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Notable Returns in Devils History: The Solid, Yet Unspectacular Return of Tommy Albelin

Another entry of this week’s series of historical posts about the New Jersey Devils. Today we look at another two stint Devil in Tommy Albelin.

Tommy Albelin hoists the Stanley Cup Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI

Tommy Albelin may not be the most famous name in New Jersey Devils’ history, but he is still an important one in terms of defenders who have come and gone through the Garden State. Albelin has the honor of being one of only a handful of players to have his name on the cup with the Devils more than once. Today we take a look at how he got to the Devils, his first go around, the interim, his second stint, and what his legacy with the team is.

Who is Tommy Albelin?

Albelin was born May 21, 1964 in Stockholm, Sweden; he was a fairly average sized left shooting defender, standing 6’1” and weighing in at roughly 194 lbs. during his playing career. Albelin was initially drafted in the eighth round (yes, the draft had that many rounds back in the day) of the 1983 draft by the Quebec Nordiques. Albelin would not come over to the NHL right away as some prospects do, instead plying his trade for four more seasons with Djurgårdens IF of the SHL.

It would be the 1987-88 season where Albelin would begin to carve out his career in the NHL; he would appear in 60 games as a rookie, posting a respectable 26 points (3 goals, 23 assists) in those contests. His sophomore season in 1988-89 saw a small scoring increase across again 60 appearances, it was in this campaign that he was traded to the Devils in exchange for the ever popular future considerations.

Before I move into his Devils tenure, a quick note that back during this time, future considerations usually meant something other than one team moving a contract to free up a roster space. The Devils actually did send something to Quebec; thanks to, I learned it was a fourth round pick in the 1989 Draft, which was used to select Niklas Andersson, who would only go on to play 3 games for Quebec, and only 165 total NHL games. He spent most of his career in the SHL, and in something of an ironic twist, is the father of current Our Hated Rivals forward Lias Andersson.

The First Run in New Jersey

Albelin spent a good chunk of his career with the Devils, including his first stint of 7+ seasons where he would plain 379 regular season and 49 playoff contests. While Albelin wasn’t a superstar, or even generally a household name, he was still an important piece for the team. Prior to the arrival of both Scotts, Albelin was one of the Devils top four regular contributing defenders alongside Bruce Driver, Slava Fetisov and Ken Daneyko. As the Devils continued to grow their team, however, Albelin would be played as more of an “every other night” guy due to those emerging around him.

He would become a regular again during an important 1993-94 season, as Fetisov began to show signs of age and former regular Eric Weinrich would be traded to the Hartford Whalers, returning Bobby Holik and the draft pick that would be used to acquire Jay Pandolfo. While the Devils ultimately came up short that season, Albelin would appear in every game of the shortened 1994-95 season en route to the Devils’ first Stanley Cup

Departure and Interim

In the midst of a “Stanley Cup Hangover” in 1995-96, the struggling Devils sent Albelin along with Cale Hulse and Jocelyn Lemieux to the Calgary Flames for Phil Housley and Dan Keczmer. Checking on the players from that trade reveals that Keczmer spent the remainder of the season in Albany, and while he played some NHL games, he never caught on as a regular. Hulse would go on to be an NHL semi-regular, while Lemieux would only play 32 more NHL games (all with the Phoenix Coyotes) as his career was winding down.

That leaves only two more parts of the trade: a future NHL Hall of Famer in Housley, and a future second stint coming with the Devils player in Albelin. While I firmly believe the Devils won the trade that brought Albelin in, I’d say they lost on this one. Housley would appear in 22 games for the Devils after the trade, and that was it. He would go on to sign with the Washington Capitals after the season as a free agent.

As for Albelin? He would spend the next 5+ seasons with the Flames, appearing regularly in all but the 1999-2000 season. All in all, the Flames got 339 games out of Tommy, far better than the 22 games of Housley that the Devils got. Now there is limited information from this era, and the Devils may have made the move to alleviate salary. However, this was also a time when the team was hot off of a cup winning season, and (more importantly) there was no salary cap! In fact the cap was a full decade away still, meaning the Devils tried to make themselves better to get back to the playoffs. They still missed, and they came up empty handed, while Calgary got a solid player for half a decade.

In this time period, however, the Devils would win their second Stanley Cup, while Calgary would fail to qualify for the playoffs during Albelin’s tenure aside from their first round exit in 1995-96.

Second Run: Solid, Yet Unspectacular

I chose my words wisely with the article title, as Albelin would return to New Jersey for the 2001-02 season. His career was beginning to wind down, as he had turned 37 prior to his first season back in Jersey. He was used in more of a 7th D role, appearing in roughly half of the team’s games during each of what would be his final four NHL seasons. I remember his play from this time period (being a teenager during this stint as opposed to much younger during his initial run with the team) and I can truthfully say he wasn’t going to be your first choice to hold a lead, nor did he contribute a whole lot of points. However, he was still a solid player, and it made the Devils that much harder of a team to play knowing that they had a guy like Albelin ready to step in when needed.

The good news from this story is that Albelin would win his second Stanley Cup with the 2002-03 team, and would appear in 16 of the Devils’ 24 playoff games, celebrating his 39th birthday in the midst of the run. While 39 certainly isn’t old, it does become more difficult to keep up with the influx of younger talent each season. Tommy would officially retire in the summer after the 2003-04 season...

...but would come back for one more season in 2005-06 at age 41 after the NHL lost 2004-05 to a lockout. He had been practicing with the team when the NHL started back up after the lockout, and they signed him in December. He would play his final 38 (36 regular season, 2 playoff) NHL games, for a career total of 1,033 (952 regular season, 81 playoff) games.

Current Whereabouts and Legacy

Albelin would bounce around the Devils’ AHL and NHL teams as an assistant coach over the next few years after his playing career. Most recently, he has been part of the Swiss Men’s National Team as an assistant coach.

Albelin will more than likely never have his number hung in the rafters of the Prudential Center, but he does have the distinction of being a contributor to two of New Jersey’s three Stanley Cups. While there certainly were bigger names driving the team to success, one could argue that if you substitute a lesser player in Albelin’s place, perhaps something goes wrong for the Devils and they don’t win those championships. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts, and Tommy was part of two whole great Devils squads. As such, I would hope that overall memories of him would be positive, as mine are.

Thank you all as always for reading.