It's been an eventful decade here in the Garden State when it comes to hockey. Two Stanley Cups, three Prince of Wales trophies, five Atlantic Division titles, seven 100-point seasons. Oh, and the Devils' goalie cemented his name in the conversations of "Greatest to ever play the game". Starting this Tuesday, I will countdown the 10 best moments since 2000, but first, a look at some of the things that didn't make the cut.
Devils Hire Larry Robinson as Head Coach... The First Time (March 23, 2000)
The Devils gave then-future Hockey Hall of Famer Larry Robinson his first shot in the coaching ranks, when former Montreal Canadiens teammate Jacques Lemaire brought him as an assistant coach when he took over the Devils in 1993. Robinson, blessed with a defensive unit that included another future Hall of Famer in Scott Stevens as well as veterans Ken Daneyko and Bruce Driver, helped bring along a budding All-Star in young Scott Niedermayer, and meshed together a defensive unit that helped New Jersey win it's first Stanley Cup in 1995.
From there, Robinson got his first head coaching job with the Los Angeles Kings in the summer of that year. After only four playoff games in the next four years, Robinson left the franchise, only to return to the Devils as an assistant for then coach Robbie Ftorek. Everything seemed to be headed in the right direction for New Jersey toward another playoff run. From December 26, 1999 to February 15, 2000, the Devils went a mind-blowing 17-3-3. But then things took a turn for the downright bizarre.
Starting with a 5-5 tie against the Colorado Avalanche on February 17th, the Devils went 5-10-2, culminating in a 5-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello clearly saw Ftorek as losing the team (no, the bench-throwing thing isn't on this list) and leading it toward another first-round playoff exist (the Devils had exited in Conference Quarterfinals the last two seasons). He fired Ftorek on March 23, 2000, in favor of the assistant Robinson. Larry lead the Devils to an 8-2 win over the Isles and a 4-4 record the rest of the way. However, it'd be the post-season where Robinson would prove why he was fit to run this team.
Devils Trade Brendan Morrison and Denis Pederson to Vancouver for Alexander Mogilny (March 14, 2000)
Looking for some added scoring touch to support the budding A-line of Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora and Jason Arnott, Lou did what was seen as unprecedented at that time in Devils circles: he brought in a bona fide offensive talent during what you'd call arguably the prime of his career (Mogilny was 31 when acquired by New Jersey). The addition of Mogilny did something that no one previously had: He made the Devils a team you feared offensively every night.
Mogilny has also long been credited with making then-rookie centerman Scott Gomez into the player that later bolted for the Rangers, though that can be argued, as Gomez had fewer points in the full season AlMo spent with Jersey (2000-01) than in his 70-point rookie season. That said, despite a sub-par post-season in 1999-00, Mogilny put up points in that 2000-01 season that were almost unheard of previously for a New Jersey team, with 43 goals and 40 assists, second behind Elias' 96 points, giving the Devs unheard of scoring depth.
Despite chipping in 16 points in the post-season, the Devils would go on to lose the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals to the Colorado Avalanche in seven games. Mogilny signed with Toronto that off-season, only to return for an aborted, half-season stay with New Jersey in 2005-06. He was sent to Albany to make room for Elias' return from Hepatitis, and for all intents and purposes, never heard from again. Devils fans will always remember Mogilny, however, for once and for all proving that the Devils were no mere defensive juggernaut.
Patrik Elias Signs Seven-Year Contract with Devils (July 2, 2006)
Before the lockout, Patrik Elias was well on his way to becoming the offensive version of Martin Brodeur for New Jersey: putting up terrific numbers every year, but largely being taken for granted by a fanbase that wants to win the Stanley Cup every year, rather than see another 40-goal season. The young winger from the Czech Republic had put up his third 35-goal plus season in 2003-04 (38-43-81) and was one of the few Devils that showed any life in New Jersey's five-game playoff defeat to Philadelphia (3-2-5 in the series).
It was the time during the lockout that gave everyone a scare. While having a good season Mettalurg Magnitigorsk in Russia, Elias contracted Hepatitis A from food eaten in the country. The disease, chronicled largely in an NHL Network special that primarily focused on Elias' UNICEF ambassadorship, severely weakened the then 28-year old forward and kept him out of hockey for a while.
Elias didn't return to the game until January 3, 2006, with the Devils playing the Florida Panthers. Put on a line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta (The "Egg" Line), Elias looked as if he hadn't missed a beat. He scored eight points in his first four games, 45 points in 38 games that season, and led the Devils to an unheard of 15-game winning streak, combining the last 11 games of the season and first four of the playoffs, to lead New Jersey to a shocking Atlantic Division title on the campaign's final night in Montreal.
Elias continued a torrid pace in the playoffs. He had two goals and four assists in Game 1 of the Devils series with the New York Rangers, and went on to score 16 points in nine games that post-season. It made people notice Elias as an elite forward in this league. It also certainly drew attention to the fact that his contract was up that summer.
There were a lot of fears in Devils-land the Patrik would sign with another team. The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks were reported to have made serious offers. Though the real fear was that he'd sign with the Rangers. Elias alleviated those fears by agreeing to a 7-year, $42 million deal with the Devs the day after the UFA period began in 2006. He's worth every penny, and put up another 30-goal season just this past campaign. Elias will likely be a Devil for life, and hopefully never taken for granted again.
Brian Gionta Breaks the Devil Record For Goals in a Season, Devils Culminate 11-game Win Streak and Division Title With Shocking, Comeback Victory Over Montreal on the Season's Final Night (April 18, 2006)
Coupled with the 1999-00 season, the 2005-06 campaign has got to go down as one of the strangest of the decade. Head coach Larry Robinson said so himself. Robinson, re-hired by the Devils after it was announced that Pat Burns could no longer continue, had to step down after 32 games (14-13-5) when he told Lou Lamoriello at the team's annual Christmas party that the club was making him ill. Happy holidays, for sure.
More changes still were announced after a December 17, 2005 loss to Carolina. All three of the Devils major acquisitions over the off-season (Alexander Mogilny, Dan McGillis and Vladimir Malakhov) were either sent down to AHL Albany, or "retired" under mysterious circumstances. The Devils were, to put it lightly, kind of a mess. They were still figuring out how to make do with life minus Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko on the backline, so this was sort of the beginning of a "new generation" of Devils, if you will.
After Robinson quit at the halfway point, longtime GM Lou Lamoriello took over as coach. A week or so later, forward Patrik Elias returned from Hepatitis A, and the team caught fire. A nine-game winning streak to start the new year let everyone know that the Devils would not suffer in the post-lockout NHL. It was an 11-game winning streak to end the season, however, that made the Devils onto every hockey writer's shortlist for Stanley Cup contenders.
A young forward named Brian Gionta emerged as the team's top scorer that season with Elias out. A small winger, known mostly up to that point for his willingness to go to the front of the net and personal rivalry with gargantuan and polar opposite on the height scale Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, Gionta broke out in 2005-06, his style tailor made for the "New NHL". On March 28, 2006, he became the first Devil to hit 40 goals in a season since Elias and Mogilny in 2001. Going into the NHL and the Devils season's final night, he was tied with Pat Verbeek's all-time single-season goal scoring record of 46.
Now, the Devils were in Montreal that night, and could to the surprise of almost everyone, win the division title after struggling so much for the first half of the season. Everything worked out in their favor, as the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers both lost shortly before. Two points and the Devils get the division over the Flyers (who would have the same amount of points, 101) by virtue of having more wins, as well as #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. The only problem was... well, the Devils didn't show up for the first 40 minutes of that game. The Habs had a 3-0 lead on the Devils at home with three minutes to go in the second period, and only Brodeur keeping things from getting out of hand.
Then, with 2:42 to go, Gionta scored a goal that would personify the type of player he was. A Scott Gomez shot popped high off of Montreal goaltender Cristobal Huet. Gionta gloved the puck out of the air, down onto his stick, and put the puck home to break Verbeek's record, and give the Devils hope going into the third period. Of course, neither the Devils nor Gio were done yet.
Not much was going on early in the third, but nine minutes to go, the Habs took a penalty and the Devils went on the power play. Some slick passing and a Brian Rafalski shot gave Gionta another close-in rebound and a 48th goal that season, just for some distance. All that, and the Devils were within a shot of tying it. Three minutes later, Patrik Elias scored a georgeous goal off a pass from Gomez, who'd made a brilliant rush up the eyes, to tie the game with five minutes left.
With 2:30 to go, Habs forward Alex Kovalev took a shot that Marty Brodeur kicked away, right to a Devil defender, who passed it to Jamie Langenbrunner. He raced it in on a three-on-one against the Canadiens and Huet. Langenbrunner looked over the options, called his own number and ripped a shot by Huet to give the Devils a 4-3 lead. New Jersey hung on and won the division. It was one of the best regular season nights for Jersey's team I've ever seen, and it didn't even make the top 10 list. Ill be back on Monday with part one of that. Meanwhile, leave your own thoughts in the comments and your suggestions for my Top 10.