August 30, 2010
(Ed. Note: Welcome to Puck Daddy's August series, "Mount Puckmore" which will feature fans, bloggers and various media personalities of all 30 teams choosing the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams -- whether they be players, coaches or executives. We'll be running these daily for the rest of the month. Today, representing the New Jersey Devils is Greg Wyshynski, author of some dopey hockey blog.)
By Greg Wyshynski
The difficultly or ease in chiseling the New Jersey Devils' Mount Puckmore comes down to how complicated one wants to make this exercise; which is to say it comes to down to how one wishes to define "defining."
Many of the Puckmore authors have chosen to avoid the inclusion of suits among the skaters; only a handful feature coaches, about the same feature general managers and almost none feature owners. This is a philosophical choice, and for many teams it's not one with which I'd take issue. But the New Jersey Devils aren't, in my estimation, one of those teams.
The Devils aren't 3-time Stanley Cup champions without the contributions of one general manager/team president/ruler of all he surveys; but, more importantly, the Devils aren't the Devils without a Jersey-born Naval veteran's decision to bring professional hockey to the Garden State.
To leave either or both off the mountain would be a disservice to the team's legacy. Unfortunately, it also made for a few very difficult decisions about which deserving players were left off the façade.
In a selection that is guaranteed to piss someone off, here are the four faces of the New Jersey Devils ...
Dr. John McMullen, owner
Again, it's understandable if you believe owners should be left off Puckmore; if, at the end of this post, you're screaming at the heavens because a New Jersey Devil was snubbed in favor of John McMullen.
To which I'd simply respond: Without John McMullen, that player would have been a Colorado Rockie.
It's that simple: No Dr. John McMullen, no New Jersey Devils.
In 1978, a trucking executive from New Jersey named Arthur
Imperatore purchased the Colorado Rockies with the intent of relocating them to
New Jersey. Which was all well and good, until he discovered the vehement
opposition from the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Philadelphia
Flyers to the relocation, and the amount of
fees" it would take to move to the Garden State.
By 1982, the Rockies had new owners and attendance still sucked. So the franchise was for sale again, and McMullen saw an opportunity to bring a hockey team to his home state of New Jersey (he was born in Jersey City in 1918).
McMullen was most well-known for owning the Houston Astros and being a limited partner under George Steinbrenner with the New York Yankees. He made his bones as the founder of a naval architecture and marine engineering company. In 1982, he led a group of investors that included former New Jersey governor and future arena namesake Brendan Byrne to purchase the Colorado team and move it to Jersey.
The price was estimated at $30 million, which was too rich for even George Steinbrenner back in '82. But where McMullen succeeded and others failed was in securing the support of the New York area's other franchises: Part of the overall price for the Rockies was $16.5 million in indemnity fees paid to the Rangers, Islanders and Flyers, according to Sports Illustrated. Once those payments were agreed upon ... well, somehow, the geographic protests seemed to wane.
McMullen isn't just on Puckmore for being the will and the way behind the Devils in New Jersey. He was also responsible for hiring the front-office men who would build the foundation for the eventual success this "Mickey Mouse" franchise would experience.
Men such as Lou Lamoriello.
Lou Lamoriello, GM/President/Ruler of All He Surveys
After McMullen convinced him to leave Providence College and his commissionership of the NCAA's Hockey East, Lou Lamoriello's first day as Devils' GM in Sept. 1987 saw him trade their leading scorer (Greg Adams) and popular goaltender (Kirk McLean) to the Vancouver Canucks for Patrik Sundstrom.
In the 1988 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where the Devils made their first postseason appearance in franchise history, Sundstrom set a then-NHL record with eight points in a single game against Washington.
It was a move that symbolized some, but no all, of Lamoriello's managerial philosophy: an aggressive, unsentimental style that was laser-focused on making the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup every season. While their conference rivals have dwelled in the basement for years to draft future superstars, the Devils haven't had a rebuilding season in the 23 years Lamoriello's been in the board room. His teams have won more Stanley Cups (3) than had non-playoff years (2). They simply reload.
His Devils teams built through the draft and sometimes got creative, like finding and securing the services of Brian Rafalski(notes). He fleeced more teams than was fleeced by them; unless you think Tom Kurvers for the pick that became Scott Niedermayer(notes) is equal value.
He had an uncanny knack of understanding the personality of his teams and what they needed most to succeed: Whether it was a timely coaching change or the right veteran player added to a playoff contender. And, through the power of his Kool-Aid, he was able to keep talent with the franchise for manageable salaries.
Most of all, he gave the Devils their personality and, in the same breath, took it away.
The defense-first dogma that spawned their Trap years was an organizational decision by Lamoriello that changed the course of the franchise on several fronts. At the same time, Lamoriello's insistence on not aggressively marketing the Devils led to empty seats in the arena; but, one could argue, that insistence may have also contributed to their run of championships.
He's not perfect, especially under the salary cap. His micro-managing ways (i.e. naming himself coach) have become the stuff of ridicule. But the results, and the impact, speak for themselves. Lou Lamoriello IS the New Jersey Devils for the last 23 years ... and he's the reason the next icon became one, too.
Scott Stevens, D
The St. Louis Blues thought fair compensation for the signing of Brendan Shanahan(notes) in 1991 would have been Curtis Joseph(notes), Rod Brind'Amour(notes) and two draft picks; Lou Lamoriello felt Scott Stevens, who had signed a 4-year restricted free-agent deal with the Blues in the previous summer, was fair compensation.
A judge sided with the Devils in a decision that transformed.
Stevens was the player that elevated a good Devils defense into greatness; a tireless rock of consistency who was as important to the establishment of the Devils' defensive reign as any coach or goalie.
He earned the captaincy in 1992 and kept it until his retirement, relishing the role as the Devils' emotional spark on the ice and stone-cold veteran in the locker room. If Mount Puckmore is supposed to feature players who defined a franchise, then Stevens was the definition of Devils hockey for years.
It was because of his defensive prowess, as one of the NHL's greatest shut-down defensemen. Because of his clutch performances, like the goal in Pittsburgh that tied the Devils' 1995 conference semifinal series against the Penguins after they dropped Game 1. Because of moments like the "You're Next" he spat at the Detroit Red Wings' bench in 1995, or the legendary hit on Lindros in 2000. Because of the intimidation he personified in playing like this every night:
Above all else: Because Scott Stevens matured as a player as the Devils did as a franchise, going from reckless to responsible. He never won a Norris, much like the Devils never won over their critics. But, in the end, they both have three great reasons why that's secondary to the ultimate prize.
From Chico Resch to Sean Burke to Chris Terreri, the Devils had always been a team with respectable goaltending. Until Martin Brodeur showed up and it went from respectable to the best on the planet.
Well, at least after he shaved:
Brodeur won the Calder in 1994 after helping to lead the Devils to the conference finals, where they lost to the Rangers in Game 7. The following season saw him become impenetrable in the postseason, in back of the Trap: a 1.67 GAA and a .927 save percentage en route to the team's first Stanley Cup. His numbers in the 2000 Cup run were even better: 1.61 GAA and another .927 SV%; in 2003, he posed a 1.65 GAA with a .934 SV%, making a strong case for JS Giguere's Conn Smythe.
He has four Vezina Trophies and five Jennings Trophies; holding NHL records for career shutouts and wins. His post-lockout playoff flops have obscured the fact that, for most of his career, it was Brodeur, Hasek and end-of-conversation when it came to the best goalie alive.
Of course, the other thing that obscures Brodeur's legacy is the chicken-or-the-egg argument over whether he was a product of the Devils' system or whether his unique talents (like his stick-handling) are what made the system work. I've long been convinced it's the latter; and that, in the end, Brodeur would eat both the chicken and the egg, and likely the rest of the farm.
Ask any casual sports fan about the New Jersey Devils, and chances are they'll mention Brodeur first after you tell them that you're talking about a hockey team.
Ken Daneyko, D: Yeah, so, the guy that's nicknamed Mr. Devil and has his number hanging from the rafters isn't on the Devils' Mount Puckmore. This could get me kicked out of the Fan Club, but he's clearly the No. 5 choice if you're going to include McMullen, which I did.
Besides, McMullen serves as our nod to the green-and-red days that Dano helped define.
It came down to Scott Stevens or Ken Daneyko; and while Daneyko's 20 years of service to the Devils was painful to leave off the mountain, the bottom line is that Stevens turned this franchise into a champion and has a Conn Smythe to prove it. I couldn't leave Scotty off the mountain; it was a numbers game, and Dano got the snub.
As many of you know, I worked with Daneyko in Vancouver during the Olympics and occasionally talk hockey with him on VERSUS. He's a very loud man with fists that could dent a Panzer tank. I stand by my decision here, at the same time I fear for my life and the shape of my face, in that order.
John MacLean, RW: The Devils' all-time leading goal scorer until Zach Parise(notes) passes him, MacLean also scored the most important goal in franchise history to get the Devils into the playoffs for the first time in 1988. If he leads the team to another Stanley Cup as head coach, perhaps we revisit this selection. But I'm still not over the fact he requested a trade the morning of a game.
Scott Niedermayer, D: Three-time Cup winner with the Devils and one of the best defenseman in recent NHL history ... but his legacy is shared with the Anaheim Ducks.
Jacques Lemaire, Coach: The man who helped introduce the Trap in New Jersey and the driving force behind the team's first Cup. Still, Larry Robinson and Pat Burns also have their rings, too.
Neil Brady, C: Oh, wait, this isn't the Mount Puckmore for the Utica Devils? And to think, the Devils passed on Vincent Damphousse and Brian Leetch for a guy with 89 NHL games to his career...