clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

FanFirst Friday: Presidents Edition

The New Jersey Devils franchise has been lucky to have some icons over the years. Today we talk about the best of the best...and who could possibly join them very soon.

Syndication: NorthJersey
The goat played for the Devils. No other arguments will be heard at this time.
Tyson Trish/The Record

We take a break from your regularly scheduled Timo Meier updates, rumors and speculation to reflect back on the New Jersey Devils past. I mean if I had to talk about Meier once more, I think my brain might literally melt, so thanks for giving me the freedom to go off the board today.

I figured I would go off the board since it’s President’s Day Weekend. People often talk about a Mount Rushmore of their professional team. You know, who should be the faces carved in the side of a mountain. Or maybe just painted on the old pedestrian wooden bridge that led to Brendan Byrne Arena? It’s tough for the New Jersey Devils to do this simply because they have five retired numbers already. Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko, Patrik Elias and, of course, Martin Brodeur. Five spots for four spaces means, well, yikes. Someone is going home unhappy.

The natural one to leave off would be Scott Niedermayer simply because he’s the only one who left the team at the height of his powers. But here’s my problem with that. Scott Niedermayer is probably my favorite Devil of all time. So on my personal Mount Rushmore, there’s simply no way I could leave him off. Plus, the guy left the team to join his brother after heartbreakingly having to shake his hand and comfort him in a Stanley Cup Finals loss. Having four brothers of my own, I can’t imagine that kind of circumstance and how I would likely do everything in my power to ensure that it didn’t happen again. A moment of great joy and success was sullied by feeling the pain and sorrow of a loved one you grew up with. So when Lou couldn’t acquire Rob, it was likely only a matter of time until Scott wound up somewhere with his brother someday. I truly can’t hold that against him. As an aside, it’s also why I think inevitably, Quinn Hughes will eventually be a New Jersey Devil.

So if Scott Niedermayer remains on, who comes off? It’s not really surprising that the Devils only have one forward number retired thus far. The Devils won three Stanley Cup championships on the backs of defense and goaltending. So Patrik Elias, the franchise’s leading scorer, is the only forward to sit in the rafters as of now. Elias was also a fantastic defensive forward as well, so it’s not surprising that he endured himself for years to the Devils faithful. I don’t see any way you pull Elias off the list.

Scott Stevens might the most impactful player of all New Jersey Devils in terms of winning three Stanley Cups. He’s the George Washington of the team. The guy who started it all. Without Stevens, there’s likely not three beautiful banners hanging from the rafters at The Rock. Just ask Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya, Slava Kozlov and anyone else who stood in the way of the Number 4 train out of East Rutherford. I know a lot of people want to criticize Stevens these days, hell, his listing as a top 100 NHLer of all-time earned him scorn and judgment from the writer for the Athletic rather than acknowledgement of his willingness to sacrifice his body for the cause. I’m not linking it because, quite frankly, I found the Athletic’s list of top 100 players of all-time a complete joke. I could get into it, but listing other goalies above Martin Brodeur, who basically owns all of the meaningful goaltending records while listing Wayne Gretzky as unquestionably number one, invalidates whatever that group has to say. If you’re putting Hasek above Brodeur, then the same argument could be made to list Mario Lemieux as the greatest player to ever play hockey. Any way, back to our regularly scheduled discussion. The Scott Stevens erasure that’s happening right now is disturbing. Look, I know that we didn’t know as much about CTE back when Scott Stevens was destroying people cutting across the middle of the ice with their heads down. I get that. And yes, having the knowledge of it now puts Ron Francis’s tumbling attempt to get back to the bench in a different light, but Stevens was a menace who put the fear of god into opponents. He is, unquestionably, the best hitter in hockey history. And without him, the Devils likely don’t have three Cup wins.

Even more obvious than Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur doesn’t come out. He’s basically the Lincoln on this Rushmore. Say whatever you want about Marty. And people do. Everything from, “He’s a product of his system.” “He didn’t win enough individual awards.” “He didn’t have the greatest stats of his era.” Devils fans have heard it all before. And it’s so tiresome and played. But Martin Brodeur had sustained success over a longer period of time than any modern goalie in history. It’s led to a perch that no one will likely ever top. Granted that column is a little dated given that it ran in 2015, but even the modern goalies likely won’t ever sniff Marty’s records. The only one that could possibly have a chance might be Andrei Vasilevskiy but even then, he’s 28 and goalies don’t play 70 plus games a year any more. The butterfly (or reverse vertical-horizontal or whatever they’re calling it these days) is tough on goalies’ bodies. Marty was a hybrid goalie who used form and feel to make saves. He seems like one of the last to truly rely on instinct over percentages (RVH is all about taking away the highest percentage shot aka low shots and daring opponents to hit the most difficult spots—high top corners). So he remained healthy for the majority of his lengthy career. As incredible as Gretzky’s records might seem, Brodeur’s are even more mind-boggling due to his unrivaled durability and desire to WANT to play in as many games as possible. The wear and tear of the RVH on the modern goalie makes it highly unlikely a goalie will play more than 65 games any more. And even then, that’s rare. Brodeur also has a statue outside of The Rock, so yeah, he’s kind of already there.

That leaves one. Ken Daneyko. Mr. Devil. The guy who bleeds Devils black and red more than any other human being I know. He’s been a part of the franchise for the 40 years of its existence. The last game he played for our beloved Devils was the last time they hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup. He literally pulled a George Costanza and went out on the highest of notes.

And yet, as much as I love Dano, and I REALLY love Dano, he has to be the lone one left off of the Devils Mount Rushmore. I will fully admit my bias in favor of Scott Niedermayer because it would’ve been between Dano and Nieds, but Niedermayer was my favorite Devil to ever watch. I sometimes imagine what would’ve happened if he’d come back in today’s NHL. Could you imagine Jack Hughes feeding him after one of his patented zone entries with Niedermayer coming in behind? It would’ve been absolutely magical and it’s only something I can do with my Hockey Ultimate Team in NHL 23 right now. Niedermayer’s speed and skating ability and his ability to get the puck quickly out of his zone after making a ridiculously good defensive play is the ultimate dream of mine. And we still could potentially have that when Luke Hughes arrives. Hughes is THAT dynamic of a skater. And he’s probably better on his edges than Niedermayer was, routinely creating time and space for himself with some insane, ankle-breaking maneuvers. But I’m getting off-topic. I realize that leaving Dano off the Mount Rushmore is sacrilege for many. The guy is still a franchise icon for his color commentary on TV broadcasts. He was as nice and genuine as could be when I met him in person with my son this past November. He loves Devils fans and this franchise so very much and is a great representative for the New Jersey team on the larger platforms like NHL Network.

But I’m sorry, Dano. Truly, I am. Mount Rushmore only has room for four. And those other four simply can’t be left off for me. Where this truly might become a hell of a battle will be in another decade or so when I think, provide he stays healthy for the majority of it, Jack Hughes is likely to bump someone off that immortal pedestal. That will make for a fun discussion. Question is, will he or won’t he have a Cup win (or multiple ones) to cement his place amongst the immortals?

As for my personal favorite Devils of all time, my 1A and 1B are the Scotts. Niedermayer and Stevens. Followed by Brodeur and Elias. Jack Hughes is rapidly climbing the list though. He’s something this franchise has never had. A superstar that the entire league is excited to come see in their buildings. He’s someone who gets my heart rate up every single time he touches the puck. Closest to that before this was likely Ilya Kovalchuk and possibly prime Zach Parise. The A line as a unit was similar but they were the best when together. Elias was great no matter the era, but he was at his most breathtaking with other skilled players. Jack simply carries lines on his own.

What about you? Who makes your Devils Mount Rushmore? Is there someone outside of the retired numbers who should make it? Would Lou Lamoriello replace a player for you? What about Sergei Brylin? Is it a huge mistake to have Niedermayer in favor of Dano, a guy who has basically given his life and soul to the Devils? What say you, Devils fans?