Scott Stevens – “Captain Crunch”

For the second player profile, I thought I would go with a man who was one of the final pieces of the puzzle for the Devils to get over the top and win the Stanley Cup. The unquestioned leader of the team during its glory years: Scott Stevens. Stevens was a player who came to the Devils a little bit rough around the edges despite previous individual success elsewhere and would, over time (and with world-class coaching), become one of the best leaders in the game, rivaling perhaps only his cross-river rival, Rangers captain Mark Messier.

Scott Stevens was born April 1, 1964 in Kitchener, Ontario. Growing up, he was a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan whose favorite player was the legendary Leafs’ defenseman Borje Salming. Stevens’ father, Larry, was a semi-pro Canadian football player and, in fact, Scott played middle linebacker for his high school football team at Eastwood Collegiate Institute. While an excellent all-around athlete, Scott decided to stick with hockey and, in 1981, was chosen ninth overall in the Ontario Hockey League draft by the Kitchener Rangers. That Rangers team would include future NHLers such as Dave Shaw, Al MacInnis, future Devil Jeff Larmer and Brian Bellows. Stevens would play in the 1982 OHL All-Star Game and the team would win the Memorial Cup that year. Stevens would lead rookie defensemen in scoring that season as well. In a poll of OHL coaches, Stevens was named second best defensive defenseman in the league and, in a harbinger of things to come, was named second-best body checker in the entire league.

Stevens was drafted fifth overall by the Washington Capitals in the 1982 NHL Draft. He would make the team at training camp and never look back. In addition to never playing a minor league game, Stevens was among the elite players who scored on his first shot in his first NHL game, a list that includes Mario Lemieux. It is because of his never playing a game in the minors that Stevens was the quickest player in NHL history to play in 1,500 games (he was 37 years, 346 days old at the time of his 1,500th game). He would ultimately spend eight seasons in Washington and would make the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1983 as well as the First All-Star Team in 1988. During his time with the Caps he would play in two All-Star Games in 1985 and 1989. The Capitals were a team that was supposed to be on the brink of breaking out in the mid to late 1980s but never quite got over the hump. For Stevens, coach Bryan Murray would be a calming influence on a young player who was known as hot-headed and easy to goad into a fight or a penalty. Being that Stevens was one of the Capitals’ best offensive players at the time; this would hurt his team more than anything. Once he learned to curb his on-ice temper, Stevens was well on his way to becoming one of the premier defensemen in the NHL.

Stevens would leave for the St. Louis Blues as a restricted free agent in 1990. Washington declined to match the offer sheet and were compensated with $100,000 cash and two first round picks, which would turn into five first-round picks if the Caps did not have a top seven draft pick in 1991 or 1992. Stevens was immediately named captain in St. Louis and settled in with teammates Brett Hull and Adam Oates. He would play in the 1991 All-Star Game in his only season with the Blues.

In the 1991 offseason, St. Louis would sign New Jersey Devils star Brendan Shanahan, a restricted free agent as well. Because the picks owed to the Capitals were converted, the Blues now had to give up five first round picks and, thus, had no picks to negotiate with the Devils. This meant the teams had to go another route: the Blues were willing to give up goaltender Curtis Joseph and forward Rod Brind’Amour, as well as two draft picks. A worthy package to be sure, but the Devils insisted they wanted only one player: Scott Stevens. Finally, an arbitrator awarded Stevens to the Devils on September 4, 1991.

After refusing to initially report to training camp (Stevens was a source of controversy early on for the Devils, as he and his wife had intentions of settling in St. Louis and he did not feel entirely secure in coming east again – some players on the team even asked Lou Lamoriello to trade him, feeling he was “being forced upon the team”), Scott Stevens would officially reported to camp on September 26, 1991. By the beginning of the 1992-93 season, he would be named team captain. That season, he would aslo finish with 12 goals and 57 points, good enough to lead all Devils defensemen. The next season, 1993-94, he would lead the entire team in scoring with 78 points (including 18 goals), which was also his career high to that point in his career. He would also set a league record that season, finishing with a +53 in winning the NHL Plus/Minus Award, the highest to that point and the second highest winning plus/minus rating in award history behind only Vladimir Konstantinov in 1995-96, who finished with a +60.

Controversy would return to Stevens and the Devils in the 1994 offseason, as the St. Louis Blues again entered the picture trying to re-sign Stevens (who was once again a restricted free agent). The Devils would match the offer sheet ($17 million over four years), but would later learn that St. Louis had approached Stevens before the free agency period officially began. It took the NHL five years, but they eventually found the Blues guilty of wrong-doing and fined them $1.5 million and gave the Devils two of the Blues’ first-round draft picks. There was no evidence that Stevens was aware of any of the wrong-doing on St. Louis management’s part.

Stevens would lead Devils defensemen in scoring again in the lockout shortened 1994-95 season with 22 points. But the biggest achievement for the team and for Stevens was the defeat of the heavily-favored Detroit Red Wings for the team’s first Stanley Cup. Stevens memorably knocked Slava Kozlov out of Game 2 temporarily due to a massive body check. It is here that Stevens turned to Red Wing Dino Ciccarelli and, from the Devils bench said “You’re next!” after Ciccarelli complained about the hit to officials.

Stevens would finish second among Devils defensemen in 1996-97 in scoring with 24 points. The years 1996 to 1999 were tough ones for the Devils and their fans, with early playoff exits and completely missing the playoffs in 1996 (becoming the first team since the 1969-70 Montreal Canadiens to miss the playoffs the year after winning the Cup), however Stevens remained the rock on the defense, never finishing with a minus rating for that entire time. In fact, Stevens would never finish with a minus rating in any season his entire career, a feat that truly speaks to his consistency.

The Devils were back on top in 2000, winning their second Stanley Cup by defeating the Dallas Stars. Stevens was named Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. But it was the Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers where Stevens’ physical play shone brightest. Stevens took Daymond Langkow out in Game 2 with a thunderous hit and then, in probably his most famous (or infamous, depending on which side you are on) hit, he leveled Eric Lindros coming through the neutral zone with his head down. Lindros received a concussion, but Stevens has contended that the hit, like all of his body checks, was legal and would stand up even today. His philosophy was essentially that hockey is a contact sport and he was fair game just as any of his opponents were. That stance would never be more tested than in Game 6 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. It was there that Stevens would notch another hit on his stick when he knocked Mighty Ducks superstar Paul Kariya out cold. In a famous scene, Kariya would recover with a puff of breath on his visor and return to lead the victory, forcing a Game 7, which the Devils would win to claim their third Stanley Cup.

In 2003-04, Stevens played in his 1,616th game making him the all-time NHL leader in games played for defensemen. On September 6, 2005, Stevens would retire. His final tally includes 1,635 games played, a +393 plus/minus rating and 2,785 PIMs. He won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 1991 Canada Cup and represented his country at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. With the Devils, he would play in the 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003 All-Star Games. He would become the first Devil to have his number retired as his number “4” would hang from the rafters of Continental Airlines Arena and, now, the Prudential Center where he currently works as an assistant coach for the Devils. He was named to the First All-Star Team in 1994 as a Devil and the Second All-Star Team in 1992, 1997 and 2001.

Scott Stevens epitomized the Devils during their glory years as a no-nonsense defense-first player who played the game to win. In 2007 he was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto an honor that solidified his toughness and, above all, his willingness to win.

Brian Rafalski to Be Honored By U.S. Hockey Hall

Another former Devil is going into a hockey Hall of Fame. Joining former coach Pat Burns, who is joining the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto next November, Brian Rafalski was named one of the newest members of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame last week. Rafalski, a Dearborn, Michigan native, will join Karyn Bye Dietz, Jeff Sauer and former Devils assistant coach (under Doug Carpenter from 1984 to 1986) Lou Vairo as this year’s inductees into the U.S. Hockey Hall in Eveleth, Minnesota this December.

Much like the subject of last week’s post, Andy Greene, Rafalski was another find by the Devils scouting staff and General Manager Lou Lamoriello. Going undrafted after four years at the University of Wisconsin from 1991 to 1995 (where he played under coach and fellow inductee Sauer), the defenseman played in Europe for Brynas IF of the Swedish Elite League and Hameenlinnan Pallokerho and Helsingin IFK in Finland for four seasons from 1995 to 1999 before being signed as a free agent by the Devils. Over his seven years as a Devil, Rafalski had 44 goals and 311 points in 541 games over the regular season. He won two Stanley Cups with the team in 2000 and 2003. After joining the Detroit Red Wings in 2007 as a free agent, he would add another Stanley Cup with them in 2008.

Some of Rafalski’s other honors over his career include: All-WCHA Rookie Team (1991-92), All-WCHA First Team (1994-95), AHCA West First-Team All-American (1994-95) and WCHA Defenseman of the year in 1994-95 in college. In Europe: 1997 and 1999 recipient of the Pekka Rautakallio trophy for best defenseman in the SM-liiga (Finland), Matti Keinonen trophy for best plus/minus in 1999 in SM-liiga, and the 1999 Kultainen kypara award for the best player in the SM-liiga. Over his 11-year NHL career, he was honored with: a place on the 1999-2000 NHL All-Rookie Team, Rookie of the Month for February 2000, a spot on the 2003-04 Eastern Conference squad at the All-Star Game in Minnesota and a spot on the 2007-08 Western Conference squad at the All-Star Game in Dallas. In international play: named best defenseman of the 2010 Olympic Men’s hockey tournament as well as an All-Star selection in that same Olympic Games in Vancouver. Rafalski represented the U.S. in three Olympic Games: 2002 in Salt Lake City where he won a silver medal, 2006 in Torino, Italy where the Americans finished a disappointing eighth and the 2010 games where Team USA won silver after losing a thrilling Olympic Final to Canada. That final game included Rafalski’s former Devils teammate Zach Parise scoring the game tying goal for the Americans with less than 30 seconds on the clock, stunning the Canadian crowd and sending the game to overtime.

His other international appearances include: the 1992 World Junior Championship, winning bronze, the 1993 World Junior Championship, finishing just out of contention in fourth, the 1995 World Championship, where the Americans finished in sixth and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, where the U.S. again finished just out of medal contention in fourth. His best international tournament undoubtedly came at the 2010 Olympics, where, in the American’s 5-3 win over Canada early in the tournament, he scored two goals and added an assist. This win won Team USA their group and earned them a bye to the quarterfinals. Rafalski led all defenceman in scoring in that tournament.

Professionally, Rafalski was named in 1999 by The Sporting News as the best hockey player not in the NHL. Upon his signing by the Devils, Rafalski made an immediate impact: he was paired as a defensive tandem with Scott Stevens (who would remain his defensive partner until Stevens’ retirement in 2004). Although 26 years old in 1999-2000 (much older than an average NHL rookie), he led all rookie defensemen with a +21 rating that season. Although that plus/minus rating was only second among Devils defensemen and tied for first among all rookies (forwards and defensemen). Rafalski was talented offensive defenseman: he totaled 79 goals in the NHL over 833 games and tallied another 43 in Europe in 142 games played on that continent. He notched 436 assists in the NHL for a total of 515 points while adding 68 assists in Europe for 111 points. In the NHL he finished his career with a +178 rating (a testament to his solid two-way play) and 282 PIMs (he had 68 PIMs in Europe). The playoffs were a stage that Rafalski truly shined on. Never missing the postseason during his entire tenure in the NHL with the Devils and Red Wings, he finished his career with 29 goals, 71 assists and 100 points in 165 games. He was +42 with 66 PIMs. In European playoff tournaments, he scored 16 goals and 20 assists in 30 games for 36 points and had only 8 penalty minutes.

Rafalski retired in 2011 in his final year of a contract with Detroit. His lengthy career had taken a toll on his knees and back. In 2014, after three years away from professional hockey, Rafalski attempted a comeback by signing with the Florida Everblades of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). However, after 18 days, he was released due to a bad back. Rafalski’s career is now over for all intents and purposes, but he is now getting his due with his inclusion in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

It was his size that kept him from being drafted by an NHL team right away, as many teams did shy away from his smaller stature, but it was his passion and speed that got him into the NHL, according to Wings GM Ken Holland. It was Brian Rafalski’s two-way skill and winning attitude that would keep him in the NHL.

As for the other Devil-related inductee, Vairo, although he did have a cup of coffee in the NHL, it was his service to USA Hockey that gained him the most notoriety. He is the current director of special projects for USA Hockey, a role he has held since 1992. He has worked for national and professional teams in the U.S. and Europe for three decades. He also served as head coach of Team USA at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo and an assistant coach for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic team. Vairo, according to Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com, studied under the father of Russian hockey, Anatoly Tarasov and won the Lester Patrick Award in 2000. He received the 1994 John “Snooks” Kelley Founders Award from the American Hockey Coaches Association for his lifetime commitment to hockey and, that same year, the Walter Yaciuk Award from the Coaching Education Program of USA Hockey.

Congratulations to the men and woman honored this year by the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, as they are all exceedingly deserving and have helped contribute to the popularity of the game in the United States as well as the high-caliber of play that Team USA has become known for on the international stage.

Devils Keep Defense Strong with Greene Resigning

The Devils announced on July 30 that the team had come to terms on a new, long-term contract with defenseman Andy Greene. As per team policy, terms were not disclosed right away. Greene, the 31-year-old Devils’ stalwart from Trenton, Michigan (who will turn 32 on October 30) will anchor a defense corps that is getting much younger, as players like Adam Larsson and Jon Merrill are expected to make the team, while Eric Gelinas (a restricted free agent), if he does not sign elsewhere, would also be expected to be a member of the big club come October. Greene’s leadership, he was named the winner of the Unsung Hero award by his teammates in 2013-14 for the second time in five seasons, should be a great fit with the young players he will be playing alongside for the next few season.

You also have to look to Greene as a future team captain. The Devils have historically looked to their defense for their captains (think Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Bruce Driver and current captain Bryce Salvador) and it is clear that Greene is being groomed for that spot once Salvador retires or otherwise leaves the team. Greene has the tenure and has proven himself to be a great leader. With this new longer-term contract, that is likely where he is headed.

Greene is a guy right out of Lou Lamoriello’s Devils mold. He played NCAA hockey for Miami University of Ohio (of the CCHA) for four seasons from 2002-03 to 2005-06. Some of his college honors include being named to the 2003 CCHA All-Rookie Team, the 2004, 2005 and 2006 CCHA First All-Star Teams, the 2004, 2005 and 2006 CCHA All-Tournament Teams. He was named the 2006 Offensive Defenseman of the Year (skills he showed more and more of last season for the Devils), 2006 Defensive Defenseman of the Year and was a member of the 2005 NCAA West Second All-American Team and the 2006 NCAA West First All-American Team. He went undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Devils on April 4, 2006. He was assigned to the Lowell Devils of the AHL and was an All-Star in 2006-07. He made his National Hockey League debut with the Devils on January 12, 2007. He represented Team USA in the 2010 World Championships, where he had two assists in six games played. As Lamoriello said in a press release issued by the Devils on the subject: “As a senior member of the Devils’ defense, we consider Andy Greene one of the core players on our roster. We look forward to Andy being with our organization on a long-term basis.”

In Greene’s eighth NHL season last year, he put up some impressive offensive numbers, finishing second on the Devils defense with 32 points. He had eight goals and, most importantly had 13 power play points. In 477 games with the Devils over his entire NHL career, Greene has 28 goals, 121 assists and 149 points total to go along with 154 PIMs. He has appeared in 147 straight games since March 6, 2012 and has played in more games for the organization than any other current Devils’ defenseman.

His emerging offensive output cannot be overlooked either, especially on the power play and in overtime and late in games (think his late-game heroics in Boston and Washington last year). As Devils MSG Plus analyst Ken Daneyko has pointed out on broadcasts, Greene is learning exactly when to pinch in and when to play it safe. His hockey sense allows him to know exactly when to move into the offensive play and it has paid dividends for him on the stat sheet. This is the kind of thing that Greene can help a young defenseman such as Larsson or Merrill with and make the entire team better as a whole. Add to the fact that the Devils still have one of the best defensemen ever coaching with them in Hall of Famer Scott Stevens; Greene looks to be stepping into a great situation both for himself and for the team.

While his familiar number “6” has been patrolling the Devils blueline for almost a decade, Greene has gone largely unnoticed by the rest of the NHL and the hockey world. He was passed up for a spot on the US Olympic team this past winter in Sochi, having not even been invited to the team’s camp last summer. This was a move that was largely derided by Devils fans and media who follow the team on a daily basis. But with a more offensively infused game allowing him to show up on the highlight shows a little more often, he has been turning heads. While still playing a solid defensive game, Greene has slowly worked his way towards being recognized in a league that seems to put highlight reel goals and offense way above the guys who work hard defensively and quietly get the job done.

While his newly shown offensive skills are a bonus, it is Greene’s defense and his leadership that are most appealing to the Devils and the reason that they signed Greene to a long-term deal. Andy Greene might never get his true due as an NHL All-Star or a Norris Trophy winner (which all too often goes to the defenseman with the most offensive points and not the best overall defenseman in the league), but he will just keep doing what he does best with the Devils and that is making the strong defensive plays and knowing just when to join the offense and pick his spots. His two-way abilities make him the ideal special teams player: someone who can anchor the power play with another player like Gelinas at the points and a great penalty killer. Greene’s ability to stay healthy, as shown by his iron man streak and his total number of games played also give him added value.

He may get lost in the shuffle nationally, but here in New Jersey, fans know that Andy Greene is worth every penny of his new contract.

Player Profile: Ken Daneyko, “Mr. Devil”

I knew I wanted to start doing occasional player profiles here on the blog and knew exactly where I wanted to begin: with the man who holds the club record for games played (1,283) over his twenty year NHL career (spent entirely with the Devils) – Ken Daneyko. Over the last 30-plus years, no one has embodied the New Jersey Devils franchise and represented the team better than “Dano.” Whether it was as a rock-solid defenseman patrolling the Devils’ blueline or as a broadcaster on MSG Devils telecasts giving insight into the current team’s play, no one person is more tied to the Garden State’s entry into the National Hockey League than Ken Daneyko.

Although born in Windsor, Ontario, on April 17, 1964,  Daneyko actually grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. Taken with the 18th overall pick in the first round of the 1982 NHL Draft, Daneyko was the second draft pick in Devils history, taken behind only Rocky Trottier (brother of Islanders star Bryan Trottier) who was drafted 8th overall by the Devils. Interestingly, Scott Stevens, a man who would play an important part in Devils history, as captain of three Stanley Cup teams, and be intrinsically tied to Daneyko’s career, as well as a fellow defenseman, was taken 5th overall in that same draft by the Washington Capitals. The Draft was held on June 9, 1982 at the Montreal Forum and, thus, the team had not yet chosen a new nickname. But make no mistake, Daneyko was not chosen by the Colorado Rockies. When notified of his selection by the as-yet-unnamed New Jersey team, he turned to his mother and, as the story goes, asked her where New Jersey was located. Although Daneyko was not exactly sure where he was going to be lacing up his skates geographically, he has gone on record as saying that he was just happy to be drafted and to get a chance to play in the NHL.  Daneyko’s junior career had taken him from the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League to the Great Falls Americans, Spokane Flyers and Seattle Breakers of the WHL. He would make his Devils debut on October 5, 1983 against, appropriately, the New York Rangers in which he had his first NHL assist and point. He would score his first NHL goal a few weeks later on October 30, 1983 against Pittsburgh’s Michel Dion. Unfortunately, Daneyko would break his leg in a game against the Hartford Whalers and miss most of the 1983-84 season. Once his leg healed, he would be sent back to the Kamloops Junior Oilers of the WHL. Dave Hutchison had worn the number three for the 1982-83 season. Daneyko would claim it in 1983-84 and would never relinquish it, becoming the last Devil ever to wear it.

The following season was spent with the American Hockey League’s Maine Mariners, where Daneyko would refine the defensive skills he became known for. Daneyko would be called up to the Devils to start 1985-86, but would be sent back to Maine that November. He was recalled in January and spent the rest of the season (and his career) in the NHL with the Devils. He would represent Canada at that year’s World Championships, where the team would win a bronze medal. The 1986-87 was Dano’s first full year in the NHL and he would miss only one game that season.

Nineteen Eighty-eight was a magical year for the Devils and their fans and for Ken Daneyko. In an MSG documentary about the Devils’ Stanley Cup run that year called “MSG’s Vault: Devils on the Rise,” Al Trautwig said that all he has to do to get Daneyko to smile is say “1988,” and there is little question why that is the case. Daneyko would score five goals in the 1987-88 regular season, but none bigger than one he scored on April 3, 1988 in Chicago Stadium. The last game of the season and the Devils need a win to get in to the playoffs for the first time. The Rangers, with whom the Devils were competing with for that last spot in the Patrick Division, had won earlier in the day against Quebec. Daneyko would score the opening goal of that game against the Blackhawks, getting the team started on their way to an overtime win that would give them a spot in playoffs. Although Dano beat Darren Pang early in the first, it was that goal that set the pace for the Devils all night. Daneyko would finish that season with 12 points total and had seven points that postseason. For several years, until the Stanley Cups would come for the team, it was this year that Devils fans would look to as their “championship” season. This was the year that put the Devils on the map, the year that took the “Mickey Mouse” label, laid on them by Wayne Gretzky in 1983, off the team. It was apropos that Daneyko would play such an integral part in it then, as he was quickly becoming the face of a young franchise on the rise.

Although the Devils could not follow up on the magic of 1988 (the team would miss the playoffs, disappointingly, in 1989), Daneyko personally set a then franchise record of 283 PIMs, breaking his own record set the season prior. In 1989-90, he would become the first Devil to top 1,000 PIMs and would win the Ray DeGraw Memorial Award for cooperation with the media. Other career highlights in the years between 1988 and winning his first Cup in 1995 include scoring his only goal of the 1991-92 season on March 7, which was also his 100th career NHL point. He would play in his 500th game that year on February 6. March 20, 1993 saw Dano play in his 600th NHL game. In 1993-94, he began the year as the NHL’s ironman, starting the season in his 311th straight game. He would also claim a franchise record from Kirk Muller when he would play in his 322nd straight game that year.

The 1994-95 Stanley Cup season would see him play in his 700th NHL game and would see the Devils pull off the impossible in their four game sweep of the powerful Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. For players such as Daneyko and John MacLean, who were there in the early “Mickey Mouse” days and grew with the team through 1988, winning the 1995 Stanley Cup had to be the ultimate accomplishment. Daneyko would go on to win two more Cups with New Jersey, being the only player along with Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur, Sergei Brylin and Scott Niedermayer to be a member of all three of the Devils’ Stanley Cup teams in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

One of Ken Daneyko’s biggest accomplishments, though, would be his struggle with alcoholism in the late-1990s and 2000. He would check into rehab in 2000 with the help of General Manager Lou Lamoriello and team owner Dr. John McMullen. Daneyko recovered and played in every game during the Devils Stanley Cup run in 2000. He was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy that year for being the NHL player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.” That award is selected by a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association from a group of nominees from each team. Daneyko has remained sober to this day.

Ken Daneyko’s career would come to an end after the 2002-03 season when he announced his retirement from the Devils. He could not have picked a better note to go out on, as the Devils defeated the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final to win their third Stanley Cup. Coach Pat Burns would have a tough decision to make during that postseason, as Daneyko was benched or scratched altogether several times during the playoffs. But the coach knew what the man known as “Mr. Devil” meant to the team and at a team dinner the night before game seven, pulled Daneyko aside and told him he would be playing the following night. Daneyko had to go into another room, away from his teammates, in order to compose himself, the situation was that emotional for him.

Daneyko would be honored by the Devils on March 24, 2006 as the second Devil to have his jersey number retired. His number “3” has hung from the rafters of the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford and, now, in the Prudential Center in Newark. He became a naturalized United States citizen, because, as he pointed out, he has spent more time living in the U.S. than in Canada during his lifetime and his kids were born in the country. In retirement, “Dano” has worked for MSG broadcasts of Devils games and represents the team on the network’s “Hockey Night Live” panel show. There is much speculation that he will replace Glenn “Chico” Resch as the Devils’ TV color commentator following Resch’s retirement after this past season.

Time will tell what is next for a man who has represented the Devils so well not only on the ice and on TV, but also in the community. Ken Daneyko is a true Devils legend, and for someone who could not locate the state on a map when he was drafted, has become one of us, a true New Jerseyan.

Looking to Make a Mark at Rookie Camp

The 2014 edition of the New Jersey Devils Rookie Camp closed up last week with a lot of decisions to be made by the team’s coaching staff. A talented group of rookies helped their cases to crack the opening night starting lineup and stick with the team throughout the 2014-15 NHL season. Who will ultimately join the big club and who will join the AHL’s Albany squad for more seasoning? Some players will return to college or their junior teams, having gained the experience of attending an NHL team’s camp. Most look promising and will be solid NHLers, if not for the Devils than elsewhere in the league. Overall, this was a learning experience for all involved and it will give the team and the players a better understanding of where they stand.

One of the most interesting developments at Devils Rookie Camp (which took place at the AmeriHealth Pavilion adjacent to the Prudential Center, which is used as the Devils practice facility) was having three Brodeur brothers on the ice at the same time: goaltenders Anthony and Jeremy and forward William. Although Marty may have left the organization for now, the Brodeur name was well represented. Anthony, the oldest at 19, drafted by the Devils in 2013 at the NHL Draft at Prudential Center, was 13-10-2 in his last campaign with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He also posted two shutouts and a 2.90 GAA. Jeremy just finished his high school career at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota. He had 22 wins in his 26 games played with four shutouts last season and will play next season for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. William, the lone Brodeur brother skater had 10 goals and 22 assists in 46 games last year for Shattuck.

One of New Jersey’s main issues going into the Rookie Camp (as well as the team’s regular training camp which starts next month) was defense. As pointed out by Mike Morreale on NHL.com, both Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas had an impactful season as rookies last year. This was due to injuries causing holes in the lineup that needed to be filled. Merrill and Gelinas, along with Adam Larsson, are looking to make their mark on the team this year and will definitely compete for spots come training camp after the departures of defensemen Anton Volchenkov, who was a compliance buyout by the Devils and signed with the Nashville Predators, and Mark Fayne, who signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers. But this shows the players who showed up at AmeriHealth Pavilion that they can make the team, and to be ready should the club need them. The injury bug will hit during a long NHL season and the youngsters know that they can be called up to fill roles at any time. In addition, the Devils know they need to get some younger legs on the blueline and are taking the necessary steps to make this happen. A good mix of youth and veteran leadership (everywhere on the ice, for that matter) should give the Devils the opportunity to compete in a tough Metropolitan Division. Other standouts on defense were Seth Helgeson (taken 114th overall in 2009) and Damon Severson (60th overall in 2012). Helgeson, a University of Minnesota product spent last year with Albany and had one goal and nine assists, 100 PIMs and a plus-12 rating for the A-Devils in 75 games played. The large (6-foot 4-inch, 215-pounds) physical defenseman has been training under Devils assistant coach and former Stanley Cup winning captain, Scott Stevens, a man also known for his physical presence. Severson just completed his fourth season with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League and had 15 goals and 46 assists for 61 points, good for being tied for sixth in scoring amongst defensemen in the WHL. Like Gelinas, he possesses a great shot from the point, according to Morreale. This is something that can help the Devils power play: having more than one defenseman with a hard, accurate shot to help anchor the power play units.

Up front, some of the main standouts are guys who already have NHL experience: forwards Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau. Boucher, selected 99th overall in 2011 had the most NHL games played of everyone at the camp, with 23. He had two goals and five assists last season. Matteau, 29th overall in 2012, had 17 games played back in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and had one goal and two helpers. Boucher has a scoring touch, as he converted a shootout attempt for the Devils last season, which is something that not many players could say in the first half of the campaign. He ended up fifth in scoring for the Albany Devils notching 38 points in 56 games. Matteau, meanwhile, played his first full pro season last year for Albany (he was sent back to his junior team after his brief time with the Devils in 2012-13). He had an even 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points in his debut season in the AHL. The Chicago native also played for Team USA in the 2014 World Junior Championship. He had three goals and an assist and 10 PIMs in five games. According to the Morreale article, coach Peter DeBoer wants to see Boucher bring a “workmanlike mentality” to his game. The coach invoked former team captain Zach Parise’s name when he said he told Boucher: “… Whether he’s playing on a first line or fourth line, he has to bring that workmanlike mentality. I told him that the beauty about Zach Parise was that he was a first-line player with a fourth-line work ethic. I think Reid can take some notes from that.”

In the net, the race is to see who will be Cory Schneider’s backup next year. The battle should come down to Scott Wedgewood (84th overall in the 2010 draft), Long Island-native Keith Kinkaid and Scott Clemmensen (who was signed to a two-way contract as a free agent from the Florida Panthers). Wedgewood played for Albany last year (his first full season with the club) and posted a 16-4-3 record, including four shutouts. He had a 2.39 GAA and a .899 save percentage. Morreale quoted Wedgewood as saying that he feels he might be able to use another year in Albany for seasoning. He said that both Kinkaid and Clemmensen were older goaltenders with experience. While he is right, injuries do happen and were Schneider or his eventual backup to go down with injury, the other two goaltenders left in Albany have to be an option to be ready. Obviously, there is a tendency to look at the goalie situation as being back to square one: with an established veteran (in past seasons Brodeur, now Schneider) in the number one position making it hard for a younger guy to crack the lineup. With the acquisition of Clemmensen, things might look even bleaker for the 25-year-old Kinkaid and the 21-year-old Wedgewood’s chances of making the NHL squad. But when everything shakes down at training camp in about a month, the best goalie at camp will end up being Schneider’s number two and the others will bide their time in Albany waiting to make their mark with the big club.

Things seem very promising for the Devils up and down the lineup going into training camp. Rookie Camp helped make things a little more clear and the standouts from that camp may very well be walking out of training camp as full-fledged NHLers, realizing their lifelong dream and making an impact for the New Jersey Devils. In the NHL, youth will be served and this year was and is no exception to that rule.

The Future is Now: The Devils’ 2014 Draft Picks

The 2014 NHL Draft was held June 27 and 28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and the New Jersey Devils were looking for two things according to Director of Scouting David Conte: character and strength. Their six picks in the annual Entry Draft gave them just that and a direct connection to the Devils’ early days to boot.

The first round was held in one day, Friday, June 27, and the team’s first pick, 30th overall, on that day was one that had to be fought for. Initially, the team was given the choice of forfeiting a first round pick in either 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014 as part of the penalty for circumventing the salary cap in the Ilya Kovalchuk signing in 2011 (the penalty also included a $3 million fine and the Devils giving up their third round pick in 2011). Upon appeal and review, the NHL reduced the fine to $1.5 million and gave the Devils their first round pick this year (they had chosen to keep the picks in 2011, 2012 and 2013 meaning that they would have had no choice but to give up their first round pick this year). The only caveat was that the Devils had to pick last in the first round, 30th overall. They turned that pick into John Quenneville, a center from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. Quenneville already had family connections to the NHL: his brother Peter was taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets 195th overall in 2013. His uncle (through marriage) is Johnny Boychuk of the Boston Bruins and his second cousin is Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. His connection to the Chicago head man already gives him a connection to the Devils already, as Joel Quenneville was an original Devil in 1982-83, coming over from Colorado with the Rockies. A defenseman, he scored 5 goals with 12 assists in 74 games and was a -13 with 46 PIMs for the Devils that year. He was traded to Calgary on June 21, 1983 along with Steve Tambellini for Phil Russell and the man who would go on to become the second captain in team history: Mel Bridgman. As for John, according to NHL Central Scouting’s David Gregory (via devils.nhl.com): “He has the pro makeup and is a hard-worker. He makes good plays very quickly and is good at moving the puck. I’d like to see more consistency from him, but I like the way he finds open spaces and his ability to make any kind of pass.”

The second through seventh rounds were held the next day on Saturday, June 28. Taken in the second round, 41st overall was defenseman Josh Jacobs of the Indiana Ice of the USHL. While Jacobs does not have quite the pedigree that John Quenneville possesses, but he is a solid pick for the Devils. He had 5 goals and 18 assists and a plus-36 rating for the Ice, leading the team to the Clark Cup (the USHL championship) one year after they finished last in the league. He has committed to Michigan State for the 2014-15 season, so it will be a while before the Devils can sign him to a pro contract, but according to Greg Rajanen of Central Scouting through devils.nhl.com: “Josh is a solid two-way defender and is still growing into his body. He moves well in all directions and handles the puck well. He can one-time the puck with good pace on his shot and is good at stick defending.”

The Devils next pick was in the third round, 71st overall: Connor Chatham (Plymouth Whalers, Ontario Hockey League). Best comparing himself to St. Louis Blues captain David Backes, Chatham is a right wing that plays a strong two-way style according to devils.nhl.com. He grew up a fan of Brett Hull and the Blues and, at the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine, completed 18 bench press reps, tying for second overall. According to David Conte: “He made great improvement; his productivity was all in the second half [of the season], which lends us to believe it should be significantly better next year. He lends a physical presence, he’s got speed. He’s a big prototypical winger, where, if you ask the general manager, “What do you want to draft?”, they’re going to tell me: a big winger. Well, that’s Connor Chatham.”

The Devils’ fifth round pick, 131st overall was defenseman Ryan Rehill of the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. The Golden, British Columbia native was ranked 76th among North American skaters and put up four goals and sixteen assists in 72 games for Kamloops last year. David Conte’s assessment: “He’s a big, strong, tough defenseman, in-your-face, very difficult to play against. There’s players in the League like [Boston’s] Adam McQuaid that are somewhat similar profiles. … He has the willingness and he has the size and he has the grit. He needs to improve on the skillset in order to use that toughness, but we look forward to having that presence.”

The Devils secured two picks in the sixth round (their last two picks, as the team had traded their seventh round pick to the Arizona Coyotes – the Coyotes would pick left winger Jared Fiegi with that pick). The 152nd overall pick was Joey Dudek. Like many recent NHL draft picks, he comes from a family who has professional sports connections, but not in hockey. Dudek’s father played for the Denver Broncos of the NFL and was picked to win the 1985 Heisman Trophy by Sports Illustrated when he broke Walter Payton’s NCAA record for career touchdowns that year. His son, a Derry, New Hampshire native is a center who switched from winger two years ago, according to devils.nhl.com. He will play next season for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL and has committed to Boston College for the 2015-16 season. David Conte: “He has a significant ways to go, but he has a very high skill level as-is. … He does have pure, natural talent which deviates a little bit from the physical presence that dominated the early part of our draft. … No better program than Boston College.”

The Devils final pick in the Draft, 161st overall was winger Brandon Baddock of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. Baddock helped lead the Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup (the Canadian Hockey League Championship) last year with six goals and eleven assists in 56 games. The 6 foot 3 inch, 200 pound Baddock also had 128 PIMs. As Conte stated: “A big, strong tough guy that’s evolving. Played on a Memorial Cup champion and got minimal ice time because he was on a team that (is) laden with so much pure talent and older players. His future’s yet ahead of him. He has a willingness and a dimension that when you need it, it’s impossible to find.

With that pick, the Devils wrapped up their 2014 NHL Draft. While the Philadelphia crowd may have given the Devils a rough reception (on TV you could hear the booing every time the Devils were mentioned, which is payback for last year, when the Flyers were booed at every instance at the Draft in Newark!), they certainly reaped a lot from this year’s draft. While ideally, all of the picks would pan out, most sports fans know that this is almost never the case. In some instances, even the top pick overall does not pan out, and lower round “diamonds in the rough” are not uncommon. The Devils are banking on at least their top two picks being NHL-ready within a season or two. If their lower round picks can come through and be NHL-caliber players, that would be great, but the team is looking towards Jacobs and, especially, Quenneville playing for the team in the future and, hopefully, becoming stars in the National Hockey League.

Devils’ Offseason Moves Will Have Impact

For the New Jersey Devils, the 2014 offseason will be remembered long into the future. Whether it is remembered for helping to build a Stanley Cup contender (as is the hope) remains to be seen. What it will mainly be remembered for is the jettisoning of future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur and the complete restructuring of the goalie ranks, as well as some under-the-radar signings and a good draft.

Brodeur was rendered obsolete when the Devils signed unrestricted free agent goalie Scott Clemmensen from Florida. Clemmensen, a former Devil, had played well when Brodeur went down with an arm injury in 2008-09, but left the Devils for the Panthers, where he had a chance to become a number one. Unfortunately, when Florida reacquired Roberto Luongo at last year’s trading deadline, Clemmensen was pushed aside and made expendable. The Devils quickly snapped him up and he will now likely be Cory Schneider’s backup going into next season, unless another goalie in the system (such as Keith Kinkaid) were to step up in training camp.

Speaking of Cory Schneider, word broke just prior to the writing of this column that the man now considered the ace in New Jersey had signed a multi-year extension with the team, making him a Devil for a “long time.” As per club policy, no details on the contract were disclosed. This is a fantastic move for the Devils, as they shore up their netminders for the future with the departure of Brodeur. Schneider will, undoubtedly, have a lot on his shoulders next season, replacing a surefire Hall of Famer in the nets. But, with years of battling to be the number one both in New Jersey and Vancouver, nobody could be more prepared to finally have the responsibility all to himself.

Besides Clemmensen, the Devils two other main free agent signing moves this offseason were the acquisition of Mike Cammalleri from the Calgary Flames and Martin Havlat, who was a compliance buyout by the San Jose Sharks. Both should add a little more up front for the team. Cammalleri, especially, is a good pickup for a team that sometimes struggles offensively. One of the first questions asked of Cammalleri at his Q and A with the press, in fact, was how good he is in shootouts, relevant following the Devils’ historically bad year in the “skills competition.” The overall feeling is that Cammalleri can be a great offensive spark for the Devils, and mesh well with some of the goal scorers on the team such as Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr. Havlat is hoping to reinvigorate his career and hopes that playing with longtime friend and Czech national teammate Patrik Elias and other fellow Czech Jagr can do just that.

While the top line guys were being reconfigured and put together, the Devils resigned fourth line wonders, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. These moves should allow the Devils to continue to have that powerful fourth line presence. While their linemate Ryan Carter remains a UFA for the time being, resigning two key components from their 2012 Stanley Cup Final run should allow them to continue to have some depth and strength up and down the lineup.

The Devils’ moves this offseason have been with two goals in mind: to strengthen their team offense and to help tie up the goaltending as they move into the future. Although the latter meant that the team lost a legend and a guy who has been the masked face of the Devils for the past two decades, it also has brought them a goalie in Cory Schneider that will (with luck) be the face of the franchise for the next ten to fifteen years or so. As the team heads into the 2014-15 season, they seem ready to regain their place as an elite team in the Metropolitan Division and the NHL. Here’s to hoping the Devils moves pay off and they can shake things up once the season begins.

Note: This week was a little bit shorter of a column than I wanted, but I have decided to split this week and next weeks’ so that I can talk about the Draft next week. One of the Devils picks (John Quenneville, taken in the 1st Round, 30th Overall) has a connection to early Devils history (he is a relative of original Devil and current Blackhawks coach, Joel Quenneville) that I would like to get into. Till then, have a great week and Let’s Go Devils!

Pat Burns: A Hall of Fame Coach

News broke last week that former Devils coach Pat Burns, who led the team to the 2003 Stanley Cup championship, was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, class of 2014. Burns, who passed away in 2010 after a five year battle with cancer, would have been considered a Hall of Famer in most hockey fans’ minds minus the Stanley Cup win in 2003. The fact that he topped such a wonderful career with the one goal that eluded him all of his years in the National Hockey League was something that, looking back on it, most hockey fans can agree was icing on the cake of a truly remarkable man’s life.

Pat Burns did not have the same career path as most other NHL coaches. He never played professionally and spent the first ten or fifteen years or so of his adult working life as a police officer in Gatineau, Quebec. He had a sharp mind for hockey and used to analyze televised games the next day for his fellow officers before and after work. His co-workers could tell that he was not watching hockey the same way they were. He was almost preparing himself for a career that he did not know was even an option at the time.

After coaching local youth hockey in his spare time, Burns would move on to the job that would get him noticed among the hockey elite: he was hired as an assistant with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Hull Olympiques (now the Gatineau Olympiques – Anthony Brodeur’s team in the QMJHL). Burns juggled the assistant coach’s job with his police duties until Wayne Gretzky became owner of the QMJHL team in 1984. Gretzky immediately hired Burns as the head coach, Burns quit his day job, and a legendary career was launched. Burns coached the major junior team until 1987 when the Montreal Canadiens came calling. Looking for someone to take over the reins of their American Hockey League affiliate, the Sherbrooke Canadiens, the team looked to the young Burns for the 1987-88 season.

The following year, Burns was moved up to the big club when the Habs fired Jean Perron, the coach who had led them to a Cup in 1986. Burns would win the Jack Adams Award (his first of three) as coach of the year that season after leading the Canadiens to the 1989 Stanley Cup Final (ultimately losing to the Calgary Flames). Burns spent four years in Montreal, making the playoffs each season, getting out of the first round, only to lose in the division final each of the three years after going to the Cup Final.

After leaving the pressure cooker that is Montreal, Burns immediately took over the job of rehabilitating the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs for the 1992-93 season. His first season there, the Leafs would make the playoffs after failing to qualify for the two seasons prior. He would then lead them all the way to the 1993 Campbell Conference Final, losing to Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings and denying him a chance to faceoff with his former employers, the Montreal Canadiens, in the Stanley Cup Final. The following year the Leafs also made the final four, losing in the now-named Western Conference Final to the Vancouver Canucks. Burns would lead the Maple Leafs for one and a half seasons more (getting bounced in the first round of the 1995 playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks) before being fired in 1996. Along the way, he picked up another Jack Adams Award in 1993.

His next stop was Boston, when the Bruins hired him in 1997 for the upcoming 1997-98 sesaon. The Bruins had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 1995 (by the eventual Cup champion Devils) and 1996 (by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Panthers) and failed to make the playoffs at all in 1997. In 1998, Burns’ first year behind the bench, the Bruins were again eliminated in the first round, this time by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Capitals. Burns would earn his final Jack Adams Award that year for his turnaround of the Bruins, but success would not be as easy to come by for him with this Original Six team. The following year, Burns coached the team past the first round of the playoffs, defeating the Carolina Hurricanes in six games only to lose in the next round in six games to the eventual Eastern Conference champions, the Buffalo Sabres. The Bruins failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2000 and eight games into the following season, Burns was fired.

In 2002, he joined the New Jersey Devils for what would be his final coaching job. That season, 2002-03, the Devils finished 46-20-10, good enough for 108 points and first place in the Atlantic Division. When playoff time came around, the second-seeded Devils would square off with Burns’ former employer, the Boston Bruins, eliminating them in 5 games. The Devils would do the same to Tampa Bay in the second round; eliminating the Lightning four games to one. In the Eastern Conference Final, the Devils would meet the top-seeded President’s Trophy (best overall regular season record) winning Ottawa Senators. This was a sort of home-coming for Burns, as Gatineau is located geographically very close to Ottawa. The Devils won the opening game in Ottawa 3-2 in overtime. The Senators would get the split at home by taking the next game 4-1. The first game at the Continental Airlines Arena would see the Devils prevail in a defensive duel, 1-0. The Devils then pushed Ottawa to the brink of elimination by winning the next game, 5-2. The Sens then took the next two games, winning 3-1 at Corel Centre and then topping the Devils on their home ice, 2-1 in overtime. Game seven was set for May 23, 2003 at Corel Centre. Jamie Langenbrunner scored two goals, while Jeff Friesen scored the series-clincher with two minutes left and the Devils were on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals for the fourth time in franchise history and Coach Burns would be appearing for the second time in his career. The Devils opponents in the Final would be the upstart Western Conference Champion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The series opened on May 27 at Continental Airlines Arena with the Devils winning 3-0. They quickly took a two games to zero lead when they won game two by the same score. Anaheim would win game three 3-2 in overtime and game four 1-0 (also in OT) to sweep the two games at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. Back in East Rutherford for game five, the Devils routed the Ducks 6-3 and it was back to California for game six, won by the Ducks 5-2, setting up game seven in New Jersey. The Devils would take that game by a score of 3-0, winning the Stanley Cup for the New Jersey Devils and making Pat Burns a champion.

Burns would coach the Devils for one more season, before stepping down in 2004 due to his bout with cancer. He remained a special assignment coach for the Devils. Pat Burns was a defense-first coach who very much fit the mold of what the Devils had been throughout their glory years. He was known as an intimidating and intense man behind the bench, but most of all, Pat Burns was a winner. He got the most out of his players and they reaped the rewards because of it. Now, Pat Burns can add Hockey Hall of Famer to his long list of credentials.

Note: some of the research material for this article comes from the book Coach: The Pat Burns Story by Toronto sports writer Rosie DiManno. It is a fantastic read and, if you have not already done so, please check it out.

Martin Brodeur: The End of an Era?

July 1 is the day when NHL free agency starts and brings with it a flurry of action as teams scramble to sign the new, high-priced superstar who will plug a hole in their lineup and help to bring them a Stanley Cup. While that will be a concern for the Devils too, what is more pressing for Devils fans will be the future of the greatest goalie certainly in the history of the franchise, if not the game.

Martin Brodeur has had the position of starting goaltender for the New Jersey Devils since 1993-94. In that magical season, Brodeur led the Devils to their best record up to that time with 106 points on 47 wins (the team has since topped both of those totals). He led them deep into the playoffs, only losing to the eventual Cup champion Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. He topped that off by taking home the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year that summer. The following season he would lead the Devils to their first Stanley Cup, knocking off the heavily favored Red Wings. He would win two more Cups, defeating Dallas in 2000 and Anaheim in 2003. He led the Devils to two other Cup Finals in 2001 (where they lost to the Avalanche) and, most recently, 2012 (losing to the LA Kings). His other individual accomplishments include four Vezina Trophies as the NHL’s best goaltender (2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008) and five William M. Jennings Trophies as the goaltender(s) on the team with the fewest goals scored against it who played at least 25 games (1997 (with Mike Dunham), 1998, 2003, 2004 and 2010). He has been named to the NHL First All-Star Team three times: 2003, 2004 and 2007; the Second All-Star Team four times: 1997, 1998, 2006 and 2008; as well as the NHL All Rookie Team in 1994. He is the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie (with 688 wins as of the end of the 2013-14 season), the all-time leader in shutouts with 124 (as of the end of the 2013-14 season). As of the end of the 2013-14 season, he is also the all-time NHL leader in games played, minutes played and playoff shutouts. A skilled puck handler, he has two regular season goals to his credit as well a playoff goal (3 goals total, a record for NHL goaltenders). Brodeur has also had success on the international stage, winning the 2004 World Cup of Hockey for Team Canada, as well as leading Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2002 and being a member of the 2010 gold medal winning Canadian team.

Now Brodeur is at a crossroads for his career: he has stated that he wants to play another season, as he feels capable of it. Most likely, that season will not be played in a Devils uniform, since the Devils feel that the goalie position is one that they need to get younger at and have a fully prepared Cory Schneider ready in the wings to take over the full-time starting position (not to mention netminders like Keith Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood waiting on the AHL Albany Devils). Although the Devils did not trade him at last year’s trading deadline (rumors had him going to the Minnesota Wild at one point), they will not likely be resigning him this off season. Besides losing the franchise goaltender, the only other thing that would make Devils fans unhappy is that the team, because they are losing him to free agency and not trading him, would be essentially giving him up for nothing, not getting a player or a draft pick in return for him. Things could change, but it seems that is the way the team is looking to go.

Will Brodeur go to a team and sit behind a younger goalie there, existing only to sell replica jerseys for his new team? Will he decide to retire after all? Or will he stay with the Devils in some capacity, resigned and ready for a 23rd season in Devils’ black and red? As far as the free agent market looks for him, most teams are set at the starting goaltending position, but some could use the recognition and fan excitement that signing a superstar on the level of a Martin Brodeur could generate. When thinking of an athlete trying to hang on too long, any sports fan is immediately reminded of Willie Mays’ time with the New York Mets. The difference with Brodeur and Mays is two-fold, though. On the one hand, athletes today have better training habits and keep themselves in better shape year-round (look no further than Marty’s teammate on the Devils, who just resigned with the team for another year, Jaromir Jagr for that). Brodeur is, of course, no exception to this rule and should be able to handle the rigors of another NHL season. Which brings us to the second argument of whether or not Marty should just hang them up: because he feels like he can still go, Marty will want to be a starting goaltender on his new team. Is this possible? As stated above, most NHL teams are pretty much set with young goalies (and they are only getting younger). Hockey is a young man’s game; there is no secret about that. Where would Brodeur end up should he decide to play the 2014-15 season and give the Devils up to Schneider?

Should Marty decide to retire, there would undoubtedly be a place for him in the Devils organization should he want it. However, that is most likely true regardless of whether he retires this year, next year or five years from now, as a Devil or not. He will have his number 30 hanging in the rafters of Prudential Center within months of his official retirement. WFAN radio personality Mike Francesa has often said that athletes, unlike the rest of us, have to deal with growing old twice: once when their careers end and again towards the end of their lives. Knowing this makes it easier to understand where Brodeur is coming from. But will there be a place for him in an NHL where youth is being served? We will all find out in about a week, but no matter what happens, we must know that Martin Brodeur’s Devils and NHL legacies are set in stone.

Crowning the Kings: 2013-14 Season in Review

So the 2013-14 National Hockey League season has come to an end. I know it is a little cliché, but it seems like just yesterday training camp was opening for last year. With only about two and a half months until next season’s training camp and then the pre-season right around the corner, I feel now would be a great time to take a step back and kind of reflect on the 2013-14 season a little bit.

On the Devils front, one of the biggest surprises this season for the team (and the entire league, at that) was Jaromir Jagr, without a doubt. Jagr had a comeback season to say the least, finishing up with a team leading 82 games played, 24 goals and 43 assists for 67 points and a plus-16. His 43 helpers and 67 points also led the team, as did his plus/minus rating. The Devils wasted no time in resigning him once the season was over and Devils fans can look forward to another season of the hockey legend’s brilliance at The Rock in 2014-15.

Another revelation for the Devils was goaltender Cory Schneider; acquired at the Draft last year from Vancouver, Schneider looked to breakout for New Jersey. In the end, he finished with a less-than-stellar 16-15-12 record, which was more indicative of the play in front of him, as the team struggled early on giving him goal support. What was more showing of his play was his .921 save percentage and his 1.97 goals against average. Martin Brodeur, in what might have been his final season in a Devils uniform, finished with a 19-14-6 record and a .901 save percentage with a 2.51 goals against average. Brodeur’s future remains up in the air and fans will find out more come July 1, the first day of free agency. Brodeur has not, as of this time, announced if he will retire or will play another NHL season. If he does play, it will likely not be in New Jersey, as Schneider is ready to assume the mantle of full-time number one for the Devils.

The Devils were a strange animal in 2013-14, as, in all reality, the only thing keeping them out of a playoff spot were their shootout losses. Like penalty shots, shootouts cannot really be practiced. The shooter can study a goalie’s tendencies, as can a goalie study what a shooter is going to do. But sometimes teams will throw something completely new at a goalie (like the Islanders not-quite-within-the-rules back-to-back spin-o-ramas against Marty Brodeur) and it can throw them totally off of their game plan. I am sure the Devils themselves, as professional athletes, would not use or take any excuses in regards to their shootout futility, but bad luck certainly played a role here. Prior to this season, the Devils had been very successful in shootouts. This 180-degree turnaround could only be attributed to the fact that the team desperately needs a goal-scorer to replace Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Hopefully that change comes this July when free agency opens.

For most NHL analysts, the Western Conference looked to be where the eventual Stanley Cup champions would emerge from. Sure the East had some mighty challengers in the Pittsburgh Penguins (who ended up running away with the newly-christened Metropolitan Division, of which the Devils are a member) and the Boston Bruins. But most experts seemed to be looking at perennial favorites like the Blackhawks, the Ducks, the Blues, the Sharks, or even the guys who would end up winning, the Kings as the team that would hoist the Cup come June.

What was a surprise come playoff time was the team that would challenge the West for the Stanley Cup. While some may have seen the Kings as a bit of an underdog (and they were not entirely wrong: they defeated San Jose in the first round after being down 3 games to none, beat Anaheim in the second round when they were down 3 games to two, and won the Conference championship from Chicago after being up 3 games to 1, blowing that and winning in overtime of game 7). The Kings may have had a tough road to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they would face the New York Rangers (who overcame the Flyers, Penguins and Canadiens on their journey to the Finals).

While it pains many Devils fans to say it, the Rangers did have a successful playoff. Overcoming Pittsburgh is especially no small feat. Henrik Lundqvist essentially carried the team on his back at times, mirroring the way Jonathan Quick brought the Kings to a Stanley Cup in 2012 (the year the Devils made their Cinderella run to the Cup Finals). Of course, Quick was no slouch this year either and ended up leading the Kings over “the King” in a five game Stanley Cup Final. The Cup-clinching game five itself was compelling hockey and really showcased the two goaltenders abilities. Going two overtimes and ending on Alec Martinez’ corralling of a Tyler Toffoli rebound off of Lundqvist’s blocker, that game was some of the best hockey ever seen in the Finals. The Kings kept things tight-checking, but there were still some amazing chances, most notably Rick Nash of the Rangers hitting the crossbar, a chance that could have sent the series back to Madison Square Garden in the first overtime. In the end, though, it was the Kings who reigned supreme. Justin Williams won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and, when Dustin Brown hoisted the Stanley Cup for LA for the second time in three years, it confirmed what many Devils fans knew in 2012: this team is good.

There is no doubt in many observers’ minds that the Kings will be an elite team for many years to come. That is not to downplay what the Rangers accomplished, as the Devils accomplishment from 2012 (which was a very similar run) should not be derided. The fact is, the Kings are for real and are worthy to be mentioned along with teams like Chicago, Anaheim and Boston when discussing some of the best in the NHL. They are good from their goaltending out and, from a Devils fan’s point of view, recall a lot about the 2000 and 2003 Stanley Cup champs. Congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings on winning the Stanley Cup. Congratulations to everyone from their players to their front office to their fans. These are great times for them, but they will likely be continuing for some time to come.