New Jersey Devils History: Lou Lamoriello’s Legacy Part 2


In the second part in our series honoring Lou Lamoriello and his historic era with the New Jersey Devils, I am going to look at the 1990-91 through 94-95 seasons. In the first part, I talked about the first three seasons after Lou was hired in April of 1987 and the immediate impact he had on the team.

In the off season of 1990, Lamoriello made two trades that would alter the franchise’s history. The impact of the first would not be felt for a few more years but it also become a signature move for Lamoriello, trading draft picks to move up or down in the draft. Confident he could trade down and still draft the player he wanted, Lamoriello traded the Devils 1st round pick (11th overall) and 2nd round pick (32nd) for Calgary’s 1st pick (20th), and two 2nd round picks (24th and 29th). As part of this draft day trade that has now become legendary, the Devils drafted Martin Brodeur with the 20th pick. Brodeur would go on to become the winningest goaltender in NHL history.

This was pre-Internet so as a fan all I had to go by was the old Hockey News Draft preview, which had Brodeur rated as an early 2nd round pick and behind a few other goalies. By now though, Lamoriello had earned my faith. I was lucky enough to be at Brodeur’s first ever NHL game against the Bruins, which was also his first NHL victory, and afterwards I recall my uncle and I saying to each other, “Wow, this kid looks like something else.”

The second trade once again was a case of Lamoriello not resting on his laurels, a year after acquiring Sylvain Turgeon for Pat Verbeek, Lamoriello turned around and traded the underperforming Turgeon for future Devil hero Claude Lemieux. Lou also made his third coaching change in his 4th season, replacing John Cunniff with Tom McVie in early March. McVie instilled a little more heart in what was considered a flat Devils team and it almost worked. In the playoffs that season the Devils lost in the first round in 7 games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Down four to nothing in game 6, the Devils mounted an inspiring comeback but the goal that would have tied the game was incorrectly disallowed by referee Bill McCreary (video below). There is no doubt this goal was a major inspiration for the NHL introducing instant replay the next season.

The following offseason was one of change and arguably the biggest in franchise history. Goaltender Sean Burke, who had lost his starting job to Chris Terreri, requested a trade before the deadline last season and having not been traded decided to hold out. Burke got a lesson in dealing with Lamoriello as he would not play in the NHL the whole season but instead played for the Canadian Olympic team and won a silver medal. Another hold out in a contract dispute was team captain Kirk Muller, who Lamoriello promptly traded for sniper Stephane Richer.

The repercussions of another legendary trade came to fruition at the draft table that summer. In 1989, with a glut of defenseman, Lamoriello traded Tom Kurvers, who was coming off a career season, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for their 1st round pick. Whether Lamoriello had the foresight to realize how bad the Leafs were going to stay for the next 2 seasons I don’t know but the Leafs finished near the bottom of the league giving the Devils the third overall pick in the draft, which they used to draft future Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer.

Niedermayer wasn’t the only future Hall of Fame defenseman to join the organization that off season.  Brendan Shanahan, the first player Lamoriello drafted after joining the Devils back in 1987, signed as a free agent with the St Louis Blues. Back then teams were awarded players as compensation for signing free agents and Lamoriello successfully argued his case that fair compensation for Shanahan was Blues captain Scott Stevens, an award that rocked the NHL free agency process. There was also another arbitration case that Lamoriello lost but worked out well for the Devils anyway. The Red Wings signed tough guy Troy Crowder from the Devils and Lamoriello asked for Red Wings tough guy Bob Probert in return but was instead awarded Dave Barr and more importantly Randy McKay.

Despite an offseason of turmoil, the Devils posted the best record in team history that regular season. In the playoffs the Devils played for the first time against cross river rivals the New York Rangers, winners of the President’s trophy with the best record in the regular season. The seven game series was a war and featured a bench clearing brawl at the end of game 6 after the Devils tied the series and while the Rangers had prevailed in game 7, as a fan you really felt the Devils were starting to become a threat.

In the summer of 1992, despite a great regular season, Lamoriello surprised everyone again and brought in US Olympic gold medal coach Herb Brooks to replace Tom McVie as head coach. Lamoriello then granted Sean Burke’s trade request when he sent Burke and Eric Weinrich to the Hartford Whalers for promising young Czech forward Bobby Holik. Then in January Lamoriello traded for offensive center Bernie Nicholls. Despite a 40 win season regular season, the Devils in the post season went out in the first round in 5 games to the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the 1992-93 season ended in disappointment.

In June of 1993, Herb Brooks resigned from the Devils citing philosophical differences with management on the direction of the team. While many were calling it a step backward for the Devils, in less than a month Lamoriello turned it into one of the most brilliant coaching hires in NHL history by bringing in Jacques Lemaire as head coach and Larry Robinson as his assistant. With their Stanley Cup pedigree, a Devils locker room that was getting a reputation as coach killers, now had two of the most accomplished hall of famers from the great Montreal Canadiens dynasty to teach them. Lemaire’s demanding two way style (and the emergence of eventual rookie of the year Martin Brodeur) propelled the Devils to the number two offense and number two defense in the NHL and Lemaire to the Jack Adams trophy for coach of the year. The Devils came within one goal of reaching the Stanley Cup finals, losing in overtime of game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals to the Rangers.

The start of the 1994-95 season was delayed by the first of to many NHL owner lock outs. When the season finally started in late January of 1995, the Devils came out of the gate flat, going winless in their first 4 games. One of the problems was the void at center ice left by the departure of Bernie Nichols who signed as a free agent with the Blackhawks in the off season. On February 27th Lamoriello filled that void by trading for center Neal Broten. An excellent two-way center who played on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, Broten was a perfect fit for what Lemaire looked for from a center ice man. Broten went on to score the Stanley Cup clinching goal, breaking a two all tie in Game 4 of the Finals as the Devils brought home their first Stanley Cup.

With shrewd trading, excellent drafting, the arbitration reward of Scott Stevens and the hiring of Jacques Lemaire, Lamoriello had brought the Devils to the pinnacle of the NHL elite. After the disappointing end to the 1992-93 season, many (even coach Herb Brooks) thought the Devils should be broken up but Lamoriello stayed the course and was proven right. I hope you once again enjoyed our trip down memory lane celebrating Lou Lamoriello and his accomplishments in New Jersey. In the next installment I will look at the 1996 through 2000 seasons. Thanks for reading.

Next: Could the Devils be a suitable landing spot for Patrick Kane?