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. Next up, the category of “Villain”:
Our choice for “essential” Devils villain is Mark Messier.
The main reason he is the most vilified player in Devils history is because of the bold prediction he made with the New York Rangers before Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. “The Messiah” said they would win Game 6. He helped himself out by rallying his squad from a 2-0 deficit, including a natural hat trick to close out the Rangers scoring with a 4-2 win. They of course went on to win Game 7, go the Stanley Cup Finals and defeat the Vancouver Canucks in 7 games for their first championship in 54 years.
So he will always be Enemy No. 1 in my opinion for that. However, what most people tend to forget is another prediction he made just over six years after his first one.
Messier left the Rangers in 1997 offseason and bolted for said Canucks. After three seasons spent north of the border, Messier came back to the Rangers. At his introductory press conference, one reporter asked him if he had another guarantee up his sleeve. With a wry smile, Messier retorted, “I’ll guarantee you we’ll make the playoffs. I don’t think anybody will be disappointed in the next two years.”
Not much of a bold statement from Captain Courageous. The Rangers had the top payroll in the league for 2000-01, north of $60 million. How could they NOT make the playoffs? What happened nine months later? The Rangers had actually missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year, doing so by a 16-point margin.
One that thing personally got on my nerves from Messier was a game I personally attended. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the Devils owned the Rangers. From the 1996-97 season through 2000-01, the Devils possessed an unbeaten span of games in contests against the New York Rangers. They were 15-0-8 against the Rags in a time known as “The Streak”. I unfortunately had the dubious honor of being at the Devils-Rangers game on March 31, 2001. Jersey went on to lose the game but the video above angered me even more. Sure, Jason Arnott was the third man into a fight with Patrik Elias and Mike Mottau. But was it necessary for Messier to leap and railroad him? Probably not. Then the cheap shot punch with his gloves on? Only thing Mess was missing was a tube of mace to spray Arnott with. I left Continental Airlines Arena that afternoon fuming.
But I guess if not for his moments and for Stephane Matteau, us Devils fans would not hate the New York Rangers as much as we do, which is why he is my “essential” Devils villain.
Best Of The Rest: This one was really close. I considered picking Tie Domi of the Toronto Maple Leafs for this category. His cheap shot, goon elbow to Scott Niedermayer in Game Four of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals was disgusting to watch, especially on numerous replays. His press conference regarding his suspension was the stuff frauds are made of; crying and tearing up over having to explain to his son why he wasn’t playing hockey, never mind the fact that he gave a fellow hockey player a concussion. Although, I have always loved this video of Scott Stevens dropping him like a sack of potatoes in the playoffs a year prior. Place Sean Avery into the mix as well. There are too many things to go through; the first run-in with Martin Brodeur in 2007. The rule that was named after himself for illegally screening Brodeur in the playoffs and countless other nuisances and comments. I think among younger Devils fans, Avery is the prime choice.
Thanks for reading. All feedback is appreciated.
Topics: Eastern Conference, Jason Arnott, Mark Messier, Martin Brodeur, Mike Mottau, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, NHL, Patrik Elias, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Sean Avery, Stanley Cup, Stephane Matteau, Tie Domi, Vancouver Canucks