Former players, former coaches, and practically everyone all see the same in the New Jersey Devils.
It’s a franchise that’s built on winning, and that is one of many things that has never changed.
As Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates — a former NHL player and Devils’ assistant coach — said on Friday, there has always been a culture in New Jersey, and it has never changed with the different players that have walked in and out of the franchise.
“That’s part of the culture I experienced over there,” Oates said, according to the Bergen Record. “That no matter what, Marty’s your goalie and we’re going to protect him and minimize the chances and yet we’re going to score enough goals. This is how we do it.”
Oates, who served as the Devils special teams coach the past two seasons before becoming the head coach in Washington this season, touched on a bunch of things that he witnessed during his tenure with New Jersey. All-star players have come and gone with the Devils, but the system and expectations have never changed.
Take Patrik Elias for example. When it’s all said and done, he will go down as one of the best players to ever play for New Jersey en route to the Hall of Fame. Elias has played with almost everyone — from Petr Sykora and Jason Arnott to Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Gomez to Dainius Zubrus and Ilya Kovalchuk — but his play has never changed. He’s consistently played perfectly into the Devils’ defensive-first style of play and he’s always been one of the most productive players on the team for the duration of his career.
And Oates talked about Elias and the pass he made to Kovalchuk on the five-on-three power play and eventual game-winning-goal in the third period last night.
“Patrik Elias has been there for a long time. So, he’s been doing that play for 15 years of his career, not just for a year,” Oates told the Bergen Record. “And the culture has never changed.”
It hasn’t been all about keeping good players within the system, though. It’s just as much — if not more — of getting new players to buy into it. When Kovalchuk was traded to the Devils three years ago, few people believed he could play that type of hockey as a flashy forward. But a half-season with Jacques Lemaire, who has remained as a special assignment coach with the Devils, helped shape Kovalchuk into a two-way forward and has made him one of the best all-around players in the league.
Need evidence? Kovalchuk logged 13:45 of ice time in the third period alone last night, including several power plays with one resulting in the game-winning goal.
And this year, after the Devils lost captain Zach Parise to free agency, the general consensus was that New Jersey wouldn’t be a playoff team after losing a 30-goal scorer and its leader. The response? Seventeen games into this season, the Devils are sitting in first place in the Atlantic Division and have been in-and-out as the first place team in the Eastern Conference.
Players, coaches, and personnel will always go through organizations, but the Devils have prided themselves on making sure that no player changes the franchise — and that no player ever will. That’s why they have been as successful as they are.
And that’s not going to change anytime soon.