Apologies for the late post for the big news of the day for the New Jersey Devils. It is warranted given its magnitude. The New Jersey Devils announced that former Devils player, former Albany/Binghamton/Utica coach, and current Devils assistant coach Sergei Brylin will be the second person ever inducted into the Devils Ring of Honor. The ceremony will take place on January 20, 2024 when the Devils host Dallas.
The news was publicly revealed today. However, Brylin and the team learned about this honor last week during a team film session. The Devils videotaped the moment for posterity’s and publicity’s sake:
Clearly from the video, Brylin was touched by the announcement from General Manager Tom Fitzgerald. And there were plenty of support online after the announcement was made. From the current players to Bryce Salvador to former legend Devils beat reporter Tom Gulitti, plenty of congratulations were in order. The People Who Matter - the fans - correctly see “Sarge” as a great example of professional and lifer for the organization. I do not think there is anyone who can realistically argue that Brylin does not deserve some kind of recognition. We knew back in September that the Ring of Honor was coming back for January 20, 2024. Brylin was an easy suggestion. It will become a reality in less than two months from tonight.
For the unaware, allow me to sum up Brylin. He was the definition of a utility player for the Devils. Regardless of the head coach or the team’s position, Brylin was a safe bet to put in a full effort in whatever he was asked to do. Play on a bottom six line in a more defensive role? Brylin could do that and do it well. Fill-in on a scoring line? Brylin could hold his own. Be a part of a power play? He’ll give it a chance and not be a waste. Killing penalties? You bet. If memory serves correctly, he was asked to line up as a defenseman for a game or two - and he did that adequately. Brylin was a jack-of-many-trades, master-of-none player. A Swiss army knife by way of Moscow. A consistent 15-ish, 30-40 point scorer in his better years where he averaged about 15-17 minutes per game. Brylin was an excellent complementary or supporting player for a top tier team that went to four Stanley Cup Finals and won three Cups.
His playing days for New Jersey ran from 1994 through 2008 where he made 765 season appearances and 109 playoff appearances. His peak playoff season was in 2000 where he put up three goals and eight points - career highs - in the postseason. One of those three goals was an equalizer in the third period in Game 4 against Dallas. A crucial 3-1 win to send the series to back New Jersey with the Devils just needing one more win. (They got it in Game 6, of course.) Fitting that his Ring of Honor night is against the Stars in that sense. Brylin’s time as a NHL player ended in 2008. He went to the KHL for four more seasons, returning back to the organization with Albany as a “team consultant” in 2012-13. He was bumped up to assistant coach since then and held that or a similar position with the AHL affiliate from 2013-14 up until 2021-22. In 2022-23, Brylin got the deserved call up to be an assistant in New Jersey. Brylin has been a member of one NHL organization as a pro since his debut 29 years ago: the New Jersey Devils. Behind the scenes and on the ice, that contributes to his legendary status. It is also a big reason why this Ring of Honor induction is well-deserved.
Why not a jersey retirement? Some of the People Who Matter called for it. I think that may be stretching it. To me, a player has to leave such a legacy that no one else can really wear that number and fill in their skates. It is one of the highest honors a player can be given for their career. Can anyone really wear #4 in New Jersey after Scott Stevens? Or #30 after Martin Brodeur? Or #26 after Patrik Elias? Or #27 after Scott Niedermayer? I think not, even though three did wear #27 after 2004, no one will confuse the main man with that number with Mike Mottau, Barry Tallackson, or a year of David Clarkson. That three out of the four are in the Hockey Hall of Fame adds further reason for that retirement. (Aside: And now that Mike Vernon is in it, sure, put Elias in the Hall too, please and thank you.)
The exception is #3, Ken Daneyko. But even he was a larger-than-the-number player simply for his remarkable longevity from a Devils’ first round pick (their second after the move from Colorado, Rocky Trottier went before him) to playing in 2003. He’s 77th all-time in this league in season games played in 1,283 and he lived through crushing lows of New Jersey (e.g. the pre-Lou seasons), the glorious highs as a Devil (e.g. the three Cups), and the creamiest of middles (e.g. the early 1990s). Again, do I see anyone honestly wearing #3 and doing it justice? Not really.
I cannot say the same for Brylin in that sense. He was a great utility player. But that has its own limits. He brought plenty of value to the Devils when he played. But he was rarely the best defensive forward on the team and he certainly was never a high-production player. There was no outcry when other Devils got #18, whether it was for younger players trying to break into the lineup like Niclas Bergfors or Dawson Mercer’s rookie season, veterans filling in like Brendan Shanahan’s return in 2008-09 or current winger Ondrej Palat, or fourth liners ranging from the useful like Steve Bernier and Vladimir Zharkov to the just-a-guys like Tim Sestito and Harri Pesonen. There was and is no significant outcry over any of those number assignments. The decision to keep #18 Brylin’s ended after his career in New Jersey did. Retiring it now makes little sense to me. And, again, as much as I value Brylin, I cannot honestly write he was so significant to the team that no other player can wear his number anymore. Especially since others have already.
This is why the Ring of Honor is perfect. Instead of needing to decide some line in the sand as far as who was so good that no one else cannot wear somebody’s number, this is the perfect forum for those important but not incredibly legendary players. The Ring of Honor spot is perfect for Brylin as well as other heroes of the Devils’ halcyon pasts like John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Jamie Langenbrunner, Bruce Driver, Claude Lemieux, and others. Or coaches like Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson, and Pat Burns. Not to mention others visibly important to the organization like Doc and Chico or Sherry Ross. Or even long time scouts and executives that helped build the organization. My main beef with the Ring of Honor was that the Devils have not used it since inducting Dr. John McMullen in 2017. Now they are. And it is exciting. Please do not stop with Sarge, Devils.
All the same, congratulations to Sergei Brylin for this honor. May the Rock serenade you with cheers on January 20, 2024.