We’ve officially hopped into the way-back machine today folks. In the New Jersey Devils 37 season history, the team has had only 11 players don the “C” on their jersey, signifying their captain. While there will be a 12th in the near future (perhaps the team does not name a captain next season), one man stands out among the list, having served for 12 seasons and of course being the one to hold the role during the team’s most successful years. That player of course is Scott Stevens; today we look back fondly on his great career, his impact on the Devils, and of course, the bone-jarring hits he laid down.
In the Beginning
For being best remembered as one of the premier Devils players of the 1990s, it may shock younger or newer Devils fans to learn that Stevens was NOT drafted by Jersey’s Team. That honor belongs the Washington Capitals, who selected Scott fifth overall in 1982, the very same season the New Jersey Devils came to be. Scott would find his way to the NHL immediately, and while he would not win the Calder Trophy, he would still find a large degree of success to start his career.
Stevens wound up playing eight seasons for Washington, amassing 98 goals, 331 assists and a penalty minute total never dipping under 150 each of those campaigns. After eight years with the Caps, the St. Louis Blues came offering Stevens a four year deal. As an RFA, the Caps declined to match the offered contract; Stevens was a Blue, and the Caps acquired two first round picks, which would turn into a nowadays unheard of five first round picks should neither of the initial two be a Top 7 choice.
Stevens upon arriving in St. Louis became the team’s captain, and in his first season he would continue to add to his reputation. Another five goals, another 44 assists, and another 150 minutes spent in the box. While the Blues had spent considerable time trying to sign Scott, and had him locked up for three more years, his first season as a Blue would be his only. History sometimes has a funny way like that.
Restricted Free Agents and the Trouble They Cause
At the conclusion of the 1990-91 season, the Blues were back to offering deals for RFAs, this time targeting Brendan Shanahan of the (you guessed it) New Jersey Devils. The Devils made the same play as the Caps; they elected to let the player sign with St. Louis, but they were now entitled to compensation. As St. Louis’ next four first round picks were still in play to Washington (the 1991 pick having passed and not been Top 7), the teams had to come to an agreement, which they struggled to do, leading to one of the most infamous moments in NHL history.
The Blues offered then young goaltender Curtis Joseph, 21 year old forward Rod Brind’Amour and a pair of conditional draft picks. In NHL hindsight, it’s really not a bad offer even with conditions on the picks. The Devils, however, wanted none of it; their alleged compensation was one of the Blues stars: Brett Hull, Adam Oates or Scott Stevens. The case would go to arbitration, and when the Blues laid out the same package, the Devils made a simple ask in return: Scott Stevens.
Arbitration came and it was Judge Edward Houston who would change the course of Devils history.
Scott Stevens was now a New Jersey Devil.
The Devils marriage to Scott Stevens wasn’t a happy one at first; Stevens himself wanted no part of the team due to issues surrounding the organization and as he and his wife wanted to settle in St. Louis. The other players were not happy upon acquisition either; thankfully, the play on the ice started to speak to everyone, telling them that maybe they had something special on their hands.
Stevens would serve his first campaign in Jersey as an alternate captain to Bruce Driver; he would claim the “C” the next season, and hold it for the next 12. The 1992-93 season, Stevens’ first as captain would end the same was his first season in red and green (different colors at the time folks) ended: a first round playoff exit.
1993-94 looked to be the year; the Devils had a solid squad, Scott had put up a career high 78 points (18 goals, 60 assists) and the team had a chance to right the wrong of two years ago when Our Hated Rivals took them out in round one, but this time on a much bigger stage. Yes, that season the Devils and Rangers met in the Eastern Conference Finals, and when history, movies and literature all tell you that sometimes the bad guys win, point to this season of NHL hockey. Not only were the Devils ousted, but they had to watch bitterly as their biggest rival hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup.
While the talent was there, times were dark in New Jersey. But, the stage was set for something wonderful to happen.
The Silver Era
I’d say golden, but the Stanley Cup isn’t gold, now is it? The 1994-95 season was a short one thanks to the first of many lockouts in somewhat recent memory for us somewhat older fans. A 48 game campaign would be played, and when the postseason rolled around, the Devils didn’t even get a chance to avenge the ghost of the season prior. The Second Rate Rivals would eliminate the defending Cup Champions, and would meet our Devils in the Eastern Finals; while this season was where Stevens stopped being a prolific offensive contributor, it didn’t mean the man was any less of a leader.
Stevens helped to propel the Devils past the Flyers and into a finals match-up against the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings. The Wings had not lost a playoff game at home in the 1995 postseason, until the Devils rolled in. Game two would see them change Detroit’s home record to 8-2; the Red Wings would never get a chance to add a ninth home win, as the Devils swept the series. Giving up Shanahan had brought them a captain and a Cup. Before continuing, I leave the immortal call of that championship from Doc Emrick:
Stevens contributed eight points during the postseason, while posting a +10. Again, his point totals weren’t as gaudy as they used to be, but he still was leading by example, and he still played some amazing defense. So good was his defense, that the Devils would appear in the 1999-2000 Stanley Cup Finals against under Scotty’s watch. That series, of course, ended with one of, if not the best Cup-clinching goal of all time (maybe I’m a bit biased) but it also ended with Scott Stevens hoisting the only Conn Smythe trophy of his career.
There had been some disappointing season prior to 1999-2000, particularly missing the playoffs right after winning it all. A second cup within six years was a good way to remove some of those disappointments. Often forgotten is the secondary assist on Jason Arnott’s clincher: without the drive of Stevens to keep the play alive and push the puck around to Patrik Elias, there is perhaps no goal.
As his active career begun to wind down, Stevens captained the Devils to one last Cup in 2003, at the expense of the Cinderella story Anaheim Ducks. Additionally, while the Conn Smythe did not go to Scott (nor any Devil for that matter) the argument could be made again that he played well enough to earn it in that series.
The End and The First
The following season would see Stevens appear in only 38 games due to injury; he would train and prepare to return for 2004-05, only to watch that entire season be lost to a lockout. Stevens retired officially when the NHL resumed in the fall of 2005, and for the first time in over a decade, the Devils were without their captain.
It wouldn’t take them very long to give him a lasting tribute however; during that very same 2005-06 season that Scott retired at the start of, the Devils would retire his #4. As we all know, it was the first such retirement by the organization, and he would be followed by fellow defenders Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer, before the Devils would retire a number for a goalie in Martin Brodeur and a forward in Patrik Elias.
If there was one word most people would probably associate with Scott Stevens after “captain” it would probably be “checking.” Stevens was known as a lethal, game-changing hitter during his day, though many players openly admitted in interviews that he was not a cheap player nor was he head hunting. While many of these would probably be a penalty today, let’s take a moment to appreciate some moments when Stevens changed the momentum.
The arbitration ruling heard ‘round the world brought over a player initially disinterested in being a New Jersey Devils. Yet after 13 seasons wearing that crest on his sweater, Scott Stevens endeared himself to the fans, his fellow players, and the rest of the organization. He became such a big piece of the team’s history that they waited mere months after his official retirement to ensure that no one would wear #4 ever again.
Again, the NHL has changed since Scott retired and many of his hits would not be allowed in today’s game. I don’t think it affects his legacy in terms of NHL or Devils history, as he flat out knew how to play defense, was a key offensive contributor for many years, and was a leader no matter where he went in the league. It’s been roughly a decade and a half since The Captain hung up his skates, and while he’s been back with the organization in a coaching role for a couple of stints, it’s wasn’t the same. Father time is always undefeated in sports, but man could the current day Devils use a player in the mold of Scott Stevens.
What are your thoughts looking back on the career of Scott Stevens? Do you believe his acquisition was the catalyst for three Stanley Cup Championships? Do you believe him to be the greatest Devils defenseman of all time? Leave any and all comments below and thank you all as always for reading!