For the month of August, The Puck Daddy over at Yahoo Sports is breaking down “The Essentials” for every NHL franchise and recently touched on the New Jersey Devils. The feature piece includes players, coaches, long-time arena traditions and stadium food. Here at Pucks & Pitchforks, we’ll break down each category and give our take, as well as taking a look at who barely missed the cut. First up, the category of “Player”:
Scott Stevens is our pick for essential New Jersey Devils player. The culture, confidence and swagger of the New Jersey Devils changed when he arrived; he came over to the Devils before the 1991-1992 season. Even though the Devils were starting to become a perennial playoff team before he got there, his physical play and leadership turned them into more of a playoff threat and contender.
Stevens was named captain before the 1992-1993 campaign. The Devils won the Stanley Cup three times and got to the big event on four occasions during his tenure as captain, including winning the Conn Smythe Trophy for his performance in the 2000 NHL playoffs. His career was cut short during the 2003-2004 season, when he suffered a concussion.
Stevens was a game-changer; a player you had to prep for if you were the opposing team. If other team’s forwards didn’t know where he was and didn’t keep their heads up, he would rail them with a bone-jarring hit.
No. 4 elevated his game even more so come playoff time. His big blows came in the midst of every run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Slava Kozlov in 1995 (video above). Daymond Langkow and Eric Lindros in 2000. Shane Willis and Ron Francis in 2001. Paul Kariya in 2003. He impacted the game like few others could.
But when the Hall of Fame defenseman left the team, the franchise still had success but it just didn’t have the same feel. In 2006, the Devils lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in the semifinals. In Game 2 and trailing in the series 1-0, the Devils allowed Eric Staal to score a goal right in front of the net with just seconds left on the clock. They went on to win the game in overtime and the series in five games. If Stevens were still around, Staal would have been on his rump rather than celebrating.
They lost in five games in the semifinals in 2007 to the Ottawa Senators, closing out Continental Airlines Arena with losses in two of three home games. They lost all three home games at the Prudential in a five-game defeat by the New York Rangers.
There was the “last-minute” nightmare in 2009, as they were once again done in by Staal and the Canes. The team was manhandled in all facets of the Philadelphia Flyers series in 2010, before missing the playoffs in 2010-2011.
The franchise has survived the loss of Stevens, but when he was sporting red, white and black, there was not a tougher team to play against every night than the New Jersey Devils. Stevens was the face, the captain and the voice of the dominant Devils teams of the mid-90s to early 2000s.
Best Of The Rest: You can make a case for a few guys, but the main one is Martin Brodeur. While Brodeur is the greatest of all-time, Stevens was just as brilliant in front of him for all those years. Once he left, you could start to see the cracks in the Devils defensive depth as they were not as physical and brutally efficient like they once were (until this past season). Ken Daneyko could certainly be mentioned as well. He started when the squad came to NJ and ended his career with a parking lot parade in 2003. While Daneyko was a vital piece of the team in the early years, he was not as heavily relied upon towards the end of his career. While Mr. Devil was as steady as they came, he wasn’t a dynamic player like Stevens was.
Topics: Carolina Hurricanes, Conn Smythe Trophy, Daymond Langkow, Eric Lindros, Eric Staal, Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Paul Kariya, Philadelphia Flyers, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens, Shane Willis, Slava Kozlov, Stanley Cup