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Seven Seasons, Many Goals & Hits: Looking Back at Bill Guerin as a New Jersey Devil

Bill Guerin has been named as an inductee to the 2013 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday. In honor of that, let's look back at his time with his first organization, the New Jersey Devils.

Bill Guerin played for eight different teams.  His time with Philly was short. Let's focus on his longer stay with his first team: New Jersey.
Bill Guerin played for eight different teams. His time with Philly was short. Let's focus on his longer stay with his first team: New Jersey.
Bruce Bennett

On Thursday, USA Hockey announced their 2013 inductees into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Mike Morreale has the list complete with biographical infomation on all five over at They are Doug Weight, Peter Karmanos Jr., Ron Mason, Cindy Curley, and Bill Guerin. The latter two among that five have some sort of connection with the organization we all support: the New Jersey Devils.

Curley doesn't really have one to the team but has a direct tie to Lou, who she especially pointed out as an influence when she was plying her trade at Providence. Since Lou is very much a part of who the Devils are, I'm going to count that. The other is Guerin, who was a former New Jersey Devil. Guerin's induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. He was one of the premier "power forwards" of his era, racking up both points, PIM, and pain for eight organizations over 18 seasons. Guerin's also two-time Stanley Cup winner, won silver with the U.S. in the 2002 Olympics, and was a member of the famous 1996 USA team that won the World Cup of Hockey. Someone who plays that long and was a significant scorer for a majority of those seasons (at least 44 points every season except his rookie year and the 1995 lockout season) is deserving of additional recognition. Remember, American players weren't nearly as commonplace as they may be now so Guerin definitely influenced a lot of young players. He got his start in New Jersey and so let's look back at what he did as a Devil.

The New Jersey Devils took a bit of a risk in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft when they selected Bill Guerin at fifth overall. Guerin wasn't in college or in some high-end junior league. He was selected right out of the Springfield Olympics of the New England Junior Hockey League. He was one of two players picked in that entire year out of that league (teammate Bob Kellogg went in the third round). That said, it wasn't like he wasn't a known player. He did play for the U.S. at the World Junior Championships and he was committed to Boston College. Big players who can score were desirable then as they are now.

Guerin took his bossing ways to the next level for two years with the Eagles. After jumping from 25 points to 45 points from freshman to sophomore, Guerin took to the next level by playing with the U.S. national team. It was in that time frame he ended his college career. The gamble to leave school early paid off, though. He did so well (or he did so well in college) such he signed with the organization during the 1991-92 season. He suited up for Utica Devils of the AHL and made an immediate impact with 23 points in 22 games (and amazingly for him, only six penalty minutes). New Jersey could not ignore him and he was called up for five regular season games. He only put up an assist and eight shots; but his play must have endeared him to someone because he played in the team's first round loss to the Rangers in the 1992 playoffs. There, Guerin scored three goals in six games on ten shots. It was apparent that the then 21-year old winger was someone to keep an eye on.

The 1992-93 season saw Guerin establish himself in the NHL for good until 2010. Guerin did suit up for Utica for 17 more games (and put up 10 goals and 18 points), but he spent the majority of his time in New Jersey. Guerin's rookie season saw him earn 14 goals, 20 assists, 123 shots, and 63 penalty minutes in 65 games. A total of 34 points was good for eleventh on the team in scoring, but fans took to Guerin quickly. It's hard to ignore a 6'2", 200+ pound man driving hard down low, to the net, and often into opposing players. It's hard to not like him barreling into opponents in one moment and then snag a puck and feed a teammate or put up a slick shot in the next. Fans who liked the rough stuff and fans who liked the skill saw quite a bit of both from Guerin and he started to become a fan favorite.

The fandom increased as the seasons went on in New Jersey. Guerin put up 25 goals - the first of thirteen 20+ goal seasons in his career - and 44 points (eighth on the team) while increasing his shot count to 195 and still piling up 103 PIM. The production didn't translate to the playoffs as he ran cold, shooting at 4.1%. But Guerin would only go from strength to strength. In the lockout-shortened 1995 season, he put up 13 goals and 25 points, which was good enough for fourth on the team in scoring. During the Devils' first Stanley Cup run, Guerin put up three goals, eight assists, and then did a dance at the parade that is forever kept on Youtube:

Not that you can take much from a dance, but Guerin really did play with a swagger. He would annoyingly and unhelpfully pick up penalties but then he'd do something like this to make even the most demanding fan forgive him:

Guerin was just as good as dropping gloves and dropping dudes as he was dropping a hammer with his strong shot. He "broke out" in the following two seasons. Guerin set a then season-high in points with 53 (23 goals) and shots with 213 in the 1995-96 season. While the Devils failed to make the postseason, Guerin did finish second on the team in scoring and his play got the attention of USA Hockey. Guerin was named to the American roster for the inaugural 1996 World Cup of Hockey, a then mid-Olympic cycle summer tournament and sort of successor to the Canada Cup. And why not? Who wouldn't want to bring an up-and-coming 25-year old big, mean, scoring winger from Massachusetts? Certainly Lou Lamoriello, who was the general manager for USA Hockey at the tournament. While Guerin didn't make a huge impact on the scoresheet - just two assists - he did earn gold with an American roster loaded with talent. Regardless, Guerin was one of the top scorers on the team for a second straight season, he learned some defense under Jacques Lemaire, and fans loved his desirable mix of physical and skilled play.

However, the production hit a bit of a bump in 1996-97. Guerin would improve on 23 goals by scoring 29, which would tie him with John MacLean for the team lead in goals. Yet his total points dropped to 47 and his shots fell to 177. Good thing he shot at an unsustainable 16% back then. Granted, Guerin had a very good shot, as evidenced when he scored the team's first goal of the season.

Guerin wasn't much of a factor in the postseason. He had only 13 shots in 8 games, I suspect he was hurt or something because that's really low for him. But at least he helped the team get back to the playoffs. Even if the shooting percentage looked to fall, he was still seen by many as an important player for the team for years to come. He was 26, he was a power forward, and he was loved in New Jersey. Unfortunately, Guerin's time in New Jersey was about to come to a close.

Money got in the way. Back then, it wasn't uncommon for players to hold out for new or better contracts from their teams. As you may suspect, trying to do that to Lou Lamoriello was not a wise idea. Not coincidentally, the player usually wouldn't last long in New Jersey. Guerin remained unsigned as the team began the 1997-98 season. Lou Lamoriello, who was the general manager for the United States Olympic team for the 1998 Winger Olympics in Nagano, not coincidentally left him off the preliminary roster. Guerin demanded a trade but instead he blinked first. Guerin agreed to a three year, $5.1 million deal on November 22, 1997. Vincent Mallozzi had a summary of the whole experience in this New York Times article. This wasn't just a simple holdout as there were talks of other American players boycotting the event if he was held off. For a bit more detail on that angle, Dave Joseph's November 23rd article in the Sun Sentinel is worth reading. Of course, it didn't help Guerin's argument of being important as the team started the season 16-5-0 without him. Per Sherry Ross' article in the New York Daily News, Guerin may have signed the offer the Devils initially gave him just to play. And so Guerin then played 19 games, scoring five goals, earning five assists, picking up 13 penalty minutes, and taking 48 shots. That would be it for the big Worcester native.

On January 4, 1998, the New Jersey Devils traded Bill Guerin and Valeri Zelepukin to Edmonton for Jason Arnott and minor league defenseman Bryan Muir. Here's the article by Alex Yannis in the New York Times about the trade; clearly a response to his holdout. Again: don't cross Lou. Now, we can say what a nice move that was since Arnott grew to be an important player for the team, was a crucial player in the 2000 Stanley Cup victory, and led to the Devils getting two other players who helped out big in 2003. Back then, this was a stunner. It's hard to think this now in 2013, but fans really did like Guerin. And there were fans also liked Zelepukin. And they both got moved for a guy who looked like he peaked as a rookie. Adding to the damage of the fans' psyche was that months earlier, Lou dumped John MacLean to San Jose after the long time Devil forward demanded a trade. At least the team was playing very well. To put the fan response in perspective, even after Arnott's heroics, the Guerin trade still made this 2001 CNNSI article about heartbreaking transactions, driven by opinions of Devils fans. Adding to that feeling was the fact that Guerin would become a very productive player in years to come. For what it's worth, Guerin was named to the U.S. Olympic roster for Nagano by Lou. At least he didn't make that personal. Guerin didn't do much as the team flamed out in the quarterfinals and some guys wrecked a bunch of hotel rooms.

Guerin ended up spending five full seasons, plus a part of two others with the New Jersey Devils. He never spent any more than that with the seven other teams he played for in his long career. He would go on to have more productive years. More seasons with 200 or more shots - including a mind-boggling 355 in the 2001-02 season, two seasons of at least 40 goals, and a notable level of production all the way through the 2009-10 season. With 429 goals, 856 points, 1,660 penalty minutes, 3,693 shots, 1263 games played, he's clearly one of the definitive American players of the last generation and one of the top power forwards of the late 1990s and early 2000s. While his time in New Jersey ended in an ugly way, I think it's fair to say that most of those who were fans then liked and still like what Guerin did on the ice. I certainly did when I was young. I'm hopeful that newer fans recognize in part, even though most of what hes done was while he was wearing a different uniform. Look at those goals and plays he made recently and imagine him younger while wearing red and black and you just about have it.

Congratulations to Guerin for being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Thank you for what you've done in New Jersey when you were here.