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Gionta Believes Devils Playoff Issues Stem From Burnout

As the offseason continues, the Devils continue to face questions about their locker room. Those questions continued Thursday, when Star-Ledger reporter Rich Chere reported that former Devil Brian Gionta believes the team struggles due to emotional and physical burnout. The article, which deserves a read, further serves to wonder if the team’s locker room chemistry is one issue keeping them from a deep playoff run.

Gionta, in taking with Chere, believed players weren’t fresh enough during the playoffs.

“I think coming down to the end of the year some guys are burnt out with the grind of the season,” Gionta said. “They need to do a better job of maybe balancing the regular season and making sure everybody is fresh enough come playoff time.”

Travis Zajac was the only Devil to appear in all 82 games this season. Gionta believed team management didn't do enough to keep players fresh during the regular season. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

That statement seems odd, as former Devils coach Jacques Lemaire took time to rest everyone as the season wore down. He even sat Jamie Langenbrunner, who was not happy with the situation. Looking at the roster, there were several players with extensive workloads this season. Five players skated in 80+ games, including Travis Zajac, who played every game this season. Ten skaters played in 70+ games. Martin Brodeur played in 77 games this season as well. That’s a lot of wear and tear on a players’ body, when taking into account the amount of hits taken, shots blocked, etc. But the reality is that these players need to play. A guy like Zach Parise needs to be on the ice to give the team a chance to win night in and night out. And when the Atlantic Division – and playoff seeding – can come down to one point, some guys will need to play everyday.

Not only that, but the Devils had several days off from practice, especially later in the season. Many times, the team would hold optional skates or have team meetings. Sometimes, the team would do off-ice workouts. It seemed like the coaches tried to give players the days off needed to stay fresh. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with Gionta, but maybe there are some things the team could do to improve the team morale late in the season.

But this next part of the article is one that seems a bit more truthful.

But Gionta still speaks to former teammates and he’s heard all about the tensions between Devils players and management. Word has gotten around the league about how poorly some respected veterans were treated, such as two-time Stanley Cup winner Jay Pandolfo being benched during the playoffs and forced to dress in the practice locker room instead of with his teammates in the main dressing room.

The Devils seemed to have significant locker room issues this year. Langenbrunner and Lemaire never got along, with the captain believing Lemaire needed to handle some situations better. Clearly, one of these situations was this new Jay Pandolfo situation. Making a respected veteran dress in the practice locker room doesn’t seem fair or right. That would definitely earn Lemaire some enemies, and may explain why players stopped listening to the coach.

Read after the jump for the rest of my take on Gionta’s comments!

According to Gionta, several veterans were angered with Lemaire's treatment of Jay Pandolfo during the playoffs this season. Photo Credit: Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger

So what does this all mean? Clearly, this is some more bad press for the Devils management. It’s not as if Gionta speaks from a completely blind point of view. He played in the organization for seven years, playing for several different coaches during that time. He also didn’t leave the organization with any bad feelings or burned bridges. It seems like he may know something that’s happening with the players. And, clearly, management is failing somewhere. It seems the biggest rub with the players was the Pandolfo situation, which I don’t agree with either. When you have a respected, two-time Cup winning champion, you don’t make him change in a practice locker room, even if he’s not going to dress for the game. It’s a positive, team-first guy like that the team needs in its locker room. Making that decision could definitely anger the players.

There will be changes made, especially with a new coach taking the reins next season. With everything coming out through the media, one of the biggest changes needed seems to be better communication between the players and coaches. If the team can work out this glaring problem, then maybe it will alleviate some of the tension in the locker room. And maybe that will take care of some of these issues of “burnout” the players are experiencing.

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