1991-92 New Jersey Devils Team Photo - Click to View Full Size
1991-92: Putting The Pieces In Place
The longtime Devils’ captain came to the team just prior to the 1991-92 season, and it signaled the start of something so very special over the course of the next decade-plus. Stevens made his debut in 1991-92, playing in 68 games and recording 17 goals and 42 assists, earning a plus-24 rating. He went on to play 956 regularseason games for the Devils, scored 93 goals, assisted on 337, racked up more than 1,000 penalty minutes, and captained the team to three Stanley Cup Championships.
“There’s no question that it worked quickly,” Stevens said. “I always enjoyed playing in New Jersey when I was with Washington. I always liked playing in that rink. With the nucleus we had there, I felt that we’d have a good team for a while.”
Former defenseman Bruce Driver captained the Devils in 1991-92, but Stevens took over the captaincy on September 24, 1992 and didn’t relinquish it until his retirement on September 6, 2005.
“I would say he was the complete package,” ex-Devils’ defenseman Tommy Albelin said of Stevens. “He was the one player I know who had the finesse and goal-scoring touch combined with playmaking from his own zone or breakouts, to the hitting part of the game and never backing down from a fight. “Scotty always was a leader,” Albelin continued. “He didn’t always lead verbally. If something needed to be said he would say what was on his mind. He’s not a rah-rah guy. If we needed a lift, he went out and made that big hit. It’s a big lift as teammates to have that kind of guy.”
However, the Devils didn’t get Stevens for nothing. Exiting the Meadowlands was future 600-goal scorer Brendan Shanahan, who had 88 goals and 126 assists in four full seasons with New Jersey (281 regularseason games played). Shanahan signed with St. Louis as a restricted free agent, but that meant the Blues owed the Devils compensation for the signing. Ordinarily, the compensation would come in the form of draft picks, but the Blues already owed the Washington Capitals four first-round picks for having signed Stevens away the previous year. The Blues offered goalie Curtis Joseph and forward Rod Brind’Amour, a package that in retrospect looks pretty tempting, but the Devils wanted Stevens, and an arbitrator ruled in their favor making the Shanahan-for-Stevens swap official.
“If people see something in you, you’re not getting traded for a bum,” said Shanahan, currently in his 19th NHL season. “Getting Scott Stevens just meant I was a good draft pick for the Devils.”
“You have to give up good players to get good players,” added ex-Devils’ defenseman Ken Daneyko. So, with Stevens in tow, the Devils appeared on the right track beginning with the 1991-92 season. They won 38 games, tying a franchise-high, and reached the post-season for a third straight year.
For the first time in history, the Rangers awaited the Devils in a cross-river romp to open the playoffs. The Devils lost the opener, 2-1, but took the next two games by a combined score of 10-4. The Rangers, though, blanked the Devils, 3-0, in game four, and outscored them 8-5 in game five to take a three-games-to-two lead. The Devils took game six back home in the Meadowlands, 5-3, setting up a deciding game at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers were too much, taking an 8-4 decision and leaving the Devils wandering into the off-season.
“That was a wild series,” Daneyko said. “It was disappointing because we were playing our rivals, but it was the first epic series of the Devils-Rangers battle. It was great for hockey in the area.”
However, despite losing in the first round, many consider that 1991-92 season as the transition year in Devils’ history. Stevens made his debut, but so too did future All-Stars Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur and Bill Guerin.
“The young players were coming in, and some of the guys who were in the prime of their careers formed a nice combination and the future looked brighter,” Stevens said. “I know it looked better for me. I felt good about the team, and it definitely turned out very well.”
Players such as Laurie Boschman added experience while David Maley added some toughness. John MacLean, who had scored 40- plus goals in each of the previous three seasons, had to sit out the entire year after suffering a knee injury in the final pre-season game. However, his absence opened the door for Stephane Richer, who was second on the team with 29 goals in his first season as a Devil.
“When MacLean, who was our scoring threat, went down, it gave guys more time on the power play,” Albelin said. “If you get to play a little bit more, you get more confidence and you play better. Then it snowballs, and you’ll play more and more.”
Claude Lemieux, the future Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1995, scored a career-high 41 goals and dished out 27 assists. “Guys hated to play against him,” Daneyko said of Lemieux. “He was a winner, a competitor. You hate to play against him, but you love having him on your team. He was a pest, but he was a clutch, big-time performer. You want as many guys like that on your team as possible. He was another important piece to the puzzle.”
Three seasons later, Stevens, Lemieux, Richer, Daneyko, Driver, Albelin, MacLean, Niedermayer, Brodeur, Tom Chorske and Randy McKay were the catalysts in the Devils’ run to their first-ever Stanley Cup Championship.
“We weren’t built around the 100-point guy like a lot of teams were, or a couple of real gunslingers,” Daneyko said. “We were built around balance, and that was so important for us. That’s what wins Cups, not just a couple of star players.”