FAN ZONE

 
  • PRINT
  • RSS


1989-90 New Jersey Devils Team Photo - Click to View Full Size

1989-90: Changing History
By DAN ROSEN

The team was ripe for some changes, especially after a sub-par 1988-89 season. After creating their own expectations with a memorable march through the playoffs in 1988, the Devils took a step backward the following season by failing to reach the post-season.

As per usual, General Manager Lou Lamoriello had something brewing, but this wasn’t going to be easy. Lamoriello wanted to go global. He was trying to dig deep into one of the hotbeds for hockey talent and grab a star.

On June 26, 1989, Lamoriello got Soviet defensemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Sergei Starikov to ink their names to NHL contracts. This was groundbreaking and historic in so many ways. Fetisov and Starikov started the flow of Russian players to the NHL, without defecting, by signing with New Jersey.

Devils hold a press conference to introduce Soviet defensemen Viacheslav Fetisov (left, with Lou Lamoriello) and Sergei Starikov.

Two weeks after signing, the Devils newest blue liners were introduced at a historic Meadowlands news conference.

In fact, it was so memorable for the players involved that when Fetisov, who played five full seasons in New Jersey and four more in Detroit where he won two Stanley Cups, found out he made the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001, one of the first phone calls he placed was to Lamoriello.

“I will never forget what he and Dr. (John) McMullen did for me,” Fetisov, a Devils’ assistant coach in 2001, once said. “They fought for me and opened the door for (Eastern) European players.”

Getting here, however, required, as Lamoriello said, “tremendous fortitude and determination,” especially from Fetisov. Lamoriello said upon his initial talks with Soviet hockey ambassadors that Fetisov, who was an army officer and national team captain, was going to be allowed to leave the country in order to play in the NHL. When Lamoriello visited to the Soviet Union, contract in hand, the tune changed and Fetisov was all of a sudden not going to be allowed to leave the country.

Insistent that he wouldn’t defect, Fetisov had to go through the proper channels and get the proper identification to leave the country.

“We had to go through an ongoing process of him trying to work through normal channels for him to come over,” Lamoriello said. “It was very difficult trying to get his freedom. We went through a trying time. He had to prove that he was a citizen to get his rights to do things.”

Fetisov eventually received the historic paperwork. He was the first Soviet citizen to ever have unlimited entry to come in and out of the U.S.S.R. and the United States, and that’s why Lamoriello believes this wasn’t just a groundbreaking moment in the hockey world, but in the political world as well.

“He not only created a milestone in hockey, but even more historic was that he was the first to get unlimited entry,” Lamoriello said. “It was really a historic time, and you see where we are today.”

So many players have come through since, including defenseman Alexei Kasatonov, who later that season joined Fetisov, his defensive partner in the Soviet Union, in New Jersey. Kasatonov played 39 regular-season games in 1989-90 and 257 overall in his four-year Devils’ career.

“In some circles, Fetisov was known as the best defenseman in the world,” ex- Devils’ defenseman Ken Daneyko said. “He’s an icon over there (in Russia). You can really see what he meant to the game of hockey worldwide. He’s quite a pioneer, and certainly a powerful guy who left his mark in a number of areas.”

However, as Daneyko admitted, at first the signings of the Soviet players did not sit well with some of the North American-born players who had already established themselves in the NHL. Daneyko remembers being a healthy scratch in the early parts of the 1989-90 season.

“It was a little bittersweet out of the gate,” Daneyko said. “I was just getting my feet wet, and it cost me some ice time. I started looking at it selfishly, but I figured it out and it worked out for me. “I know around the league guys were wondering about the Europeans coming over to take jobs,” he added. “Obviously it turned out to be instrumental because our league has become better. Their skill level is so high, and you have to commend that. They have made the National Hockey League better, but there was some bitterness around the league.”

Lamoriello said he knew it was a tough time for Fetisov and Starikov, but it wasn’t until years later when he sat down with Fetisov, now a close friend, that he learned of the hardships these defensemen faced.

“Now it’s past tense, but life was made miserable both on and off the ice for those guys,” Lamoriello said. “It wasn’t of a miniscule nature either. It was real. It wasn’t their fault. We asked them to come and we had to take the responsibility.”

After only days of playing with him, Daneyko said he realized why Lamoriello made the move to sign Fetisov. “After all the naysayers regarding Slava, people not wanting much European influx, he made our team better,” Daneyko said. “Knowing what he had accomplished on the international stage, he deserves a lot of credit in the NHL for many different reasons. It wasn’t just us taking a chance, he took a chance. He made the defensemen increase their skill level.”

Fetisov and Kasatonov helped propel the Devils back into the playoffs in 1990 after they failed to make the cut the season before. The Devils went 37-34-9 for 83 points in the regular season, and won their last six to clinch a playoff berth. Kirk Muller led the team with 56 assists and 86 points. John MacLean scored more than 40 goals for the second straight season.

They would eventually fall in six games to the Washington Capitals in the opening round of the playoffs, but getting there was another sign of growth for the team. The Devils have since made the playoffs every year but one, and of course, own three Stanley Cup championships.

“It was certainly disappointing because we had such a great run in ’87-88, and not to make it the next year was disappointing,” Daneyko said. “It was our team’s maturation process. You realize how difficult it is to win, and we were no longer doormats. That’s part of the young team going through the process. Fortunately we were able to put it all together. It was a process that also included long-time Devils Craig Billington, Bruce Driver, Patrik Sundstrom, and Chris Terreri. “It took us a while to reach our ultimate goal, but we started approaching it in ’89-90,” added Daneyko.

View Archived Stories in the 25 Year History Series

 

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
K. Palmieri 82 30 27 3 57
A. Henrique 80 30 20 10 50
T. Zajac 74 14 28 3 42
M. Cammalleri 42 14 24 15 38
D. Severson 72 1 20 -8 21
R. Boucher 39 8 11 -13 19
D. Schlemko 67 6 13 -22 19
J. Moore 73 4 15 -12 19
A. Larsson 82 3 15 15 18
J. Blandisi 41 5 12 -14 17
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 27 25 6 .924 2.15
K. Kinkaid 9 9 1 .904 2.81
Advertisement
Advertisement