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The Retired Numbers Debate

Scott Stevens became the first Devil to have his jersey retired during the 2003 season. Photo Credit: NJDevils.com

When Brian Rafalski announced his retirement today, it signaled yet another Devil from their glory days to retire. As the team gets further and further removed from their dynasty days, when they won three Stanley Cup championships in eight years, more and more players will leave the game.

The departures already included some big name players. Over the last six years, we’ve seen most of the Devils vaunted defense retire. Ken Daneyko, arguably the heart and soul of the defense, retired after winning the Stanley Cup in 2003. Scott Stevens soon followed, retiring in 2004 after battling post-concussion syndrome. Scott Niedermayer went next, retiring last season. The list continues, with forwards like Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin hanging up their skates.

All of these former players helped produce the most successful eight seasons in team history. They all deserve recognition, both individually and as a collective whole. There’s no bigger individual recognition than retiring a player’s number, and there are a few Devils who deserve the honor. But it shouldn’t go to everyone, and the franchise needs to tread carefully when considering players worthy of that honor.

Currently, only two Devils have seen their number retired. Scott Stevens became the first player in team history to have his number retired. The team honored him in a pre-game ceremony on  February 3, 2006, acknowledging his immense importance to the team. Stevens racked up the honors, including a Conn Smythe Award during the 2000 Stanley Cup championship. His mere presence along the blueline made skaters think twice about where they were on the ice. His hit on Eric Lindros during the 2000 Eastern Conference was a turning point in the series. His resume continues, with the crowning achievement being his tenure as captain, which is still the longest in team history. Clearly, he deserved the honor.

Daneyko became just the second player whose number hangs from the rafters. “Mr. Devil” played for 20 seasons, all with the Devils. His gritty play and gap-toothed grin came to embody the Devils “trap” game. He sacrificed his body game in and game out, blocking shots and doling out hits. He’s never been an “offensive defenseman,” recording a career-high 21 points during the 1989-90 season. He almost never missed a game, holding the Devils “ironman” streak until this season. His contributions, both on and off the ice, earned him the honor.

Niedermayer and Rafalski both make great arguments to earn the honor. But before the team makes them one of the honored few, they need to realize not everyone deserves a spot. That’s where the difficult decisions begin. What criteria will the organization use to judge a player’s worthiness? Both Niedermayer and Rafalski were great Devils, and belong among the best to wear the jersey. Both also spurned the organization to play elsewhere, with Rafalski leaving near the tail end of his prime years. It doesn’t diminish their accomplishments with the Devils, but it may dilute them in the eyes of some observers.

We already know that, when he decided to retire, Martin Brodeur will watch his jersey number retired. But for others, like Niedermayer and Rafalski, the honor should take time to be decided. Players refused to wear Stevens’ number four and Daneyko’s number 3, but others wore numbers 27 and 28.

I don’t believe other players, like Rafalski and Niedermayer, should be shunned from having their jersey numbers retired. The franchise should practice caution, however, to keep it an honor and not a right.

Ex-Devil Brian Rafalski To Retire

May 24, 2011 1 comment

Rafalski, skating against the Ottawa Senators in the 2007 Eastern Conference semifinals, will retire with three Stanley Cup championships. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Former New Jersey Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski will announce his retirement in the coming weeks, according to several media reports.

Rafalski, who signed a five-year, $30-million contract with the Detroit Red Wings after the 2007 season, will forgo the final year of his contract. He’ll leave $6 million on the table after retiring and open a big hole along the Red Wings blueline.

After going undrafted out of the University of Wisconsin, Rafalski spent four seasons in Europe – one in Sweden and three in Finland – before signing with the Devils before the 1999-2000 season. He finished with 32 points in the regular season, ranking third among the team’s defenseman, and averaged over 21 minutes of ice time in the playoffs. He helped lead the Devils to their second Stanley Cup championship.

He continued to take on a more prominent role on New Jersey’s defense throughout his seven-year stay. He led all defenseman in points five of the next six seasons, becoming the most consistent offensive threat along the blueline. He routinely topped 25 minutes of ice time in the playoffs, playing in all situations.

He won yet another cup during the 2002-2003 season, totaling 11 points and once again averaging over 25 minutes of ice time.

Rafalski became a main cog on the Devils blueline, an achievement considering the defense’s tremendous depth. In an era where Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Sheldon Souray all donned a Devils jersey, Rafalski found a way to stand out and make a name for himself. That’s no small feat, especially for someone who couldn’t catch on in the NHL for four years after college. His offensive skill and no frills play made him a fan favorite and one of the most successful Devils’ defenseman.

Despite leaving the team four seasons ago, the Devils have yet to fill the void left by Rafalski. Several replacements, from David Hale to Paul Martin, all failed to deliver the same offensive production. It’s possible that some prospects, like Alexander Urbom and the ever-present Jon Merrill, may fill that void. Rafalski remains one of the best to ever patrol the Devils’ blueline.

The 2010-2011 Player Review: Brian Rolston

May 6, 2011 1 comment

Rolston finally cracked the Devils top-six forwards this season, showing the offensive potential that we've all been waiting for. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Brian Rolston.

The second coming of Brian Rolston hasn’t panned out for the New Jersey Devils. Rolston, a former 30-goal scorer with the Minnesota Wild, failed yet again to reach those expectations. As he increases in age his production continues to decline. The 2010-2011 season proved to be the most contentious of Rolston’s second stint with the Devils.

Rolston’s third season as a Devil started with an injury. He left the team’s 7-2 loss against the Washington Capitals October 9, and was diagnosed with a sports hernia. The injury required surgery and shelved Rolston for nearly a month. When he returned, he continued to struggle offensively, posting just 5 points in 19 games between November and December.

Tired of the ineffective play, Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello decided to place Rolston on waivers. Lamoriello gave Rolston permission to seek a trade, and the left-winger wanted a fresh start with another team. Surprisngly, no one wanted a 37-year old left-winger who couldn’t score and carried a cap hit of over five million dollars. Eventually Rolston worked his way back into the Devils rotation, and ended up surpising everyone with his second half.

A perfect storm during the season’s second half gave Rolston the opportunity to produce offensively, and he took full advantage. Jacques Lemaire’s arrival helped spur Rolston offensively. He collected 192 points under Lemaire during their time together with the Minnesota Wild. The trade of Jamie Langenbrunner helped clear room on the second line, giving Rolston offensive-minded teammates to help him produce points. And he did, collecting 29 points during the team’s second-half surge.

Rolston overcame significant struggles to finish the season strong. It still wasn’t the production the Devils expected, but it gave the team reason to use him as a top six forward. Rolston actually finished the season as a solid producer, something that hasn’t usually couldn’t describe his efforts.

Rolston At Even Strength

Rolston played well throughout the season at even strength, providing a near positive impact on the ice.  His average time on ice was 13.23, placing him within the top six in that category. His strong second half propelled him to a plus-0.33, making him one of only eight skaters to be in the green (minimum 50 games played). His faced the toughest opponents, with his quality of of competition checking in at plus-0.085. Playing with the second line boosted his teammates rating, as they checked in at a plus-0.035.

His second-half surge drove Rolston’s offensive numbers to near team highs. The team averaged 2.02 goals per 60 with Rolston on the ice, and dropped to 1.76 per 60 with him off. He helped the team average 26.2 shots for per 60 on the ice, and it fell to 24.7 with him off. Remember that credit needs to go to his linemates, Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus, who helped improve those dismal first-half numbers.

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The Devils 2010-2011 Season Preview

October 7, 2010 2 comments

Can you feel something in the air? There’s a slight chill in the air, and the leaves are changing colors. The baseball playoffs are in full swing, and the NFL is already four weeks into their schedule. It all adds up to the best time of the year – hockey season. And, for the New Jersey Devils, it begins tomorrow night at the Prudential Center against the Dallas Stars.

With the beginning of the season comes the obligatory team preview. Without further adieu, here’s The Devils’ Den’s 2010-2011 Season Preview.

Martin Brodeur and the Devils open their season against the Dallas Stars Friday night against the Dallas Stars. Photo Credit: Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger

The Offseason

The Devils endured the longest offseason in recent memory. The failed to make it out of the third round for the third consecutive season, losing the series 4-1 to the hated Philadelphia Flyers. That playoff loss left a bad memory on what was a rather successful season. New Jersey clinched second in the conference, won their ninth Atlantic Division title, and made the postseason for the 13th consecutive season. They also swept the Pittsburgh Penguins, 6-0-0, during the regular season.

The organization wasn’t satisfied with their playoff failure, deciding to make several changes. The first change came in the coaching staff. Jacques Lemaire, who lost the locker room by the end of the season, retired on April 26. The Devils decided to go with youth at the helm, promoting then-Lowell coach John MacLean, who served as a NHL assistant for seven years. MacLean brought in Adam Oates to help a woeful powerplay and kept Larry Robinson to help with the defense. With the coaching staff set, Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello turned to the roster.

Lamoriello began the roster overhaul early in the Devils’ offseason, acquiring Jason Arnott from Nashville for Matt Halischuk and a second round pick in 2011. Arnott, who scored the game-winning goal to give the Devils their second Stanley Cup Championship in 2000, would be reunited with former “A-Line” partner Patrik Elias and former Stars teammate Jamie Langenbrunner. The Devils then bought out longtime Devil Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters the day before free agency began.

In an uncharacteristic move, Lamoriello signed several free agents for this year’s team. On July 1, Lamoriello signed defenseman Anton Volchenkov (six-years, $25.5 million), defenseman Henrik Tallinder (four-years, $13.5 million) and goalie Johan Hedberg (one-year, $1.5 million). The team lost Paul Martin to the Penguins and Rob Niedermayer to the Sabres.

On July 19, the Devils doled out the largest contract in NHL history for Ilya Kovalchuk. The left-winger and New Jersey agreed to a 17-year, $102 million dollar contract. It passed through the NHLPA, but not the league office. The league rejected the contract, setting off a summer of arbitration hearings and constant frustration. Eventually the team and league settled on a 15-year, $100 million deal, with amendments made to the collective bargaining agreement to ban these contracts.

To read the rest of the preview, follow the jump!

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Devils 2010-2011 Schedule Preview – Detroit Red Wings

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the Devils 2010-2011 schedule, giving you an in-depth preview of the 29 other teams the Devils will face next season. We’ve already completed several previews, all of which can be found under the “Season Preview” tab. In today’s preview, we stay in the Western Conference, taking a look at this season’s matchup with the Detroit Red Wings.

Rob Niedermayer scored to put the Devils ahead of the Red Wings, 3-1, in their matchup last season. New Jersey defeated Detroit, 4-3, in a shootout. Photo Credit: Devils.NHL.com

Red Wings vs. Devils – Historical Data

In 84 all-time regular season meetings against Detroit, the Devils are 35-37-11-1. The Devils average 3.27 goals against the Red Wings, but they allow Detroit to average 3.36 goals against them. The matchup also has some playoff history, as the Devils swept the Red Wings, 4-0, in 1995 to win their first Stanley Cup. Last season, the teams played each other once, with the Devils defeating the Red Wings in a shootout, 4-3.

Jamie Langenbrunner scored the game’s first goal, giving the Devils a lead, 1-0, at 15:29 of the first period. Johnny Oduya extended the lead, netting an extra-strength goal at 17:25 of the period. Kris Draper cut the lead in half, scoring at 9:23 of the second period to put the Red Wings on the board, 2-1. Rob Niedermayer put the lead back at two at 14:43 of the period, putting the Devils ahead, 3-1. Tomas Holmstrom cut the Devils lead to one, tallying on the powerplay at 19:30 of the period to bring the Red Wings to within one, 3-2.

The Red Wings would complete the comeback, with Patrick Eaves tying the game, 3-3, at 9:30 of the third period. The teams would stay scoreless throughout the third period and into overtime. The Devils elected to shoot second in the shootout, and Pavel Datsyuk scored on the Red Wings first attempt. Zach Parise answered back, putting one past Chris Osgood to knot up the shootout, 1-1. Both teams remained scoreless until the fourth round, when Patrik Elias scored the game-winning goal in the shootout.

Devils vs. Red Wings – This Season’s Matchup

The Devils and Red Wings will face off twice this season, with each team playing the other at home. The Red Wings signed one of the bigger free agents this season, inking veteran Mike Modano to a one-year contract. The team kept several of its own players, opting to resign Nicklas Lidstrom and Eaves, to name a few.  The team also saw Chris Chelios retire and join the front office.

The Red Wings are an aging group of stars, but they consistently put together a solid team each and every season. There’s a reason why the Red Wings have made the playoffs 19 seasons in a row. Detroit is always difficult to play, and I wouldn’t expect anything less this season.

Stat Pack

In 16 career starts against the Red Wings, Martin Brodeur is only 8-7-1 (tie) with a 2.11 goals against average and a .918 save percentage…Ex-Devil Brian Rafalski has only played one game against his former team, recording one assist.

Niedermayer Hangs Up His Skates

June 23, 2010 1 comment

I know my analysis comes a tad bit late, but with the Hall of Fame snubs and Devils’ schedule release, the news of Scott Niedermayer’s retirement came buried in the news. But that doesn’t lessen his worth to the organization, and I’ve come to respect Niedermayer as one of the best defenseman to ever wear the Devils sweater.

Scott Niedermayer won the Cup three times with New Jersey, the final championship coming in 2003. Photo Credit: Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger

The Devils originally drafted Niedermayer in the first round of the 1991 NHL draft. The defenseman was considered one of the best coming out of the Canadian Hockey League, an offensive-minded player known for his skating and ability to join the rush. He joined the team full-time during the 1992-93 season, where he recorded 11 goals and 40 points and earned a spot on the NHL All-Rookie team. Niedermayer improved to 46 points in his second season, when the Devils were defeated in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New York Rangers.

During the Devils first Stanley Cup run, in 1994-95, Niedermayer took a step back. The defenseman only played 48 games, recording 19 points. But he showed up in the playoffs, recording 11 points in the Devils’ Stanley Cup championships. During the finals, Niedermayer scored one of the more memorable Devils goals in history:

After those finals, Niedermayer seemed to take off. Niedermayer recorded 33 and 35 point efforts the next two seasons before his breakout year in 1997-98. That year, Niedermayer totaled 57 points (14 goals, 43 assists), his highest point total as a Devil. During the rest of his Devils career, Niedermayer would never slip under 30 points while averaging no less than 73 games played per season.

The 2000 Stanley Cup Finals brought Niedermayer another championship and a playoff record. Niedermayer scored two shorthanded goals, tying Larry Murphy and Paul Coffey for the most shorthanded goals scored by a defenseman in the playoffs. In 2002-03, Niedermayer would again display his offensive skill in the postseason. His 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) tied teammate Jamie Langenbrunner for the league lead as the Niedermayer won his third Stanley Cup.

Niedermayer’s final season as a Devil proved to be his best one. With both Scott Stevens and Brian Rafalski missing significant time with injury, Niedermayer became the leader of the defense. He recorded 54 points that season and won the Norris Trophy for the league’s top defenseman. But that would be his swan song for the Devils, as the player left for the Anaheim Ducks.

Niedermayer would go on to win another Stanley Cup with his brother, Rob, and record his career high in points (69 in 2006-07). In addition to winning four cups, Niedermayer won several international gold medals with Canada. The first came in the 1991 Junior World Championships, which was followed by two gold medals in 2004 (Hockey World Cup, World Championships). He also clinched two Olympic golds, in 2002 and in these past Olympics.

What Niedermayer did in a Devils jersey was beyond remarkable. He formed one of the best defensive units in NHL history. While he sometimes stood in the shadow of Stevens, Niedermayer’s impact on the Devils defense is still felt today. Since Niedermayer left, the Devils have struggled to find another talented offensive-defenseman. They’ve also struggled to find a leader like Niedermayer. It always seemed like Niedermayer could step up and do the right thing to help the team win. He knew how to push buttons and knew his role, which was to help keep the defense together and win.

Continue reading for my thoughts on the Niedermayer retirement!

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Olympic Hockey: Crosby Clinches Gold For Canada

Canada’s assistant captain Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins) had been rather quiet in the Olympic tournament, and through three periods, hadn’t recorded a point in the gold medal game.

Crosby finally struck in overtime, scoring the game-winning goal to defeat the U.S., 3-2, and clinch the gold medal.

Crosby scored the game-winner 2:20 into the extra period. Canadian right-winger Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames) sent a pass to Crosby, who slid a shot under the pads of Team USA goalie Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres) for the goal.

Sidney Crosby celebrates after winning the gold medal in men's hockey Sunday. Crosby's overtime winner clinched Canada's first Olympic hockey medal on home soil. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It was the second game-winning goal for Crosby in the tournament. He previously scored a shootout goal to defeat Switzerland during round robin play.

Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks) and Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks) put Canada ahead, 2-0, in the final game of the Olympics.

Toews opened the scoring at 7:10 of the first period with his first goal of the tournament. Mike Richards (Philadelphia Flyers) stole the puck from Team USA defenseman Brian Rafalski (Detroit Red Wings) and put a shot on Miller. The rebound bounced to Toews, who put the puck into the net for the goal.

Perry increased the lead by two at 12:47 of the second. Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) carried the puck into the U.S. zone and attempted a pass to Patrick Marleau (San Jose Sharks). The pass hit Marleau’s skate, and Perry picked up the loose puck and beat Miller for the goal.

Then the U.S. staged their comeback.

Ryan Kessler put the Americans on the board at 7:22 of the third period. Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks) shot the puck, and Kessler tipped the puck on net. Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks) got a piece of it, but the puck slid across the goal line.

With the U.S. down by a goal late in the third period, Miller came to the bench for an extra attacker. With

Zach Parise, right, starts the celebration after slipping the puck by Roberto Luongo to tie the game with 24 seconds remaining in the game.

six men on the ice, Kane shot a puck that Zach Parise (New Jersey Devils) tipped on Luongo. The Canadian goalie made the first save, but Parise put home the puck for the game tying goal with 24.4 seconds left.

That set the stage for Crosby to bring home the gold.

With the win, Canada became the first host country in 30 years to capture a men’s hockey gold. Canada became the first host country other than the U.S. to win gold as the host country.

The U.S. men clinched their first medal on foreign soil since a silver medal finish in the 1972 games in Sapporo, Japan.

Luongo finished with 34 saves in the win. Miller stopped 36 shots in the loss.

After the game, Parise was named to the all-tournament team. Despite the loss, Miller took home the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

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The NHL will resume games tomorrow night. The Red Wings will travel to Colorado to take on the Avalanche. The game will be on Versus at 9 p.m. The Devils play Tuesday night in San Jose.