed like forever. Brodeur’s torn biceps tendon (an injury which isn’t nearly as career-ending as it sounds) meant the starting job was temporarily up for grabs, and after presumptive fill-in Kevin Weekes failed to grab it Scott Clemmensen seized the role through his profoundly adequate play. When the Devils’ team goals against average didn’t immediately leap above 18.00, many fans credited Clemmensen with rescuing the team from certain disaster.

The trouble is that Clemmer was average at best, giving up bushels of fat rebounds and checking behind himself after every third save as though he couldn’t believe the puck had once again somehow stayed out of his net. The team defense compensated brilliantly, Clemmensen got the credit and Brodeur returned to a playoff-bound squad. Now, I have no problem with Clemmensen as a person; on the contrary, he always seemed to be a likable sort. But in terms of performance he was the Tim Tebow of the ’08-’09 New Jersey Devils: He played the most important position on a winning team that won despite, rather than because of, him.

4. I never turned on Bruce Driver: Driver committed perhaps the worst sin a New Jersey Devil can commit – he left the Devils to play for the Rangers. How bad is this transgression? Ask Scott Gomez, once popular in New Jersey and now public enemy No. 1 in the Garden State. Fellow turncoat Bobby Holik was similarly reviled after he left the Devils to sign in New York as a free agent, forgiven only after he began torching the Blueshirts with quote after incendiary quote from inside the Rangers’ own room.

Driver turned from red to blue long before Holik or Gomez did, in the summer after the Devils won their first-ever Stanley Cup in 1995. The fan base’s outrage was predictable and seemingly justifiable, if one viewed Driver’s move in a vacuum. But Driver didn’t leave for money or fame or to get away from New Jersey; on the contrary, he left because he wanted to make sure he and his family could stay in New Jersey and signing with New York was the only way to ensure that would happen. Longtime Devil Driver had asked GM Lou Lamoriello for a no-trade clause, and Lou had said no. The Rangers said yes, so Driver did what was best for his family by taking a job that would allow them to maintain the stability of their home, complete with a husband/dad who lived with them and periodically traveled for work, rather than one who lived in a hotel room in some strange city and was a visitor in his own house. Driver wasn’t a traitor; he was loyal to something more important than a hockey team, and I have always applauded him for it.

3. I don’t like seeing Scott Niedermayer’s number in the rafters: It doesn’t belong there. As great a player as Niedermayer was, as great a Devil as he was, Niedermayer chose to leave as a free agent and retired in a different sweater. I don’t blame him for leaving to play with his brother in Anaheim (see: Driver section above), but number retirement should be the rarest of honors, reserved for those who aren’t just great players but also unquestionably bleed team colors. The Devils have retired three numbers: Ken Daneyko’s #3, Scott Stevens’ #4 and Niedermayer’s #27. Daneyko was an original Devil who, while not a Hall of Fame-caliber athlete, was a stalwart on the blue line starting on Day 1 and ending after the Devils won their third Cup in 2003. He is known as Mr. Devil, continues to work for the franchise as a broadcaster and remains highly visible in New Jersey communities. Stevens wasn’t the Devils’ first captain and he wasn’t the last, but he is the captain by which all others will be measured. He didn’t start out in New Jersey, but once he got here he stayed, leading the Devils to three Stanley Cups and entering the Hall of Fame as someone primarily – indeed, all but exclusively – associated with the Devils. Those are the kinds of players whose numbers should never be worn by anyone else for New Jersey. Niedermayer was a fantastic Devil and one of the all-time great defensemen, but he falls just short of being rafter-worthy.

2. Speaking of Stevens, in retrospect I hate how he played: This is, I believe, a popular view among hockey fans in general, but not so among Devils fans who associate Stevens with the Golden Age of Devildom that ran from the mid-90s until the lockout. He was an inspiring leader as team captain and he could play a solid stay-at-home defensive game, but Stevens’ primary skill was knocking guys into next season. Back then, we all lauded him as a tough, physical hitter who played the game clean because he didn’t lead with his elbows; today, every one of those clean hits would cost him $2500 and/or a maddeningly random length of time in Shanahanistan. And rightly so. Stevens was an intimidator whose mere presence served to make opponents fear skating the puck through open ice. Unfortunately, that fear was born of a very real possibility that the trip through open ice would end with a Stevens-induced, potentially life-altering concussion. Yes, the hits were legal at the time and yes, they were instrumental to the Devils’ success, but Stevens did real harm to untold numbers of players. As hard as I try to rationalize away the horror of that fact, in retrospect I just can’t see him as anything but a brutal on-ice bully.

1. Giguere deserved that Conn Smythe Trophy: I kind of can’t believe anyone actually denies this. When the Devils won the 2003 Stanley Cup, they did it with a team that was strong top-to-bottom and got big goals from so many players that choosing one as the standout would have been impossible. Brodeur was his reliable self throughout the playoffs, but he was never really spectacular, largely because he didn’t have to be. His most memorable play in the ’03 postseason was a geometrically improbable own goal that he scored completely unassisted. No Devil was stronger than the overall team on the defensive end and no one guy was a dominant set-up man. It was a true team victory.

And then there were the Mighty Ducks (and let us never forget that back then, they were still “Mighty”). From the first game of Anaheim’s first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, Jean-Sebastien Giguere was the superstar. That game was a 2-1, triple-OT victory in which Giguere made 63 saves, many of them on top-quality shots. The Might Ducks went on the sweep Detroit by scoring exactly four more goals than Giguere allowed the Red Wings. Giguere then opened the second round with a 5OT win followed by another overtime win, eventually taking the six-game series by allowing just 14 goals – the same number that his team provided on offense. Round 3 against the goal-challenged Minnesota Wild started with a 1-0 double-OT win, and ended in a sweep in which the Mighty Ducks scored more than 2 goals just once.

That set up the finals against New Jersey, where the Mighty Ducks finally ran into a team with a justifiably confident goalie and a tenacious offense. And still, Giguere held his team in the series, which went to seven games. Three of Anaheim’s four losses came in shutouts, which is to say that even if Giguere had been perfect in those games, the best he could have hoped for was more overtime. The Mighty Ducks had a few decent offensive threats on the team – Paul Kariya, Adam Oates, Steve Sullivan and Petr Sykora – but their defense was anemic and the team as a whole was grossly overmatched against the Devils, as it had been overmatched in each of the first three rounds in every dimension except goaltending.

Had the Mighty Ducks won one more game that postseason, this wouldn’t even be a conversation: Giguere’s status as playoff MVP would be as non-controversial as Jonathan Quick’s was this year. But because his team lost Game 7, Devils fans mistakenly believe he should have been disqualified from Conn Smythe contention. This is partially due to the misconception that the Conn Smythe Trophy goes to the MVP of the finals, rather than to the MVP of the playoffs, but it is mostly due to the notion that the Stanley Cup champion is automatically entitled to the Conn Smythe as well. It is not. No Devil was as valuable to his team as Giguere was to the Might Ducks, who wouldn’t have made it out of the first round – or any subsequent round – if their goalie hadn’t been playing impossibly well. Giguere was the only Mighty Duck who deserved to win the Stanley Cup that year, and he deserved it so thoroughly that he almost got his team’s name engraved there. Instead, Anaheim lost Game 7 and the right team won the Cup, leaving Giguere with the individual award that he more than earned.

The Hidden Costs of Hidden Injuries

Two things happen when a team is eliminated from the playoffs. First, everyone (mercifully) shaves. And second, we get confirmation that a not-insignificant portion of the roster had been playing injured.

It’s a source of pride among hockey fans. Your favorite baseball player is on the DL with a calloused pinky? Well, my guy just skated 20 hard minutes a night for three weeks on a fractured ankle. And he didn’t even tell anyone, because he’s a hockey player, and “he’s a hockey player” is code for “he could kick your favorite baseball player’s ass without breaking a sweat.” We stand in awe of what these athletes are able to endure to take a shot at winning the Stanley Cup, and hold them up as heroes for demonstrating stoic toughness in the face of agonizing pain. But we shouldn’t.

Coaches and management pay lip service to the difference between “playing hurt” and “playing injured,” but come playoff time everyone understands that if your coach wants you in the lineup, you’d better be ready to go no matter what. Players have been pilloried for failing to recover from injuries or ailments at the speed which fans arbitrarily decide is appropriate (Petr Sykora in 2001 comes to mind) while those who come back faster than expected earn praise and respect. It’s natural, and it’s a shame, especially because young fans pick up on that attitude. Kids learn to look up to athletes who play injured, which would be great except that playing injured is an absolutely terrible idea.

We all know this, but we choose to ignore it because we want our teams to win, or because we’ve convinced ourselves that absurdly huge paychecks should come packaged with great personal pain and sacrifice. We are never as selfish as when we demand selflessness from the athletes who compete in the name of our entertainment. That we’ve seen how quickly retired athletes’ health can deteriorate in sadly predictable ways doesn’t seem to deter us from demanding unreasonable levels of ‘toughness’ from active athletes; we don’t seem to truly empathize with these men until it’s too late to be of any use.

Worst of all, though, is how clearly we communicate to young athletes that taking oneself out of a game demonstrates unforgivable weakness. If you don’t play through the pain then you don’t want it enough, you don’t care enough about your teammates, you’re “soft,” with all the nastily negative implications that word carries. Between wanting to please authority figures and not wanting to be labeled as weak, kids learn not to report pain to their coaches unless it becomes truly unbearable. If that seems like an admirable trait in a 25-year-old millionaire (and it doesn’t, at least to me), then it’s a tragic one in a 9-year-old child. Since the 9-year-old idolizes the 25-year-old, we owe it to the child to demand that the millionaire take better care of himself.

And we owe it to the millionaire, too. Amazingly, when it became clear that Ilya Kovalchuk was playing with a serious injury through most of the 2012 postseason, the most common reaction I heard from Devils fans was concern that he might do himself long-term damage… which would be bad for the team in light of the fact that there are 13 years left on his contract. To call that response shallow is to grossly undersell the cruelty of it. Kovalchuk is not a shiny bauble that Lou Lamoriello bought at market – he’s an actual human being who has to live in his body long after he takes off his team sweater for good.  Like all professional athletes, he owes the fans effort, dedication and the top limit of his talent; he does not owe us the entirety of his body and mind, nor the decades of his life that follow retirement. Hockey players are not gladiators, despite the puffed-up analogies that analysts like to trumpet. We should neither expect nor want them to destroy themselves in the process of bringing us joy.