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.

NHL Competition Committee Rule Change: Some Thoughts

On June 9, the NHL Competition Committee – a coalition of players and executives charged with tweaking rules and thereby (hopefully) making the game better. Players on the committee are Mike Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames, Daniel Winnik of the Anaheim Ducks, the St. Louis Blues’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Carolina Hurricanes’ Ron Hainsey and Devils goaltender Cory Schneider. Executives include Flyers’ chairman Ed Snider and four general managers: the Phoenix Coyotes’ Don Maloney, David Poile of the Nashville Predators, Ken Holland from the Detroit Red Wings and the Boston Bruins’ Peter Chiarelli. The changes recommended by the Competition Committee are passed on to the NHL Board of Governors and the NHLPA’s Executive Board for approval and would go into effect for the 2014-15 season.

While the Committee did recommend changes that were, in some cases, long overdue; one change that was not included has surprised some people. That change was to video replay expansion (especially topical in light of the Los Angeles Kings’ Dwight King’s goal late in game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist). This expansion would allow video review on potential goaltender interference plays that result in goals. On King’s goal in the third period of game 2, referee Dan O’Halloran’s initial call on the ice was that it was a good goal. Lundqvist argued that he had been interfered with, but O’Halloran’s call stood due to lack of video review on these types of plays. That goal made the game 4-3, with L.A. eventually tying it. The Kings would win in the second overtime. Schneider mentioned to Dan Rosen of NHL.com exactly why making changes here would be a problem:

“I think [NHL Commissioner] Gary [Bettman] said it best in the meeting when he said, ‘Once we go to video review there’s an expectation that we’re going to get these calls right all the time,’” Schneider said. “You can have two reasonable people sitting in a room watching the same video and have two very different opinions on that video. It becomes, like Gary said, very complex. The feeling is right now we’re not at the point where we could get a meaningful video review that would have a 100 percent outcome.”

NHL Senior Executive President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said after this meeting that the matter would be further discussed that Wednesday during the NHL general manager meetings. He said that another idea could include a coach’s challenge (similar to that used in football and baseball).

Other ideas coming out of the Competition Committee’s meeting (these will actually be under review to be adopted) include: changing ends in overtime – this move would allow the overtime period to mimic the long-change second period (where team benches are farther from their defending zone necessitating more strategic line changes). This would also affect overtime because, historically, according to Rosen at NHL.com, there have been more goals scored each season in the second period due to  “defensive breakdowns and difficulty getting tired players off the ice because of the distance they need to travel to make a line change on the fly.” Another change to overtime would be arena ice crews being required to do a dry ice scrape prior to overtime instead of just prior to a shootout as is done now.

Another move with more offense in mind is moving the hash marks on the outside of the faceoff circles from 3 ½ feet to 5 feet apart. Schneider told Rosen and NHL.com that it would give forwards more time and room to make plays after they win a faceoff in the defensive zone. It would also cut down on the amount of scrums on a faceoff. Currently, the International Ice Hockey Federation uses 5 feet between the hash marks; however the IIHF generally uses a larger ice surface than the NHL for international tournaments.

One of the more interesting rule change recommendations to come out of these meetings is allowing only one player to be eligible to take a faceoff on an icing call. This player would be allowed one faceoff violation but, instead of being chased out of the faceoff circle, a second violation would result in a two-minute bench minor penalty for delay of game. This penalty is already on the books (Rule 76.6), but the Competition Committee is recommending that it be enforced to keep a winger from trying to create a faceoff violation to give the center an extra ten seconds of rest, thus delaying the game an extra few seconds.

A change to the “Brodeur Rule” would also look to create more offense during the course of a game. The trapezoid behind the goal cage, meant to keep puck-playing goalies like Martin Brodeur from having too much room to move the puck. The trapezoid is currently 18 feet along the goal line and would be increased to 22 feet. The dimensions along the end boards would remain at 28 feet. An extra two feet would allow the goalies to act, not necessarily as a third defenseman helping to create breakouts (as Brodeur was often lauded as during his heyday pre-trapezoid), but to give their defensemen a little more help.

A crackdown on embellishment is the Competition Committee’s final recommendation.

As a fan, I understand and appreciate that these changes are trying to create more offense in a game some feel might be lacking in that particular area. However, I feel too often the NHL is actively trying to go back to the free-wheeling, firewagon days of the 1980s. That era happened organically when players like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux took the game by storm and changed its essence. They were so much better than the rest of their competition that they (and their teams) were able to put up the gaudy numbers that they did. The rest of the league followed suit and defense went by the wayside. I feel that the NHL has found its balance; this is how the game has been played throughout the majority of its history. In other words, the decade from the early 80s to the early 90s was an aberration. Hockey is a defensive based game (the phrase “offense wins games, defense wins championships” comes to mind) and, while I definitely agree with a lot of the changes the Competition Committee wants to implement, I cannot help but feel that some of it is just a half way attempt to bring more offense (and, thus, hook the “casual fans” who like the ESPN-like highlights and do not appreciate the finer points of a defensive duel) to the game and really, fix what is not broken.

Lewis Katz and the Devils’ Glory Days

With the recent passing of former Devils’ part owner Lewis Katz in a Massachusetts plane crash, now would be a great time to look back at Katz’ group, Puck Holdings (a part of YankeeNets), time as Devils owners, which coincided with some of the most successful years of New Jersey Devils hockey as a tribute, of sorts to the legacy of the late Mr. Katz.

YankeeNets (known today as Yankee Global Enterprises, LLC) formed in 1999 when ownership of Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees and the National Basketball Association’s New Jersey Nets merged. The Devils came into the picture a year later when, as the franchise was defeating the Dallas Stars for its second Stanley Cup in 2000, Dr. John McMullen (the team’s original owner who had moved the Colorado Rockies to the Meadowlands in 1982) sold the team for $175 million. YankeeNets and Puck Holdings original goal in acquiring the Devils was similar to why the Yankees had bought the Nets in the first place: programming for what would become the YES Network. There was also the intention to move the team to a new arena in Newark (this goal would be achieved by Jeff Vanderbeek, a partner in Puck Holdings, who would buy the team outright from YankeeNets in 2004, with the building of the Prudential Center). The Devils would never join the Yankees and the Nets on the YES Network, instead re-upping with Cablevision owned MSG Network and continuing to have their games shown alongside the Rangers and Islanders.

From 2000 to 2004, the team was largely left in the hands of General Manager Lou Lamoriello, who would be named the CEO of the Devils and the Nets going in to the 2000-01 season. He would remain in those positions until the sale of the Nets to Bruce Ratner in 2004 and the sale of the Devils to current owners Joshua Harris and David S. Blitzer in 2013 (Scott O’Neil now holds that position with the team). Lamoriello’s continued influence, as well as the new resources allowed them by being connected to the Yankees, would be felt on the team as they won the Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003 as well as an Eastern Conference Championship in 2001 (losing to the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Finals in seven games). Individual award winners during this period saw Scott Stevens take home the 2000 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, Scott Gomez winning the Calder Trophy as 2000’s Rookie of the Year, John Madden being named 2001 Frank J. Selke Trophy winner (best defensive forward) and Martin Brodeur’s 2003 winning of the Vezina Trophy (outstanding goaltender). The team also won two Atlantic Division regular season championships: in 2000-01 and 2002-03.

While the Nets were also experiencing some of their best times in their history in New Jersey at this time (going to the NBA Finals, but ultimately losing in 2002 and 2003); and the Yankees were continuing their winning ways of making the MLB playoffs, including World Series appearances in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003, things were looking very bright for YankeeNets and their subsidiaries. Since the breakup, the teams have remained relatively successful (however only the Yankees have won a major championship since: claiming a World Series title in 2009 – although the Devils did make a return to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012, losing in six games to Los Angeles) and, of course, the YES Network has become a boon to the Yankees and the (now-known-as) Brooklyn Nets. All three teams have built new facilities – the Yankees having built a new Yankee Stadium across the street from the original, the Nets now calling downtown Brooklyn home at the Barclays Center and the Devils moving from Continental Airlines Arena (site of two of the franchise’s three Stanley Cup victories) to the beautiful Prudential Center in downtown Newark, New Jersey.

For the Devils in particular, while there were some issues with ownership’s finances during Jeff Vanderbeek’s tenure (mostly tied to the building of the Prudential Center and the timing of it), the issues had little to do with the team itself on or off the ice, but rather the NHL’s instability at the time (the time between Puck Holdings ownership of the team and the current ownership group dovetailed neatly with two NHL lockouts, one of which resulted in a completely lost 2004-05 season) and with it the rule changes on ice and the off ice financial upheaval of the league. While the Devils did remain competitive, the new reality of the NHL was that dynasties were a thing of the past – indeed, the last team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups remains the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings.

The Puck Holdings era also saw the team molded in the image of Lou Lamoriello more than at any time during his tenure, save maybe the 1994-1995 era teams. In subsequent years, the team would spend a lot of money to keep superstars like Ilya Kovalchuk in a Devils uniform, the 2000 to 2003 clubs were more better represented by undrafted free agents like Madden and Brian Rafalski, the emergence of homegrown draftees Petr Sykora, Gomez and Patrik Elias, as well as shrewd trades that brought in players like Jason Arnott and aging megastar Alexander Mogilny. There was a winning formula that Lamoriello had found and captured in those days and he was allowed to do that through the hands off nature by the Puck Holdings group. Again, even though Vanderbeek largely went the same route, it was some of the personnel decisions made during his tenure (coaching and player-wise) that would take away some of the Devils stability and, ultimately, lead to early exits from the playoffs, or worse missing the playoffs altogether. Chief among those problems has been trading for and signing Kovalchuk to an outrageous contract, incurring the wrath of the NHL over it and taking the penalties, and then losing him to the KHL as well as failing to resign Zach Parise and then not replacing him in the lineup, giving up his scoring output in the lineup. With current ownership’s bankroll and commitment to their business plan, the team can hopefully regain its footing in that regard. The coaching carousel (about nine coaching changes from 2003 to 2011) has been an issue that, hopefully, has evened out with Pete DeBoer’s takeover of the team prior to the 2011-12 season.

So, while the team has enjoyed success under all of their ownership groups, going back to Dr. McMullen, the real “glory days” of the Devils time in New Jersey has to be that period coinciding with Puck Holdings time with the team from 2000 to 2003. The common denominator in any of the Devils success since 1987 has been Lou Lamoriello, but now that Lou faces the twilight of his career as a National Hockey League general manager, the challenge for current ownership will be to find an eventual replacement and keep the team moving forward. History has shown that one of the best things Lewis Katz’ group did was to give Lou Lamoriello more decision-making power. That led to unmatched success for the team. How will current ownership move forward when the time comes for Lamoriello to hang ‘em up and the team has to move into another era?

Jaromir Jagr: International Superstar

With the elimination of the Czech Republic by Sweden in the bronze medal game in this year’s World Championship, held in Minsk, Belarus, Jaromir Jagr announced his retirement from international play. While Jagr had only half-seriously, it seems now, mentioned to The Star Ledger prior to last season’s Olympic break that he wanted to play in the 2018 Olympics (at which he would be 46 years old), the close to this chapter of Jagr’s storied career is a big one.

Many know about his exploits in the National Hockey League: most career game-winning goals (124), most goals by a European born player (705), assists by a European player (1,050) and most points by a European born player (1,755) – among many other records – as well as the accolades: two time Stanley Cup champion (1991 and 1992 with the Pittsburgh Penguins), five time Art Ross Trophy winner (1995, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001) as the league’s scoring champ, three time Lester B. Pearson Award (player’s MVP – 1999, 2000 and 2006), the 1999 Hart Trophy winner as league MVP, seven time NHL First Team All-Star and a member of the 1991 NHL All-Rookie Team. However, there is another side to Jagr’s career, on the larger ice sheet of international play that is rarely publicized outside of his native Czech Republic.

Jagr began his international career representing Czechoslovakia at the 1989 European Junior Championship. There the team would win a silver medal while Jagr would pick up 12 points in five games played (8 goals and 4 assists). The following year, Czechoslovakia would place third in both the World Junior Championships and the World Championships. Jagr was a member of both of those bronze medal winning teams and would post 18 points in seven games played in the WJC but only 5 points in ten games at the World Championships.

Jagr’s North American tournament debut was at the 1991 Canada Cup, the season after he had made his remarkable debut with Pittsburgh. The young Pens’ star posted a goal in five games played as the Czechs finished in sixth place. Jagr would have to wait until 1994 to represent what was now known as the Czech Republic at the World Championships. The team played to a seventh place finish as Jagr had two assists in just three games played.

Jagr’s next two forays into international hockey would see two extremely different finishes. At the 1996 World Cup of Hockey (the late summer tournament that replaced the Cold War-era Canada Cup) the Czechs would finish in eighth place (the lowest a Jagr-led Czech team would ever finish in international play) and Jagr would have one goal in three games played. That debacle would be followed up two years later at the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games, where NHL stars were allowed to compete for the first time in Olympic history. It was here where Jagr would total five points (one goal and four assists in six games) and the Czech Republic would finish first and win the gold medal. It was undoubtedly the pinnacle of Jagr’s international career and would only add to his legend as one of the greatest of all time.

Jagr and the Czechs followed that performance up with a seventh place finish four years later in 2002 in their Olympic title defense at Salt Lake City. Jagr had 2 goals and 3 assists in a quick four game exit. It was a disappointing return to the international stage for Jagr and that same year, he would compete in the World Championships finishing with an even 4 goals and 4 assists in seven games as the team moved to a fifth place finish.

The year 2004 saw Jagr compete internationally in two tournaments: the World Championships (hosted by the Czechs in Prague and Ostrava) where the Czech Republic was eliminated by the Americans in the Quarterfinals, 3-2. In that tournament, Jagr had five goals and four assists in seven games. Jagr’s other international appearance in 2004 was in the World Cup of Hockey where he ended with one goal and one assist in five games while the Czechs won the bronze medal.

The following year saw World Championship gold for Jagr and the Czechs (he had 2 goals, 7 assists and 9 points in 8 games), while 2006 gave Jagr a return to the Olympic Games. In those Olympics, Jagr had 2 goals and 5 assists in 8 games, helping the Czechs to a bronze medal finish.

After a three year absence from the international scene, Jagr returned in 2009 at the World Championships and scored 3 goals and 6 assists in seven games. The Czechs plodded to a sixth place finish that year and would do only slightly better at the Olympics the following year. At the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Jagr was the Czech Republic’s flag bearer marching into the Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremonies, the Czechs finished in seventh place while Jagr had only 2 goals and 1 assist in five games played. That year’s World Championships saw Czech Republic win gold and Jagr score 3 goals and 4 assists in nine games. That tournament was notable for Jagr as he set a personal “best” for PIMs with 12. Twenty eleven’s World Championships saw the Czechs drop to third place with a bronze medal while Jagr had nine points in nine games (5 goals, 4 assists).

Jaromir Jagr’s international career came to an end in 2014 with an appearance in the Sochi Olympics, where the Czechs would finish sixth (Jagr had 2 goals and 1 assist in five games) and in the World Championships, where the team finished fourth and Jagr finished up his last international tournament with 4 goals and 4 assists in ten games.

Although the Czech Republic would not medal in either of Jagr’s final two appearances with the team, the current Devil (who had just resigned with the NHL team for the 2014-15 season) has certainly made his mark internationally. As in the NHL, Jagr was brilliant in his international career and a player truly deserving of the word “superstar.”

Hopefully for Devils fans, Jagr will not get a chance to rethink his decision to retire from the Czech National Team (as the World Championships are played at the same time as the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the teams are usually populated with guys whose teams either missed the second season or were eliminated early on). So, while he has exited the world stage NHL fans in general and Devils fans in particular look forward to seeing what the notorious gym and rink rat Jagr can do for the next year or so.