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.

Mario Lemieux: Almost a Devil

In 1984, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils battled to the last game of the season, not for Stanley Cup glory, but for the coveted first pick in that summer’s NHL Draft. The player expected to go number one overall that year was Mario Lemieux of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Laval Voisins. At this point in the NHL’s history, there was no draft lottery: the team that finished last overall in the league got the first pick. Lemieux could be the type of player that would change the fortunes of a struggling franchise and that urgency was not lost on management of the two struggling teams.

Teams were preparing to get a crack at Lemieux as far back as 1981 (Montreal traded Pierre Larouche to the Hartford Whalers that year in exchange for the Whalers first round pick in the hope that Hartford would finish last come 1984 and Mario could be picked by his hometown team). While Montreal’s gamble did not pay off, come the 1983-84 season, two teams were in the hunt for Lemieux: the Pens and the Devils. As the NHL’s bottom feeders, “Le Magnifique” was within grasp. As the season progressed, Pittsburgh and New Jersey were neck-and-neck at the bottom of the league standings. By the time March rolled around, things started to get a little tense as, on March 5, the Penguins traded former Norris Trophy winning defenseman, Randy Carlyle to Winnipeg for a first round draft choice and a player to be named later. That player would go on to be Moe Mantha, obtained after the season ended. Next, Pens General Manager Eddie Johnston sent the team’s number one goalie (Roberto Romano) down to their American Hockey League affiliate in Baltimore. He was replaced with Vincent Tremblay, a goalie not quite on the level of Romano (he allowed 24 goals in 4 games once called up). And so it was, with a team of minor leaguers and castoffs, the Pens would finish three points behind the Devils (a record of 16-58-8 for 38 points versus the Devils’ 17-56-7 for 41 points). The Devils, to their credit, continued to play their regulars. When the draft – held in Montreal – came around, the Penguins (as expected) picked Lemieux while the Devils, with the second overall pick, selected Kirk Muller of the Guelph Platers of the Ontario Hockey League.

While Kirk Muller was certainly a fantastic player, a franchise player worthy of the first overall pick in any other draft year and the Devils first real superstar, Mario Lemieux would go on to a career rivaled in the modern era only perhaps by Wayne Gretzky. Famously, “Super Mario” would score on his first shift on the ice in the NHL and, in fact, on his first NHL shot. More importantly than that, though, Mario would help to revitalize an NHL franchise that had not had a winning season since 1979 and not made the playoffs since 1982; a team that had filed for bankruptcy back in 1975 (the first NHL team to do so since World War II). Within seven years (1991) the Penguins were Stanley Cup champs thanks largely to Lemieux. The Pens would add another Cup in 1992 under Lemieux’s captaincy. Lemieux would fall in love with the city of Pittsburgh, living there, becoming a naturalized American citizen, and, when the Penguins ran into financial trouble again in the late 1990s/early 2000s and were on the verge of moving (as had been threatened prior to Mario’s arrival in Pittsburgh), he swooped in to buy the team, securing their future in Pittsburgh and helping to get financing for their new arena. Mario Lemieux would be the Pittsburgh Penguins savior not once, but twice.

The rest of the fallout from that draft included the NHL going to a lottery system whereby the lower you finished, while giving you a better chance at gaining the number one overall pick, did not guarantee you the first pick. The Devils, with Muller, would actually see more immediate improvement than the Penguins (making the playoffs in 1988 and going all the way to the Wales Conference Finals that year) while the Pens would not make the playoffs for the first time in the Lemieux era until 1989. However, by 1991, the Devils would trade “Captain Kirk” to the Canadiens for Tom Chorske and Stephane Richer, who was a key component on the Devils first Stanley Cup team in 1995.

In the end, it could be said that everything worked out for everyone involved: the Penguins got Mario and he led them to two Stanley Cups as a player and a third as team owner. But more importantly on the Pittsburgh side of things: he helped keep the team in the city not once, but twice. From the NHL’s perspective, they got a superstar player who would help revitalize a team that was a doormat really since their inception into the league and got incentive to fix a draft system that was broken. The Devils got an immediate superstar in Kirk Muller, who would lead them through the late 80s as captain and undisputed leader. His trade to Montreal would also bring them one of the bigger figures from their ’95 Cup team.

It is easy to look back at this whole affair with 20/20 hindsight and see how everything played out fine for both the teams and the league. Both the Pens and the Devils have the same number of Cups today at three, so we could say that everything worked out. Conversely, there could be a tendency to say that the Devils got the short end of the stick and that they could have had even more should Lemieux been drafted by them. It did not work out that way and we will never know. What is known is how deathly serious getting Mario was at the time. The Devils and the Penguins were in dire straits as franchises and Lemieux was a franchise player, he could only go to one team, but the hockey world got two stable, great franchises out of him.

The Turnpike Rivalry

When discussing New Jersey Devils rivalries, your first inclination is to go right to their feud with the New York Rangers and the Hudson River Rivalry. There is another rivalry, though, that began merely as geographic unpleasantness and, due to the high-intensity stakes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has grown to be something more: the Devils’ and the Philadelphia Flyers – the Turnpike Rivalry.

Philadelphia came into the National Hockey League during the 1967-68 doubling of the league franchises, being admitted when Baltimore fell out of the running for a team. The Flyers of the late-1960s were not the “Broad Street Bullies” that would come to be the team’s trademark. And, in fact, it was due to the team’s lack of physical toughness that would lead to the team acquiring players like Dave “the Hammer” Schultz and Bobby Clarke built mostly through the draft. Going into the 1970s, the Broad Street Bullies were ready to ride and the Flyers would become the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup in 1974 and then won it again in 1975. The Flyers would lose to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1976 Stanley Cup Final, as the Habs were beginning a dynasty that would win them four straight Cups from 1976 to 1979.

The Flyers team that would face the New York Islanders in the 1980 Stanley Cup Final was a much different team than the Broad Street Bullies in their heyday and would lose to the Isles to kick off New York’s dynasty of four straight Cups. It would be five years before Philly would return to the Finals, as they faced Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers in 1985 and lost in five games after winning game one. They would lose to Edmonton again in 1987 and it would be ten years before Philly would get another shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The Devils first faced off with the Flyers in the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. The Flyers would take out the Buffalo Sabres and the defending Stanley Cup champion Rangers to get to the penultimate round, while the Devils beat the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins to get to that round. Game one kicked off the series on June 3, 1995 at The Spectrum and resulted in a 4-1 Devils win. Game two brought a 5-2 Devils victory as the scene shifted to the Meadowlands for game three. For the next two games on Devils home ice, Jersey’s Team would squander their 2-0 series lead by losing 3-2 in overtime in game three and 4-2 in game four. The teams now returned to the City of Brotherly Love tied at two games apiece, but with just 44.2 seconds left to play in the game, Claude Lemieux’s slap shot just inside the Flyers blueline sailed past goaltender Ron Hextall’s blocker and gave the Devils a 3-2 lead that they would hold on to. Game six back at the Meadowlands saw New Jersey clinch their first Prince of Wales Trophy with a 4-2 victory over the Flyers. The Devils would meet Detroit in their first Stanley Cup Final, and would complete a sweep that would net the franchise their first Stanley Cup. Leading scorers for the series were: Devils: Randy McKay, 4 goals, 3 assists and 7 points; Flyers: Eric Lindros, 2 goals, 3 assists and 5 points.

The teams would not meet for another five years, but it was well worth the wait! Meeting again in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000, the Devils path included wins over the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs; while Philadelphia defeated Buffalo and Pittsburgh to get there. Game one at the First Union Center commenced on May 14, 2000 and gave the Devils a 1-0 series lead with a 4-1 win. Then things got interesting. Philly would take the next three, including two on New Jersey’s home ice. Game two was taken 4-3; game three, 4-2; game four was won 3-1 with current Flyers head coach Craig Berube scoring the game winner. The Devils now found themselves down three games to one and on the brink of elimination. For the Devils, it was time to get to work. And that they did. Game five in Philadelphia saw Bobby Holik net the game winner as the Devils cut the deficit to three games to two with a 4-1 win. Game six back at the Meadowlands and Alexander Mogilny capped a 2-1 win for Martin Brodeur and the Devils to force a game seven. Game seven: nothing says more to a sports fan than those two words and it was Patrik Elias who came through as the hero, putting a dagger through the Flyers playoff hopes, giving the Devils a 2-1 win and sending them to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in their history where they would face and defeat the Dallas Stars for their second Stanley Cup in five years. Leading scorers were: for the Devils, Jason Arnott with 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points and for the Flyers, Rick Tocchet with 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points and Mark Recchi with 3 goals and 3 assists for 6 points.

The teams next met in 2004’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, where the Devils came in as the defending Stanley Cup champs. Unfortunately for the Devils, it was a short five game series with the Flyers dethroning them. The Devils only win came in game three 4-2 at Continental Airlines Arena on April 12 of 2004 as the Flyers bounced them and marched on in the playoffs. The Devils leading scorer was Scott Gomez with 0 goals and 6 assists for 6 points while the Flyers leading scorer was Alexei Zhamnov with 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points.

Twenty ten was a year that was another mediocre effort for the Devils in the first round against the Flyers. The Devils were again eliminated in five games with their only win coming this time in game two, 5-3 at Prudential Center. The Devils had lost the first game and would lose game three in OT, 3-2. They would never recover and be eliminated in two more games. For the Devils, Ilya Kovalchuk would lead them in scoring with 2 goals and 4 assists for 6 points while for the Flyers, Mike Richards was the leader with 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points. The Flyers would continue on to the Stanley Cup Finals that year, losing in a dramatic game seven to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The team’s most recent playoff meeting came in 2012 in the Conference Semifinals. This series was all Devils (after they were victimized in OT in game one by Danny Briere, giving the Flyers a 4-3 home win). After that, the Devils took control and never looked back. They won game two 4-1 with David Clarkson bringing the heroics in the City of Brotherly Love. Game three would be settled in an extra session at the Prudential Center in Newark, 4-3 with Alexei Ponikarovsky notching the game winner for the Devils. Game four was won 4-2 by the Devils in Newark; while game six would wrap things up in Philly with a 3-1 Devils win. Kovalchuk was again the Devils leading scorer with 2 goals and 5 assists totaling 7 points, while Briere led the Flyers with 3 goals and 2 assists for 5 points. The Devils would march all the way to the Cup Finals that year, only to be upended in that series by the Los Angeles Kings, who won their first Stanley Cup.

The Devils-Flyers rivalry, while not quite as heralded as the Devils-Rangers rivalry has produced just as many memorable moments and games as the Hudson River version. Like the Rangers, there is certainly no love lost between the teams or their fans and the balance of power has shifted back and forth over the years, but one thing remains constant: if the Devils and the Flyers get together in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is almost a guarantee that there will be tough, hard-nosed hockey being played.

The Hudson River Rivalry

With the New York Rangers currently taking on the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals of the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, I figured now would be as good a time as any to delve into the history of the Rangers-Devils rivalry.

The New York Rangers are a team with a deep-rooted history. They were founded in 1926 as a second tenant for “Tex” Rickard, president of Madison Square Garden – the other team playing there being the New York Americans, whose success in the New York market allowed for the Rangers to come into being. The team was known as “Tex’s Rangers,” which is where their rather unusual (considering the locale) nickname comes from. Eventually, the Americans would fold, the Original Six Era would begin, and the Rangers would have New York all to themselves.

In 1972, the New York Islanders were added as an expansion team at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in order for the NHL to thwart the World Hockey Association from putting a franchise in the building. The Rangers-Isles rivalry would gather steam through playoff matchups and the ups and downs those bring to a team’s fanbase. As the Islanders embarked on their dynasty in the early-1980s (becoming the first US-based NHL team to win four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983 and adding a losing Finals appearance in 1984), the Devils, another product of the Expansion Era of the NHL, and a transient one at that, were putting down stakes in East Rutherford in the New Jersey Meadowlands. In order for the Devils to do this, they had to pay an indemnity fee to the Rangers and the Islanders, as well as the Philadelphia Flyers, for “invading their territorial rights.” Once that was out of the way, the Devils would get to the business of building a hockey team.

The first meeting between the Devils and the Rangers, two teams whose home arenas were separated by only eight miles but who were worlds apart in fans eyes, would come October 8, 1982 before a capacity crowd at the Meadowlands and see the Devils pick up their first ever win in franchise history, 3-2. During the early-80s, very little happened on, or off the ice (the Devils and Rangers have never made a trade with each other – although players have changed sides via free agency) to move the feud forward, although for Devils fans, at least, a game against the Blue Shirts was always a chance to take a shot at the Manhattanites many in New Jersey felt looked down on them.

The closest the Devils and Rangers got to a Playoff matchup in the 1980s came when the Devils clinched their first Playoff berth on the last day of the season in 1988 with a dramatic overtime win in Chicago. With that win, the Devils advanced to the Stanley Cup Playoff tournament to face the top seeded Islanders in the Patrick Division Semifinal and the Rangers (who had beaten the Quebec Nordiques earlier that day) were left out in the cold. Making it to the Playoffs in such a fashion was enough for Devils fans to feel triumphant, but knocking out the Rangers in the process was even sweeter!

The first Playoff meeting between the teams came in 1992 in a series that would have more significance than anyone could have imagined at the time. The Devils entered the 1992 Patrick Division Semifinal as the fourth seed playing the top seeded in the division (the NHL was still had divisional playoffs at that time) Rangers. Game one got under way on April 19, 1992 at MSG. New York would win that game 2-1 with Mike Gardner coming away with the game winner. New Jersey would win game two, in a 7-3 rout, as the Devils took away the Blue Shirts home ice advantage. The Devils would take the lead in the series in game three, winning 3-1, as the series shifted to the Meadowlands. The Rangers switched their goaltender from John Vanbiesbrouck (one of the few players to play for the Rangers, Islanders, Flyers and the Devils throughout his career) to young Mike Richter and Scott Stevens scored the game winner for New Jersey. Game four saw the Rangers even things up with a 3-0 shutout by Richter. Game five, played April 27, 1992, is remembered today not because the New Yorkers took a 3-2 series lead with a 8-5 drubbing of the Devils. It is remembered today as the first playoff appearance of not only the greatest netminder in Devils history, but arguably the greatest to ever play the game: Martin Brodeur. Game six, played at the Meadowlands, would be the Devils last hurrah. With Chris Terreri, their usual starter and Brodeur’s current goaltending coach with the Devils, they emerged victorious 5-3 forcing a game seven. That game would be played in Manhattan and the Rangers would take the series decisively: 8-4. Leading scorers for the series were Peter Stastny for the Devils with 3 goals, 7 assists and 10 points and Mark Messier for the Rangers with 5 goals, 6 assists and 11 points.

In 1994, the NHL switched to a Conference-based playoff format, similar to the NBA (with the first seed in the Conference facing the eighth seed and so forth). The Rangers finished first in the newly-named Eastern Conference and the NHL that year with 112 points, while the Devils, in their best season to date finished second overall in both the Conference and the league standings with 106 points. The Rangers had eliminated eighth seeded Islanders and seventh seeded Washington Capitals to get to the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, while the Devils (who were seeded third after Pittsburgh, who gained the second seed due to winning the Northeast Division, despite only finishing with 101 points) eliminated Buffalo and Boston on their road to the Conference Final. The stage was set for an epic.

The series opened on May 15, 1994 at the Garden with the Devils winning 4-3 in overtime on Stephane Richer’s game winner. Game two would see Mike Richter and the Rangers shutout the Devils in MSG, evening the series at one game apiece. Stephane Matteau scored his first overtime winner of the series as the Rangers won 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead in game three at the Meadowlands. With game four at Brendan Byrne and the Devils behind the eight-ball early, they pulled out the 3-1 victory to even the series up. Game five, back at Madison Square Garden and Mike Peluso put home the game winner as the Devils won the game, taking a 3-2 series lead putting them one win from their first Stanley Cup Final berth in history. Unfortunately, the Devils would not win another. Game six was the famous “Guarantee Game” in which Mark Messier told the papers the Blue Shirts would not lose the series… then went out and scored a hat trick to back it up. The Rangers had won 4-2 and had now tied the series up. Game seven, in New York, was set up to be a thriller and it would not disappoint. With New York ahead 1-0, Valeri Zelepukin tied the game with 7.7 seconds left in regulation to send shockwaves through the Garden crowd. It would take two OTs to settle this one, as Stephane Matteau (whose son would be drafted by the Devils 18 years later) put the puck in the net and made Rangers radio play-by-play man Howie Rose’s call of “Matteau! Matteau!” immortal (to Rangers fans) and irritating (to Devils fans).

Leading scorers for this series was the Devils Bernie Nicholls (a former Ranger) and Claude Lemieux with 2 goals, 3 assists for 5 points and the Rangers Mark Messier with 4 goals, 7 assists and 11 points.

How do you follow that one? You don’t, at least not for a few more years. The teams next met in the 1997 Conference Semifinals. Game one got underway on May 2, 1997 at the now-named Continental Airlines Arena with Marty Brodeur and the Devils coming out on top with a 2-0 shutout victory. It was downhill from there for New Jersey. Game two saw an identical score to game one, only with Mike Richter and the Blue Shirts gaining the shutout this time. The Rangers took a tight-checking game three, 3-2. Mike Richter gained his second shutout of the series in game four, 3-0. The Rangers then wrapped things up and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in overtime of game five 2-1. Adam Graves had the game winners for the final two Ranger wins. Leading scorers for this series were: Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rolston for the Devils with 1 goal and 1 assist for 2 points and the Rangers’ Wayne Gretzky with 2 goals, 3 assists for 5 points.

The tables were turned in 2006, the next meeting for the two rivals as the Devils pulled off the sweep on the Blue Shirts to rest in four straight in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Game one was a 6-1 Devils rout, game two saw New Jersey win 4-1, game three saw a 3-0 Brodeur shutout and game four, the most competitive of the series saw the Devils wrap it up 4-2. The Devils had come into the series winning 11-straight games to end the regular season. Patrik Elias led the Devils in scoring with 11 points off of 5 goals and 6 assists. Blair Betts led the Rangers way with 1 goal and 1 assist for 2 points.

The teams met again in 2008, and as much as 2006 was a disaster for the team in blue, this was for the team dressed in red. The Rangers would win the series four games to one, dumping the Devils in the Quarterfinals. The Devils only win came in game three, 4-3 in OT on John Madden’s winner. Elias again led the Devils in scoring with 4 goals, 2 assists and 6 points while future Devil and Patrik’s countryman, Jaromir Jagr led the Rangers with 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points.

Like 1994, 2012 was billed as a classic matchup. And from a Devils perspective anyway, it did not disappoint The Devils arrived in the Eastern Conference Finals by eliminating the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia. The Rangers path led them through the Ottawa Senators and Washington. Game one at MSG saw Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist shutout the Devils en route to a 3-0 win and a 1-0 lead in the series. Game two and the Devils evened things up by squeaking out a 3-2 win. Lundqvist picked up another 3-0 shutout in game three giving the New Yorkers a 2-1 series lead. From there, the Devils did not let up. Game four: Brodeur and the Devils win 4-1. Game five: it’s a 5-3 win for Jersey’s Team as fourth liner Ryan Carter scores the game winner. Game six: rookie Adam Henrique etches his name in Devils history and sends the Prudential Center crowd into a frenzy by scoring his second series clinching OT goal of the playoff year (he had previously scored the series winner against Florida) to clinch the Devils fifth Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference champions and fifth trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Devils fans watching at home on NBC rejoiced as Mike “Doc” Emrick called out “Henrique! It’s over!” Leading scorers were: New Jersey’s captain Zach Parise (3 goals, 3 assists and 6 points) and New York’s Ruslan Fedotenko (2 goals, 3 assists and 5 points).

No sports rivalry would be great without playoff lore and heroism woven throughout its history and Devils-Rangers is no different. Ask any fan and they will tell you: nothing beats playoff hockey for its intensity and excitement. Meeting your rivals only ups that ante and New York Metropolitan hockey fans would have it no other way!

A Garden State Work in Progress

The Colorado Rockies had arrived on the East Coast in May of 1982 thanks to Dr. John McMullen and his ownership team. Their first order of business was a name change. Only once before in the history of the National Hockey League had a team retained its nickname when moving from one city to another (the Atlanta Flames had kept their fiery name when they moved to Calgary two years earlier, in 1980) and besides, East Rutherford, New Jersey, where the Brendan Byrne Arena was located, was nowhere near the Rocky Mountains anyway! It was thus, that the team would launch a name-the-team contest through local newspapers. On June 30, 1982, the team announced “Devils” had been chosen by fans out of about a dozen nicknames, which included: Americans, Blades, Coastals, Colonials, Generals, Gulls, Jaguars, Lightning, Meadowlanders, Meadowlarks and Patriots. The name comes from the “Jersey Devil” legend which has been repeated in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey since the 18th century (some contend it goes back even further to the Lenne Lenape Indians, who lived in the area prior to European settlement) and involves the crypto zoological creature that has the “head of a goat, bat wings, horns, small arms with clawed hands, cloven hooves and a forked tail.” The Philadelphia Flyers also operated an old Eastern Hockey League (minor league) affiliate in Cherry Hill, New Jersey named the Jersey Devils in the 1960s up to the mid-1970s. Dr. McMullen would comment on the nickname, saying that “it combines the folklore of South Jersey with the Meadowlands” and that a devil is defined “as a person of notable energy, recklessness and dashing spirit.” It was, however, a bit controversial (as it has remained today, in some circles), but as current General Manager Lou Lamoriello has said, it has and will remain the permanent identity of what would become known as “Jersey’s Team.”

Now that the team had a name, they would need a logo to go with it, and the Devils would further that identity by introducing a simple yet timeless logo that has survived up to the present day. The mark itself would be a monogram that combines an “N” with a devil-horned and tailed “J” in red outlined in green in a white circle also outlined in green. The choosing of green, red and white was a huge departure from the red, yellow and blue that had defined the team from Kansas City through to Colorado. The colors were supposedly chosen by Dr. McMullen’s wife, Jacqueline, who is also thought to have sketched out the logo for the first time, and were said to be red to represent a “devil” and green to represent the “Garden State” where the team was now a permanent tenant. While the colors would only last about ten years, the logo has remained and still represents the team (now with black replacing green) to this day.

The next step was to begin putting a team together to put on the ice. The Devils already had a roster left over from Colorado, including a few stars. Over the years, the franchise had seen some standouts, including Wilf Paiement (the team’s leading scorer during the Kansas City years with 47 goals, 35 assists and 82 points in 135 games played). Paiement would later be traded in 1979 along with Pat Hickey to the Maple Leafs for Joel Quenneville and superstar Lanny McDonald (that trade has an interesting story behind it as it was sort of a power play by Leafs’ GM Punch Imlach over star player Darryl Sittler. Imlach had wished to move Sittler to another team, but he would not waive his no-trade clause. In “retaliation,” McDonald [who was close to Sittler] was instead traded to the Rockies, thus Lanny McDonald would become a member of the NHL’s “Siberia”). McDonald and his famous moustache would play a little under two years in a Rockies uniform, posting 66 goals, 75 assists and 141 points in 142 games played. He would be traded to the Calgary Flames prior to the team’s arrival in New Jersey.

One player who did make the trip east with the Rockies was goaltender Glenn “Chico” Resch. Resch was traded from the New York Islanders in 1981, coming off of a Stanley Cup win in 1980, where he backed up Billy Smith (the Islanders would go on to win three more Cups in a row while Chico toiled away in Colorado and New Jersey). While Chico would not get to win another Stanley Cup, he would become the face of the franchise in its early years in New Jersey. Chico, who got his nickname due to his facial resemblance and similar moustache to actor Freddie Prinze, who was portraying “Chico Rodriguez” on the hit sitcom Chico and the Man while Resch was making a name for himself in the NHL, would be with the Devils until 1986 and was, in fact, part of the first and last trade between the Devils and their Turnpike rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. Chico remained so popular that he would return to the team in the late 1990’s to be the color commentator on their television broadcasts and would remain in that position until his retirement this past April.

The team’s first transaction was actually made a few weeks following the move to New Jersey becoming official and prior to the team gaining their new nickname. On June 9, 1982, the team traded Rob Ramage to St. Louis for the first pick in the 1982 NHL Draft (which would be used on Rocky Trottier, brother of Islander star Bryan) and the 1983 NHL Draft (used to pick Devils future all-time leading scorer and head coach, John MacLean). The Devils would follow that up by signing goalie Lindsay Middlebrook as a free agent from Minnesota and, the day their first training camp opened in Totowa (at the Ice World), September 13, 1982, signing Rob Palmer from Los Angeles as a free agent. While Palmer would play 60 games for the Devils that first season (posting 1 goal, 10 assists and 11 points and 21 PIMs), Middlebrook would only see action in nine games as a goaltender behind the main tandem of Resch and Ron Low, though he would give up 37 goals in 412 minutes played. Prior to the start of that first training camp, the Devils would name their first captain: Don Lever. Though the team was partially set to take the ice, the transformation from the 1981-82 Colorado Rockies to the 1982-83 New Jersey Devils was not quite complete just yet.


The New Jersey Devils, as a National Hockey League franchise, have their start not in the Garden State in the early-1980s, but rather in the Show Me State in the mid-1970s. So, as we look ahead to the 2014-15 Devils season, let’s start our journey right where it began: with the 1974-75 Kansas City Scouts season.

Prior to 1967, the NHL was a very exclusive club, consisting of only six cities: Montreal (Canadiens), Chicago (Blackhawks), Detroit (Red Wings), Boston (Bruins), Toronto (Maple Leafs) and New York (Rangers). In 1967, the NHL doubled in size, adding Los Angeles (Kings), Pittsburgh (Penguins), St. Louis (Blues), Minnesota (North Stars – now known as the Dallas Stars), Philadelphia (Flyers) and Oakland (the California/Oakland Golden Seals/Seals – later moved to Cleveland, then merged with the North Stars). Expansion was an almost immediate hit in the cities the teams were granted and another round was planned for 1970. That year saw Buffalo (the Sabres) and Vancouver (Canucks) join the league. Vancouver was a particularly interesting choice, as they had been snubbed during the 1967 expansion process due to Montreal and Toronto’s unwillingness to share Canadian television rights. Expansion in 1972 was a preemptive strike against the World Hockey Association, a rival outfit looking to get a foothold in many of North America’s modern arenas. Two of those arenas the WHA coveted were the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York and The Omni in Atlanta. In trying to keep the WHA out of those buildings, the NHL would add the Islanders and the Atlanta Flames. Rounding out expansion in the late-60’s/early-70’s was Washington, DC (the Capitals) and the Kansas City Scouts in 1974. Expansion was also planned for 1975-76, which would have placed teams in Seattle and Denver, but this was scrapped due to economic problems experienced by some of the previous expansions (most notably the Oakland franchise and the Kansas City Scouts).

The Scouts existence was very short and tumultuous and things got off to a rough start. They were originally to be nicknamed the “Mohawks,” owing to Kansas City’s place on the Missouri-Kansas border, as the team wished to pull fans from both states (the legend is that “MO” came from the postal abbreviation for Missouri and “hawks” comes from the traditional nickname for people from Kansas, “Jayhawks”). This nickname was immediately protested by the Chicago Blackhawks. The Kansas City franchise would then take on the nickname “Scouts” as an homage to the statue in Kansas City that would be featured in their logo. The Scouts lasted two years in Kansas City’s Kemper Arena, amassing only 27 wins against 110 loses with 23 ties. In those two years, they finished last in the Smythe Division both seasons.

With the Scouts failing to gain a foothold in the Kansas City sports landscape, a season ticket drive failing and facing $1 million in debt, the team was sold to Jack Vickers, a Denver, Colorado oilman following the 1975-76 season. Vickers would immediately pull up stakes and move the team to the brand new McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. Nineteen seventy-six was a rough year for the NHL: as the Scouts were busy becoming the Colorado Rockies, the California Golden Seals were also moving to Cleveland, Ohio to become the Cleveland Barons, these being the first franchise relocations in 41 years.

During their years as the Colorado Rockies, the franchise would fare slightly better in the standings, but not much better financially. Starting their tenure in Colorado, the Rockies finished the 1976-77 season with a 20-46-14 record, good for last place in the Smythe Division again. Their record, worse in 1977-78, would land them in second place in a weak Smythe Division: at 19-40-21 and with 59 points was good enough for a playoff berth that year (by contrast, Montreal, who won the more competitive Norris Division, finished with 129 points, first overall in the NHL). The Rockies had made the playoffs for the first time in their history (and the last time until 1987-88) but were bounced in the preliminary round by the Philadelphia Flyers. In 1978-79, the team would finish with 42 points and a 15-53-12 record. The next year (1979-80) saw a last place in the Smythe Division, a 19-48-13 record and 51 points. This was the season that saw the famous billboard “Come to the Fights and see a Rockies Game Break Out” and Don Cherry’s only season as coach of the team. Cherry would feud with management all season and would not return. The 1979-80 season also saw the Winnipeg Jets, Hartford Whalers, Edmonton Oilers and Quebec Nordiques join the NHL in a merger with the WHA. With only the Oilers being somewhat competitive, the Rockies were able to finish ahead of the Winnipeg Jets in 1980-81 with a 22-45-13 record and 57 points. By now, the Smythe Division had improved greatly (St. Louis would win the division that year with 107 points) and the Rockies finished well out of a playoff berth.

Starting in 1978, rumors began to surface that the team would be sold to New Jersey trucking executive Arthur Imperatore, Sr. Once the sale went down, Imperatore made his desires known: he was to move the franchise east to New Jersey to play in the Meadowlands Sports Complex. Unfortunately for Imperatore and New Jersey hockey fans, the building that was to become known as the Brendan Byrne Arena would not be completed for another three years and with no NHL-suitable rink for the team in New Jersey in the meantime, Imperatore would hold off the move and sell the team to Peter Gilbert in 1980. Gilbert also wished to move the team to Jersey, but his move would initially be blocked due to the NHL giving the first right to use the Meadowlands Arena to the New York Rangers (the team’s parent company, Madison Square Garden Corporation, was in a battle with New York City at the time over financial aid regarding real estate taxes and labor costs). The Meadowlands fell within the Rangers’ 50 mile radius (sort of a “sphere of influence”) and, thus, they would not need league approval to move to the arena, while the Rockies, who would be moving more than 50 miles to say the least, would.

During this time, the franchise was a sought after commodity, a group of Seattle investors claimed to be putting together an offer in February 1982 that would move the team to Washington state; the Canadian capital city of Ottawa coveted the team as well. The Ottawa mayor at the time, Marion Dewar claimed to have hammered out a deal with Gilbert to move the team to the Ottawa Civic Centre, which would have made “psychological and financial sense” since the Rockies would be playing each night in a filled 10,000-seat arena, instead of playing in a mostly empty, much larger McNichols Arena. Those deals, however, never materialized and Gilbert and the Rockies were losing money, to the tune of $70,000 a home game. Enter Dr. John McMullen in the spring of 1982. Like Imperatore, McMullen was a native New Jerseyan (having been born in Jersey City and residing in Montclair) who wanted to move the franchise to the Meadowlands. McMullen was very well-versed in sports ownership, having been part of the group that bought the New York Yankees from CBS (this group would also include George Steinbrenner, leading Dr. McMullen to famously quip that “nothing was more limited than being a limited partner with George Steinbrenner”) and later moving on to own the Houston Astros outright. His group buying the hockey team would include the man for whom their new arena was named, former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne, as well as John C. Whitehead. This group would purchase the Colorado Rockies for $9 million in May of 1982 and immediately seek approval to move it to northern Jersey. The collateral damage was a fee of $7 million to be split up between the Rangers, Flyers and the Islanders as indemnification fees for “invading” their territorial rights and some of the $7 million would go to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for the Jets move from the Norris Division to the Smythe Division. This realignment would allow the Rockies to join the Patrick Division out east. McMullen and the Rockies were able to make the move due to the Rangers giving notice to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA) not only that they would not be moving across the Hudson River to play their games (they had settled their dispute with the City of New York and would stay at MSG) but, most importantly to McMullen and company, that they would not block the move of any team into the Meadowlands to play their home games. The Rockies, who had just finished up a basement dwelling 18-49-13 season out west, would now be playing just eight miles from the New York Rangers. The closest geographical proximity of any two teams in the NHL.