New Jersey Devils: How Would We Evaluate Scott Stevens Play Today?

Scott Stevens #5 of the New Jersey Devils looks on during a NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals at MCI Center on December 27, 2002 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Scott Stevens #5 of the New Jersey Devils looks on during a NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals at MCI Center on December 27, 2002 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Once again, big hits are on the agenda for conversation among hockey’s biggest fans. It’s not one of the normal dirty players on the docket this time. There’s no Tom Wilson, Ryan Reaves, or Brad Marchand. This time, it’s the Winnipeg Jets Mark Scheifele who is part of the conversation. He absolutely drilled Jake Evans, and it was another situation where a player was hit to the point where he couldn’t get up despite his only transgression was trying to score on an empty net.

Say what you want about the hit, but it was absolutely dangerous. It was definitely charging. Was there intent to injure Evans? It definitely looks like Scheifele was trying to send a message. He’s not the first player to send a message, and the New Jersey Devils are very familiar with that.

Scott Stevens was the Devils captain during their greatest era. He won three Stanley Cups leading the team through the playoffs for most of the 90s and early 2000s. He did it with a healthy dose of fear instilled into star players. One could argue his hits alone shortened the careers of Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya. Obviously, they didn’t leave the game immediately after getting hit, but the long-term impact of those hits definitely made its mark.

With hits like Scheifele’s coming into the forefront, it begs the question of how Scott Stevens would play in the game today. For one, there’s no point in comparing eras. Would Stevens be considered dirty if he hit people as he did then now? Yes, that much is obvious. Were they considered dirty then? Not really. His penalty minutes actually went down as he transitions into a more hard-hitting style later in his career.

Stevens would put the fear of God into opposing players, and it was a deserved reputation. This was mid-90s hockey. We went from putting the focus on goal scoring to putting the focus on players who destroyed you. This was the era where NHL HITZ was a legit video game where you can hit someone so hard they ended up in the second deck. (It was also the best hockey video game ever.) This was the “Jacked Up” era in sports broadcasting. Then, we started to learn about head injuries. Now, when a player stumbles back to the bench, it’s not funny. It’s scary. It probably should have been then, but ignorance is bliss.

Stevens has done this to his opponents before. Let’s look at his “greatest hits” as picked by what I can only believe is Canadian Sportscentre.

Some of these look fine. In the first five, it looks like he keeps his feet on the ice. That’s the first place to look if a hit was dirty or not. Then, once we get to the Daymond Langkow hit, things start to get questionable.

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So a lot of these hits would definitely get Stevens into George Parros‘ office where he would have a very inconsistent time trying to figure out how long he would be suspended. However, Stevens showed multiple times during his career he could adapt to an ever-changing game. When he first came into the league, he was built like a brick house and kept up with those high-scoring 80s. He was regularly scoring 60 points in a season, and he was doing it with flair. Then, once Scott Niedermayer clearly had a better time in that role, Stevens turned into the gritty, hard-nosed defenseman that got his kicks out of knocking his opponent out.

That says he could at least try and adjust to the game today. Stevens took his captaincy very seriously. So, he wouldn’t want to be out of the lineup very often. There’s obviously the “you’re next” quote most Devils fans love. It takes us back to an era where it was a lot simpler to watch sports. Today, it comes off as an intent to injure.

We have to believe that Stevens would still hit people. It was in his nature. However, those late hits have to go if he’s playing today. The timing of some of those hits (especially the Kariya hit) makes them questionable off the top. This shows he needs to find a way to slow it down a notch so he can avoid the big hit when the puck is no longer a part of the play.

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The one thing going for Stevens is most of his hits came in open ice. It’s much harder to argue he was trying to hurt someone when the hit isn’t along the boards or near the benches. Open ice is more of a free for all for everyone. And yes, a lot of these players should have their heads up on open ice. However, in today’s game, those are considered illegal and they send Stevens to the owner’s box for a few games. He would do what he had to do to avoid that.

Stevens would still be one of the best defensemen in the game today. His hits got him on Sportscenter, and they’d be what got shared on Twitter and Instagram today, but he could stop an opposing player in so many different ways. So, he’d figure out how to do it within the rules in today’s game.