Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur. Those are the four Devils who were around for all three of the Devils’ Stanley Cup victories. Stevens and Daneyko already have their numbers three and four (respectively) in the rafters of the Prudential Center; when you think of the Devils’ success over the past two decades, it starts with these two men. Brodeur is perhaps the best goaltender in hockey history, and probably the most iconic Devil in the team’s history as well. When his number is retired at the Rock, you can be sure there will be one spectacular ceremony. After the 2009-2010 season, Scott Niedermayer decided to retire after 18 NHL seasons, 13 of which he played in New Jersey (although the first of these only consisted of four games). It is time for Niedermayer to join his defensive counterparts in the rafters, as his contributions to three Stanley Cup victories cannot possibly be overlooked.
Like I stated above, Niedermayer is right up there with the likes of Stevens and Daneyko in terms of defensive contribution. He also served as a puck-moving defenseman, which proved to be invaluable for the Devils to have on the roster (and powerplay) through their Stanley Cup playoff runs. Nieds scored double-digit goals in seven of his seasons in New Jersey, including a high of 14 for two of those years, the first of which he also tallied 43 assists (in 1997-1998). Niedermayer also was a career-high +34 during the 1993-1994 season; in his 13 years as a Devil, he put up 112 goals, 364 assists, and a +172 rating. He was also productive in the playoffs, particularly the Stanley Cup years; he put up a combined 36 points in those three years, including five goals in the 2000 playoffs and 16 assists during the 2003 run. In his last season in New Jersey, Niedermayer served as captain for slightly over half the year (after Scott Stevens’ retirement in January), further indicating how important he was to the Devils.
If you believe I have said “Stanley Cup” too often already in this article, please reconsider this view. The Devils have been one of the most successful teams of the last two decades (right up there with the Red Wings), and there is nothing more valuable to an organization than to be champion in any particular year. There are some teams that cherish just one Stanley Cup victory so intensely; look at the Rangers, who have retired the numbers of Mike Richter, Brian Leetch, Mark Messier, and Adam Graves from their 1994 Cup-winning team. Now consider how enamored that franchise is with those four players, and realize that Scott Niedermayer has been around the Devils for three times the success of each of them; yet still, his name is not in the rafters at the Prudential Center.
The Devils were successful throughout the decade starting with their Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 1993-1994 with a style that is now withering away in the post-lockout NHL. The Devils won, quite simply, because of their defensive play, behind their own blue line, backed up by perhaps the greatest goaltender the sport has ever seen. Sure, the likes of Claude Lemieux, Scott Gomez (I do hate to acknowledge him), Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias, and other forwards were an enormous part of the Devils’ success; however, it was Stevens, Daneyko, Niedermayer, and others (Brian Rafalski and Colin White included) that truly defined the way the team played, and made it nearly impossible for an opponent’s forecheck to solve and defeat their defensive corps. Some make the ridiculous argument that Brodeur would not have been as excellent if not for the terrific defensemen in front of him; while this is utterly absurd (anyone questioning Marty’s talent and ability should be banned from watching another hockey game), it shows the respect that these great Devils defensemen have received; Scott Niedermayer is right among them.
With all this being said, I do expect the organization to eventually come around, and retire the number of one of their best players in the franchise’s history. However, we cannot be certain that this will occur, and it would trouble me if the Devils did not recognize Niedermayer for all he has done for them. There may have been some bitterness after Niedermayer left for Anaheim when the lockout came to an end, but this decision was made by Nieds because of his desire to join his brother Rob (the front office, in fact, tried to entice Rob Niedermayer to come to New Jersey, hoping it would keep his brother in town). He played in New Jersey for well over a decade, and this should be more than enough. I would hope that, in the next five years, we see the numbers 26 (Elias), 27 (Nieds), and 30 (Brodeur) join Daneyko and Stevens; when I go to the Rock, I want to be able to look up and remember those great players who gave us Devils fans so much to cheer about.