Jeff Vanderbeek just has the look of a man of the people. He also somewhat resembles Walt Disney. Both these observations about the New Jersey Devils Chairman/CEO/Managing Partner are necessary and relevant. In a way, Vanderbeek is the Devils' Walt Disney (A sentence I initially wrote before reminding myself how many "Mickey Mouse" jokes I'd hear about this, but I'm keeping it) and the Devils' greatest ambassador. He speaks to people at games and other events at his version of Disneyland, Newark's Prudential Center. I remember loitering around the building in October of 2007, before the building's first ever hockey game, and seeing Vanderbeek walking around. I shook his hand and thanked him for this building, and he told me that "it's for all of us."
Well, despite the fact that the Devils have maintained pretty decent attendance recently, and that the team is seeing the best local TV ratings I've ever seen in my years as a fan (They are #7 among the 24 US-based teams in households watching games on average, and up 43% from the prior season), Vanderbeek would like to see "all of us" continue to grow throughout the state. That seemed to be the M.O. of his "Jersey Tour" a trip around many of the state's counties to meet and greet with fans (our stop was at Morton's in Hackensack) and answer questions along with partner Michael Gilfillan, and former Devils Bruce Driver, Grant Marshall, and Mr. Devil, Ken Daneyko.
The goals seemed to be 1. Hit home that the Devils are "Jersey's Team". They are the only club that wears the state on it's uniforms (the Nets - who will move from New Jersey after two years in Newark - only say the team's nickname on it's threads) and they are proud to be doing it, 2. Make the best impression possible with some of the club's most diehard fans (the Bergen County tour stop I attended filled it's RSVP list in 25 minutes, and all the others took a few hours or less) and encourage them to spread the word about the team, 3. See if they can get some helpful suggestions about how to improve the atmosphere around the arena (a Yankees-style "Old Timers Day", along with College Hockey and less piped in music drowning out chants were thrown out).
Oh, and you know ... Ilya Kovalchuk. The Russian forward's name was obviously brought up. In fact, the references to his neverending saga has turned into a default punchline gag for anyone involved with the Devils. From battles between Vanderbeek and Gilfillan over who would answer questions about him to emcee and radio play-by-play man Matt Loughlin mocking the process, the Devils were honest - but not without a sense of humor - about the whole ordeal.
In fact, the entire evening seemed almost suspiciously honest. The team was upfront with their fans and was even willing to give information to some of their requests. A query about college hockey led to the announcement that Cornell and Colgate will be playing at The Rock in November, and that the Devils and Prudential Center have attempted to bid on NCAA Hockey's "Frozen Four" Championship. A question from yours truly about Cablevision's control of the team's TV rights led to Vanderbeek admitting he knew that fans were less than pleased by the treatment of the team with MSG, and he would be looking into the contract again soon.
This, and a lot of other things, led to some predictable swoons of applause and cheers from an active, excitable crowd. Everyone was funny and charming, and everyone seemed happy at the end of the night. For a franchise that spent years and years in the dark ages in terms of marketing and getting the word out while their club was one of hockey's finest, Vanderbeek and Co. seem intent on rectifying it, and making their fans aware that they are a part of this process. As he himself proclaimed, "You guys pay the bills." More importantly, as he told me on that surprisingly warm day in October of '07, "This is for all of us."
Goring, Goring, Gone
This headline doesn't really make sense. I guess "gone" from the studio, but it will have to do.
The Islanders filled their color analyst void with the 1981 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, who had been a roving studio analyst (and Islanders rep on MSG's weekly "Hockey Night Live") since 2007. He replaces Billy Jaffe, a popular, respected analyst who was offered a new deal by the network, but was rejected by the Islanders. Regardless, Goring will have an uphill climb in replacing Jaffe, who has since started a Twitter feed where he is simply listed as "NHL broadcaster." He is an okay analyst, but until I see more, he is simply not as good as Jaffe was.
As to who will replace Goring on "Hockey Night Live", that is still up to question. I heard a rumor myself that a certain former Islander, whom also played for the Rangers, will sit at the studio desk next season. I won't reveal who it is, but if it's true than it will be a season for Isles fans to be jolly. If that happens, it'll make "Hockey Night Live" an even more must-watch for local puckheads, but that's for another day.