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Puck Daddy's Summer of Disappointment: New Jersey Devils Edition

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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(Ed. Note: There’s entirely too much sunshine in the summer. So your friends at Puck Daddy are offering a month of thrown shade and perpetual gloom. Behold, our Summer of Disappointment series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to recall the biggest bummer moments, teams and players in franchise history! Please wade into their misery like a freezing resort pool, and add your own choices in the comments!)

By Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy Editor (and Jersey native)

Most Disappointing Team: 1995-96 New Jersey Devils

I was tempted to put the 1988-89 Devils here, which was a team that followed their first-ever playoff appearance with a fifth-place clunker that saw their point total drop by 16, with mostly the same roster. But at least that playoff team was one that needed to qualify in the last game of the season. It’s not like they, you know, won the Stanley Cup or anything ...

The 1995-96 Devils were, on the other hand, defending Stanley Cup champions and hence their failure to make the playoffs the following year – becoming the first NHL team to go from top of the playoffs to out of the money since 1970 – was the franchise’s greatest disappointment.

Devoid of the chemistry they showed in 1995, lackluster seasons from key players and a Cup hangover that lasted through December. Just an ugly season, and not just because they traded for Esa Tikkanen.

Most Disappointing Devil: Neil Brady

I wanted to keep this one to homegrown Devils and not ones acquired in trades, because, seriously, Esa Tikkanen. So the most disappointing Devils is then an indisputable bust named Neil Brady.

He was awesome in juniors with Medicine Hat, including 83 points in 72 games one season. The Devils saw him as a dynamic forward that could slot behind Kirk Muller for years to come, and drafted him No. 3 overall in 1986.

As one Devil at the time once relayed to me: Brady showed up in camp and was winded during the most basic drills, and the veterans let him know about it.

Confidence shattered, Beef O‘Brady would play 29 games with the Devils before being shipped to the expansion Ottawa Senators. He scored their first-ever goal had a career-high 29 points in 57 games. Alas, he would play only 89 games total in the NHL, spending the majority of his veteran playing days in the IHL.

So he was a huge bust, but no biggie – it’s not like Vincent Damphousse or Brian Leetch were on the draft board at No. 3.

Oh, right, they were. Le sigh …

Most Disappointing Moment in Devils History: Niedermayer leaves

No, not the Stephane Matteau goal. Three Cups, including one the following season, should have stitched up that pulsating wound. Not to mention Adam Henrique in 2012.

No, not Parise leaving for Minnesota, but it comes close.

No, not Kovalchuk leaving for Russia, because at the end of the day, cap recapture is a thing and the Devils got out under a contract that was toxic in the new CBA. 

No, the most disappointing moment was Scott Niedermayer leaving to play with his brother.

To set the scene: It was after the lockout. Scott Stevens was likely headed to retirement, due to post-concussion syndrome. Niedermayer was about to inherit the mantle as the Devils’ franchise defensive player. They offered him five years and $1 million annually more than the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim did. ($7.8 million per season!)

But they couldn’t offer Rob Niedermayer.

So Scotty left to play with his bro and won a fourth Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. The Devils have yet to win one without Scott Niedermayer on the roster.

Most Disappointing Devils Transaction: The Doug Gilmour Trade

The word is “disappointing,” not worst. Worst could be Sean O’Donnell for Willie Mitchell, in hindsight. Or, you know, Esa Tikkanen.

But for many of us, getting Gilmour was the first time the Devils were ever the belle of the trade deadline ball. It was the first time the Devils acquired a star offensive player near his prime (with due respect to Peter Stastny, Bernie Nicholls and Neal Broten).

The full Feb. 1997 trade was Dave Ellett, Doug Gilmour and a 3rd round selection (previously acquired - Andre Lakos) from Toronto to the New Jersey Devils for Jason Smith, Steve Sullivan and the rights to Alyn McCauley.

Ellett was a pylon. Gilmour played 83 games for the Devils, scoring 75 points. But he had four points in 10 playoff games in 1996-97, before scoring five in six games in the 1998 loss to the Ottawa Senators, proving you can take the boy out of the Battle of Ontario, but yadda yadda yadda …

The other side of the trade featured Smith, who would go on to have a solid NHL career as a stay-at-home defenseman; Sullivan a spark-plug offensive player for the next decade; and McCauley, while never reaching his potential due to concussions, ended up as a serviceable forward for the Leafs and the Sharks.

In hindsight, it was a move the Devils still should have made. But Gilmour simply never fulfilled the promise of that jaw-dropping acquisition.

Most Disappointing Devils Coach/Executive: John MacLean

He went from scoring the most important goal in Devils history to being its most hapless head coach, lasting 33 games and nine wins before getting the axe in 2010-11.

Most disappointing, overwhelmed, terrible … really, pick your poison.

Most Disappointing Devils Fashion Choice: No Black Jersey

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Look, the black jersey trend is a scourge on the NHL. And yes, the Devils have done a great job maintaining the sanctity of their look by not going down the third jersey road, outside of the occasional throwback to the Christmas tree days. 

HOWEVER, as a team that’s faced a revenue problem here and there through the years, had there been a black jersey with a ferocious Devil on it (maybe not this one, but you get the point), they would have had to back up the truck with the amount of money it would have made. And it could have looked pretty cool in a 1980s heavy metal sort of way. 

Especially if they had ever signed Miro Satan. 

   

Other disappointments (in order of appearance): New York RangersCalgary FlamesSt. Louis Blues • New York IslandersDallas StarsBoston BruinsColorado AvalancheWashington CapitalsOttawa SenatorsArizona Coyotes Minnesota WildEdmonton OilersSan Jose SharksWinnipeg Jets Los Angeles KingsFlorida PanthersCarolina HurricanesBuffalo SabresMontreal CanadiensTampa Bay LightningChicago BlackhawksColumbus Blue JacketsNashville PredatorsDetroit Red Wings Anaheim DucksPhiladelphia FlyersPittsburgh PenguinsVancouver CanucksToronto Maple Leafs

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