What If New Jersey Devils Didn’t Get Scott Stevens As Compensation?

Defenseman Scott Stevens #4 of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Defenseman Scott Stevens #4 of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

The greatest move in the history of Lou Lamoriello might seem debatable, but it’s not. He traded the pick that was used on goaltender Trevor Kidd to the Calgary Flames and eventually used their pick to select Martin Brodeur. That wasn’t Lou’s greatest move. He traded Tom Kurvers to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 1st-round draft pick. He, however, asked the Maple Leafs for a 1st rounder that came a year later. The Maple Leafs bottomed out, and the New Jersey Devils got defenseman Scott Niedermayer. That wasn’t Lou’s best moment. Lamoriello traded Sean Burke to the Hartford Whalers for Bobby Holik and the pick that turned into Jay Pandolfo. He signed Brian Rafalski out of Europe. He signed John Madden out of college, both coming for no compensation. There are so many draft picks, trades, negotiations, and signings that show that Lamoriello is a god in the hockey world. Still, nothing will ever compare to the negotiation he did when the St. Louis Blues signed Brendan Shanahan as a restricted free agent.

There is clear compensation when a team signs a restricted free agent. Right now, the compensation structure depends on the AAV of the contract, or the total compensation of the contract divided by five (if it’s more than five years). It usually costs quite a few draft picks to make these deals happen.

The Blues learned that lesson back in 1990 when they signed Scott Stevens away from the Washington Capitals. They gave up at least two 1st-round picks, but if they didn’t end up in the top seven of the draft, it would become five 1st-round picks. They also gave Stevens a massive contract with a massive signing bonus (for the time).

Next offseason, the Blues wanted to shop for other teams’ property again. This time, they landed on the Devils. The Blues made an offer for Brendan Shanahan. They wanted to add the future Hall of Famer to a core that included Stevens, Brett Hull, and Adam Oates. The issue is the Blues were dealing with Lou Lamoriello, and they didn’t have the necessary 1st-round pick to sign another restricted free agent.

The Blues offered Curtis Joseph and Rod Brind’Amour as compensation. It was a fair offer. Both players went on to play long and successful careers. However, Lamoriello wanted Stevens. The Blues and Stevens were appalled at the ask, but the neutral arbiter agreed it was fair.

What if the arbiter went the other way? It was a preposterous ruling to be honest. The arbiter gave the Devils one of the best defensemen in the league for a player who was honestly not on his level yet. What if the Devils ended this process with Rod Brind-Amour and Curtis Joseph?

Curtis Joseph was awesome that next season. He ended up as the Blues starter, playing in 60 games and putting up a .910 save percentage (which was much better then). If he was on the Devils, he would likely be the starter over Chris Terreri, who himself had a pretty good season. The Devils just traded Sean Burke, so theoretically they could have used a goalie, but they also had former 1st-round pick Martin Brodeur waiting in the wings.

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The Devils would eventually have to pick between Joseph and Brodeur. Obviously, Brodeur would be the right choice to make, but either way, Lamoriello could have traded Joseph after two or three seasons for quite the package.

Brind’Amour would be the long-term piece in the deal. He had quite the career with the Flyers and Hurricanes after leaving St. Louis. He was a gritty player that really thrived in that late-90s early 2000s style. He would fit right in with the Devils, but the issue is that mindset came from the on-ice play of Stevens.

Would the Devils have any of their Stanley Cups if they didn’t get Stevens from the Blues? He really held everything together. He won the Conn Smythe in 2000 when the Devils beat the Stars. He always had a way to change the narrative of a series on the ice. It’s hard to say the Devils would be three-time Stanley Cup Champs without Stevens. Maybe they win one and they are looked like as an outlier championship. It probably comes in that 2000 season because the Devils were so good that year and Brodeur was unstoppable.

The reach goes beyond this. There was talk to send the Devils to Nashville in the mid-90s. Would the NHL had pulled the trigger on taking hockey from the Garden State? Nashville offered A LOT to get the team to move. It included a stellar lease agreement and a $20 million moving bonus. If the Devils didn’t win the 1995 Stanley Cup, would John MacMullen have moved the team out of his home state? He said himself the money would have been better in Nashville, but did he really want to be the first American championship team to raise the banner in a different season than they won it?

Stevens compensation meant the world to this franchise. Brodeur is the franchise’s most important player, but Stevens is a close second. If Lamoriello *gasp* lost a negotiation, then the history of the Devils might have been short lived. We might be writing for the Nashville Predators blog or worse, we’d be forced to be Islanders fans.