The New Jersey Devils franchise has three Stanley Cup victories to its credit. We know them all. They might as well be tattooed on our foreheads, but for those of you maybe born after 2003, they are 1995, 2000 and 2003. So we know the greats who played for those teams. Many of their numbers are retired and have been raised to the rafters. Some haven’t had that honor, but instead still have a great impact on the organization today.
But the players who have pulled on the red and black, and even earlier, the red and green, never got the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup (not in NJ and nowhere else). Not even after leaving New Jersey to seek it elsewhere. Not even after retiring to get out of staying in New Jersey for the rest of the career and then coming back to the NHL to no success.
I would say that there is probably a quartet of players who played for the red and black for many years and for one reason or another, they never got the opportunity to hoist the sacred trophy.
This list has to start (and possibly even end - though I’ll include more below for the sake of argument) with two names. Travis Zajac and Andy Greene. They both started their careers the same season of 2006-2007 though Greene only got 23 games that year and Zajac played in 80. Greene played 900 games for the Devils and 134 for the New York Islanders before retirement. Zajac played 1024 games for the Devils and 13 for the Islanders. Both were absolutely integral in the Devils run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final where they ultimately bowed out to the Los Angeles Kings in 6 games. The Devils lost both the first two games in overtime at home and the series looked lost (much like this season against the Rangers). Yet the Devils also got caved in 4-0 in game three in Los Angeles, really making things look bleak. They then won the next two games to make the series 3-2 and heading back to Los Angeles for game 6 with a little thing called hope. Well we all know what happened next. Steve Bernier does as well.
And I’m sorry for making you re-live the trauma of that series, but I felt it was important to mention the closest they came to a Cup during their time as Devils. Obviously Andy Greene served as captain of the team. Travis Zajac didn’t. If you look at raw stats, both are pretty underwhelming. Zajac finished with only 550 points with the Devils. Greene with only 239 points with the Devils. Yet any Devils fan would tell you that both were defensive specialists who were most often assigned to shut down opposition stars. And they did. Zajac was a member of the famed ZZ Pops line with Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner.
I would probably lean towards Zajac just because he crossed the 1,000 game threshold while still wearing Devils colors. Greene did it with the Islanders. And yes, it was a necessary trade from both sides so I’m not knocking Greene for it. I just think getting to 1,000 with a team counts for something larger. Greene was captain and an incredibly underrated part of the team for years. An amazing accomplishment for an undrafted free agent. I truthfully think either way you pick between these two is a winner.
But who else might be in this conversation? Uh, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are likely the main two others. And you might say Parise, which would be totally fair. The kid was one of my favorites. He accumulated 410 points in 502 games and scored 45 goals one season. Kovalchuk was an absolute monster and definitely one of the most talented players to ever wear the red and black. He was nearly a point-a-game player with 201 points in 222 games with the team. And he added 19 points in 23 games on that 2012 Stanley Cup run. The reason I wouldn’t say either Parise or Kovalchuk would measure up to Greene or Zajac is longevity. Neither of them were around long enough to have that lasting impact. Parise was definitely closer than Kovalchuk. Seven seasons versus two and parts of two others.
I would also throw Taylor Hall in this as well. I mean the guy did something no New Jersey Devil ever did before. He won a Hart Trophy and basically carried a very mediocre team to the playoffs for their only appearance in the postseason over the past ten seasons until this one. Goalie Cory Schneider could also get mentioned even though he suffered from injuries and could sue for nonsupport. And Adam Henrique scored one of the most iconic goals in Devils history in 2012. He played for the team for eight seasons and left via trade and not by choice.
And to end this...this article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Both will hopefully have a Stanley Cup before their careers end but they are already approaching legendary status for this team. Hischier as a captain and first overall pick and Jack Hughes set the franchise record for points this season. Hell, Hughes might already be closing in on number one on this particular list...though putting an active Devil on the list with a team that should be competing for a Cup over the next few years would be premature. But this is capturing a moment in time. So they likely deserve this spot in the discussion.
So who deserves to be on this list that I missed? Would you say it was Kovalchuk or Parise? Or does the longevity and commitment of Greene and Zajac outweight the offensive shorter-term contributions of 17 and 9? Who would you vote for?