No line lasts forever in the NHL, not even the most famous ones. Philadelphia's Legion of Doom line, the Islanders' Trio Grande, and yes, even our own beloved A-Line would all rise to lead their respective teams only to eventually come back down to earth. Many times effective lines get dismantled while all players are still active in the NHL. There's many factors as to why: salary cap crunches, trading veterans for youth, players clashing with coaches/management, and even something as simple as having too many contracts heading into the season. The last one leads us to the point of this article, as we take one (probably) final look back at Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta; the CBGB line.
How They Came to Be
Carter, Bernier and Gionta's Brother seemed to happen almost by accident during the 2011-2012 season. It all started at the end of October of 2011 when the Devils claimed Ryan Carter off of waivers from Florida. He would first appear the next night, October 27th, and delivered seven hits in a losing effort against the Phoenix Coyotes. Around the same time, Steve Bernier was signed to an AHL contract after attending training camp with the Devils. He would be signed to a two-way contract and called up at the end of January. Carter would play frequently for the Devils that season in the bottom 6 and Bernier would play most of the games left in the season after his signing. The last member of the trio, Stephen Gionta wouldn't play until the 82nd and final game of the 2011-2012 regular season. He would play with Bernier and Carter for the first time that game, and even though Carter wasn't on the ice at the time, Bernier would assist on Gionta's first NHL goal; said goal would stand as the game winner.
The 2012 Playoffs
With injuries persisting, Carter, Bernier and Gionta would be kept together to start the 2012 playoffs, and would pay dividends immediately. Ryan would pot a goal in Game 1 of the opening round against Florida, which would wind up being the game winning goal. They would continue to contribute on the score sheet throughout the series, with each finishing with 3 points (Carter 1-2, Gionta and Bernier 2-1) to help New Jersey advance to the Conference Semifinals.
In Round 2 the line would be much less effective; the only point they would record would be a Stephen Gionta assist on a Travis Zajac goal in Game 2. The Devils would advance to the finals in 5 games without much help from CBGB. They would save some of their best for Our Hated Rivals. Ryan "Ranger Killer" Carter would tie Game 2 at 2 (with an assist from Bernier on the play) before David Clarkson would tip an Adam Henrique shot in to tie the series at a game apiece. They would come up big again in Game 5, scoring the first goal...
...as well as the eventual game winner...
...to put New York on the brink of elimination. Although I've already done separate articles on both the last goal and the one that will follow, I feel it's worth showing both again; these moments showed what this line could provide when it was at its peak, and it exemplified that playing as a team within a system works better than playing as a collection of individuals. Game 6 would begin, and then my favorite goal of the 2012 Playoffs would happen:
With the crowd craving a moment to cheer for, CBGB provided; Bernier gets the puck and gets around his defender. He hits Gionta with a good pass, and Gio uses his speed to get in close on Henrik Lundqvist; he doesn't score, but his shot choice leaves a nice, juicy rebound that "Ranger Killer" would bury to bring the fans to their feet. The Devils would go on of course to win the game, and head to the Stanley Cup Finals, where Steve Bernier would become the goat:
The Devils' season would end without a championship, but the foundation appeared to be in place for a strong roster that could cycle through all four lines without having to worry about anyone being a liability.
The Next Two Seasons
The truncated 2012-2013 (or should I just say 2013) season would see some roster turnover with Zach Parise, Petr Sykora and Alexei Ponikarovsky all heading elsewhere; Adam Henrique would also miss the beginning of the season due to injury. The Devils would fill the lineup holes internally with Stefan Matteau, Mattias Tedenby, Cam Janssen and more regular ice time for Jacob Josefson. Janssen however is, was and never will be Top-9 forward material; with him in the lineup, and Peter DeBoer not wanting to split up CBGB, they were promoted to the third line, at least for the time being.
The results were underwhelming; while all players finished with respectable point totals (Bernier and Carter with 15 each, Gionta with 14) for the amount of games each team played, CBGB was in over their heads in terms of competition, now playing higher than the fourth line they were intended to be. With injuries and poor play plaguing the team, DeBoer used Gionta and Bernier as high as the second line (playing with Elias) at times; unlike the previous season where parts were interchanged successfully, the Devils couldn't put it all together and missed the playoffs.
With new players being signed, and CBGB no longer having to play higher than the fourth line, the 2013-2014 season looked good on paper. When the season started, the wheels came right off the bus; the team lacked scoring punch despite the signings, and injuries would again strike the forwards. Steve Bernier was used as high as on the second line again (and with poor Patrik Elias again), but his play fell off a cliff; a team worst -15, and a 2.9% shooting percentage made Bernier an ineffective experiment. His point total would fall 3 from the previous season, despite playing 31 more games. Stephen Gionta would similarly see his shooting percentage and +/- rating drop, as well as his point output also dropping 3 while appearing in 18 more games. Ryan Carter would be the only one to show any improvement, as his shooting percentage would rise slightly, though his +/- and point totals dropped as well. The chemistry between the trio still existed, but seemed to no longer be as effective as it was during the line's initial union.
The End (?)
With the Devils missing the playoffs for two straight seasons, General Manager Lou Lamoriello went into the 2014 off-season determined to find more scoring for a team that sorely needed goals. He would bring ex-Calgary Flames forward Mike Cammalleri on board as well as former San Jose Sharks winger Marty Havlat to supplement the team; with Gionta and Bernier being re-signed, the Devils would have at that point fourteen one-way contracts for forwards. Needing seven defensemen and two goaltenders on the roster as well, the Devils were at their limit for contracts.
With training camp invitees and young players making strong cases for roster spots, Carter could no longer wait for a contract offer; Minnesota would come along on Monday with a contract offer, and Carter would head back to his home state to play. Steve Bernier meanwhile after having a largely unimpressive camp would be placed on waivers the same day, and would clear on Tuesday; he has been assigned to Albany. Stephen Gionta is the surviving member of the line at the moment, still up with New Jersey and still slated to be the fourth line center.
No line lives forever in the NHL; but it is (and I'm sure will always be) awful hard to reflect on the Devils' 2012 Playoff run without remembering the magic that CBGB discovered that spring. While the trio might currently be split (and some fans might be sour on the idea) never say never on a possible line reunion down the road while all players are active.
And Of Course...
The regular season begins tonight for our New Jersey Devils! Everyone enjoy the game, let's go Devils! As always thank you for reading!