I am a collector.
I’m not exactly sure when collecting started for me, but if I had to guess, it was probably sometime in the mid 2000s when I was in my 20s. I was always into video games as a kid, so once I started working and I was able to get some debts like car and student loans under control, I used my disposable income on building up my video game collection. I had always been intrigued by the idea that I could have my friends over and we could just pick a game off of the shelf and be able to play it, no questions asked.
Even though I grew up in a household of sports fans, collecting sports memorabilia was never really a thing for me. Maybe it was because I grew up a Devils and Yankees fan while my mom liked the Mets and my dad liked the Mets and Rangers. I was already rebelling in the sense that I didn’t like the teams my parents liked. Collecting isn’t the cheapest hobby to begin with, after all, and I can understand the trepidation of spending money on a signed ball for a child. You can’t play with it or really do anything with it other than let it sit on a shelf and collect dust. Adults might be able to sit there and appreciate it, but that’s not really the case with children.
Collecting is an interesting hobby though, and people collect for different reasons. Some people do it for purely financial reasons, while others love the chase. It’s fun to open a pack of cards and not know what you’re going to get. Some people have an attachment to a specific team or a favorite player. Regardless of how people choose to collect, its very easy to go down that rabbit hole. It can also be difficult to know when to stop going down a particular hole, which is something I struggle with at times.
The great thing about collecting is that there are no rules, and you are only restricted from whatever your financial limitations are and whatever your imagination is. If I want to collect nothing but Tuomo Ruutu cards because he’s my favorite Devil, that’s my business (although it would be fair to ask questions if that were actually the case). If I want to collect baseball cards of players who played for the New York Yankees one year or less and dub them the “Sal Fasano All-Stars”, I can do that (side note: this is an actual sub-niche in my baseball card collection). The whole point of this hobby is to have fun with it and tell weird stories to your friends when you find out they’re into the same stuff you are.
About a year ago, I got the idea in my head of collecting autographed pucks of the most prominent people in New Jersey Devils history. The idea behind this project was simple. Similar to the video game anecdote I mentioned earlier, one could look at my shelf and regardless of which puck you pulled off and asked about, I’d be able to tell the story of the New Jersey Devils.
But where does one even start with a project like this? For me, it didn’t even start with a hockey puck.
Of all things, it started with baseball.
One year ago, New York Yankees star Aaron Judge slugged an American League record 62 home runs on his way to winning the AL MVP award. As I already mentioned, I’ve been a Yankees fan since childhood. I was blessed enough as a sports fan to have the Yankees and Devils not only compete for but win championships regularly throughout the late 90s and into the early 2000s.
I hadn’t really been much of a sports memorabilia collector as I lacked the disposable income at the time, so I never really bothered to try to get a signed baseball by some of my favorite Yankees of that era like Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill and Mariano Rivera. But this is 2022, I’m at a different place in my life, and I really want an Aaron Judge autographed baseball. The Yankees might be a poorly-run tire fire that is delusional in the sense that they think they’re closer to a championship than they actually are, but Judge is the middle of a historic season and it sure would be sweet to commemorate that in some way, shape, or form.
And then I did a couple quick Google and eBay searches and saw how I’d need to sell a kidney to afford an Aaron Judge autographed baseball.
Maybe that’s me being naïve as a new sports memorabilia collector to try to buy on a player when his value is at an all-time high. Maybe that’s me being a fool when remembering I live in the NYC metropolitan area and for wanting a signed ball from the most prominent player on the New York Yankees while he’s in the midst of a historic season. With all due respect to Esteury Ruiz of the Oakland A’s, this isn’t Esteury Ruiz we’re talking about. We’re talking about the biggest star in the sport on the most famous team in the sport. Unfortunately, Judge is well out of my price range, and for the prices I saw, I could’ve bought ten autographed Devils pucks.
At that moment, the light bulb went off in my head.
Screw it. I will buy a puck. I started with Jack Hughes.
I could’ve gone in a lot of different directions for my first autographed Devils puck, but part of the reason I went with Jack was because I genuinely believed he was capable of an MVP-caliber season going into last year. I don’t dabble much in the stock market, but even I know its better to try to buy as low as possible when you can and reap the rewards later. I’m glad I bought some Hughes collectibles shares when I did, because his prices haven’t gotten any lower after he set a franchise-record for points in a season, and I expect his stock to only continue to rise. Hughes isn’t my favorite Devil of all time, but with him being the young, superstar on the team right now, he’s as good a place to start as any.
With that purchase, the seal has been broken. You can’t have just one. I’ve already taken steps towards going down the path that many sickos before me taken and I have now started a new collection. So again.....screw it. Let’s take it to another extreme.
Can I collect an autographed puck from the most prominent figures in Devils franchise history?
For a team like the Yankees, this would almost be impossible unless I had millions of dollars to throw away chasing a vanity project like this. There were a lot of Hall of Fame players on the Yankees throughout the 20th century. Many of those legends are no longer with us, and some of them are larger than life personalities. A lot of Yankees fans like to bring up “27 Rings”, but it always seemed weird to me to brag about such things. I wasn’t alive for most of them. I don’t have the same level of attachment or sentimentality for players like Mickey Mantle who made his MLB debut 30 years before I was born.
But what about for a team like the Devils? They’ve been in New Jersey for 40 years, which covers my lifespan, and its not like they have a long, storied history prior to the move to the Meadowlands. Their history as the Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies means little to nothing to me other than “Hey, we existed before the team was relocated to New Jersey, which is much closer to where I live”.
This seems doable. So let’s go for it, under a very specific set of parameters.
1. How important is this figure in Devils history?
2. Can you tell the story of the New Jersey Devils without this person?
If this player or person doesn’t quite make that group, they don’t make it on THE shelf. That’s not to say I won’t pick up pucks of other players. But this is a small shelf and it only holds so much weight to begin with. Just look at it. Does this look like a shelf that will support dozens of hockey pucks? No, it does not.
For that reason, this needs to be an exclusive group. That’s not to say other players or people aren’t important, but if the shelf gets too bloated with guys who really shouldn’t be there, the shelf will collapse and leave a hole in my wall that I’ll need to fix. We don’t want that, so let’s limit this to eleven pucks. You can’t have a Mount Rushmore with more than 4 giant stone heads, and you can’t have a shelf with more than 11 pucks.
Now, I do wish I had a better story with collecting these pucks. People might ask how I got some of these pucks or how I got into collecting in general, but I don’t have a better response other than “I went on the internet and spent money”. I know some stores like Sports Minded in Warren, NJ frequently have Devils players and alumni in there for signings, but standing on a long line isn’t really my thing and as someone who used to work in an industry where meeting celebrities was the norm, I don’t get starstruck like other people might.
With that out of the way, let’s start with some autographed Devils pucks that I do own that will not make it onto THE shelf.
Autographed Pucks that I Own that Did Not Make the Cut
Jaromir Jagr - It may seem strange to include a player who terrorized the Devils over the year between his previous stops in Pittsburgh, Washington, and the NY Rangers, but for the brief time Jagr was a member of the Devils, he was one of my favorite players. There’s a lot to like about Jagr, from the stories of his legendary late-night workouts to “The Traveling Jagrs” and everything in between. Not only is Jagr a legend, but at age 41, he tallied 67 points while playing all 82 games for the 2013-14 team, giving the Devils a much needed jolt of offense after the departures of Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson, and Zach Parise the previous few seasons. Jagr falls under the category of one of my favorite Devils who didn’t really accomplish a whole lot with the Devils since he was only on the team for a season and a half. Good enough for me to get a puck, but not good enough to make the shelf.
Kirk Muller - At one point, I had considered making a captain’s wing where I would’ve collected a puck from every captain in New Jersey Devils history dating back to Don Lever. Muller played seven seasons in New Jersey and served as captain from 1987-1991 before he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens following a contractual dispute. Maybe some day I’ll continue to build out the captain’s wing and Muller can be joined by other captains like Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador, Zach Parise, and Jamie Langenbrunner, but for now, “Captain Kirk” doesn’t make the cut.
Larry Robinson - I went into this project wanting to include all three Stanley Cup winning coaches in franchise history. Robinson famously took over as the Devils head coach with eight games remaining in the 1999-2000 season and wound up leading the Devils to a championship that season. I’m 2⁄3 of the way there with Robinson and Jacques Lemaire (who I’ll touch on in a bit) represented. Unfortunately, this portion of the collection will likely remain incomplete as Pat Burns, head coach of the 2002-03 Devils championship team, passed away in 2010.
Taylor Hall - Along with a captain’s wing, I wanted to dedicate a portion of this collection to Devils who won major awards (I consider the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Calder, Jack Adams, and Selke to be major awards). Hall is the only Hart Trophy winner in Devils history as his magical run in 2017-18 lifted the Devils to an unexpected playoff berth.
Ryan Carter - The CBGB line that helped the Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 makes an appearance, which may seem surprising. However, this puck is personalized with a very important message that I think most Devils fans can get behind.
Luke Hughes - Part of me wanted to futureproof the shelf by including a player who I think is going to have an outstanding career. Some very smart people said weeks ago that we’re not making a big enough deal about him joining his superstar brother on the team going forward. I suspect 20 years from now, Luke will be on the shelf, but for as high as I am on him, I can’t put him there after only a handful of NHL games.
Dougie Hamilton - The reason I thought long and hard about including Dougie Hamilton on the shelf was because in a lot of ways, he opened the door for New Jersey to become a destination once again. He was the first big free agent from the outside to buy in to Tom Fitzgerald’s vision for what he is trying to build here, and bringing him aboard helped give the modern-day Devils and what they were building legitimacy. I don’t think it should be understated that since Hamilton signed and the team has gotten better, more and more players have been excited to come to New Jersey. Tomas Tatar signed here. Ondrej Palat signed here. Jonas Siegenthaler signed long-term here. Timo Meier wanted to stay. So did Erik Haula. I’m not saying Hamilton is responsible for all of that, but he was the first big-time player to say yes to New Jersey in years. I think more people should recognize and appreciate that.
Mike “Doc” Emrick & Chico Resch - If there is an afterlife and hundreds of years from now all of the Devils legends in this article meet up for a game in heaven, I hope Doc Emrick and Chico Resch are on the call of that game. Together, the duo called Devils games from 1996-2011 and are the voices of Devils hockey for a generation of fans.
Who Made The Shelf?
Scott Stevens - The greatest captain in Devils history, Stevens joined the Devils prior to the 1991-92 season after being awarded as compensation from the Blues after St. Louis signed Brendan Shanahan in free agency. Stevens played 13 seasons in New Jersey, consistently finishing in the Top 5 in Norris Trophy voting. He was best known for the big hits he would deliver on the opposition, making him one of the most feared and respected players of his era. Stevens captained the Devils to all three of their Stanley Cup championships, winning the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP in 1999-00. He was the first Devils player to have his number retired, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.
Martin Brodeur - Regardless of where you fall on whether or not Martin Brodeur is the greatest goaltender of all time, nobody can dispute that he must be included. Drafted in 1990, Brodeur played 21 seasons in New Jersey and holds NHL records for career wins, saves, shutouts, and games played. He is one of only two Calder Trophy winners in franchise history (Scott Gomez being the other), a 4-time Vezina Trophy winner, and a 3-time Stanley Cup champion. His number was retired in 2016, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, and is the only Devils player to have a statue dedicated to him outside of Prudential Center. He remains with the Devils to the day as Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations.
Scott Niedermayer - Niedermayer was drafted 3rd overall in 1991 and was best known for being one of the best skating defensemen of his era. An offensive-defenseman first and foremost, Niedermayer was a key member of all three Stanley Cup championship teams and became the only Norris Trophy winner in franchise history after the 2003-04 season. The Devils raised his #27 to the rafters of Prudential Center in 2011, and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013.
Ken Daneyko - Known as “Mr. Devil”, Daneyko may hold the distinction of being the only person who has been involved in the Devils organization in some capacity for the last 40 years. Daneyko was drafted 18th overall in 1982 prior to the team’s first season in New Jersey. He played for 20 seasons until his retirement in 2003 and was a member of all three Stanley Cup championship teams. Daneyko became the second Devils player to have his number retired in 2006. After his playing days, he has been a fixture on Devils broadcasts on MSG, where he currently provides color commentary on the game broadcasts. Daneyko has been a part of every era of Devils hockey in some way, shape, or form, and simply must be included.
Patrik Elias - The greatest forward in Devils history, Elias was drafted in the second round in 1994 and played 20 seasons in New Jersey, retiring after the 2015-16 season. Known as one of the best two-way forwards of his era, Elias was a member of the Stanley Cup championship teams in 2000 and 2003 and is the franchise leader in goals, game winning goals, assists, and points. Elias’s 96 points in the 2000-01 season was a franchise record for 22 seasons until Jack Hughes broke that mark this past season. Elias’s #26 was retired in 2018, and he remains involved with the organization to this day, helping recruit fellow Czech players Ondrej Palat and Tomas Nosek to New Jersey.
Lou Lamoriello - Lamoriello was named team president by team owner Dr. John J. McMullen in 1987. Lamoriello named himself general manager prior to the upcoming season and served in that role until 2015, when he handed the GM reigns to Ray Shero. Lamoriello left the organization a few months later to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. During his time in New Jersey, he successfully built the Devils into a franchise that was capable of competing for championships on an annual basis. The Devils won three Stanley Cup championships during his tenure and reached the Stanley Cup Final two other times, which led to Lou Lamoriello being inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
Jacques Lemaire - Simply put, Lemaire is the greatest head coach in Devils history. Aside from being the only Jack Adams winner in franchise history, Lemaire coached the team to their first Stanley Cup championship in 1995 and still holds the franchise record for wins. Known for using the so-called “neutral zone trap”, the Devils infuriated the opposition with their defense-first approach and their suffocating style of play. Lemaire coached the Devils from 1993-98 and served two other stints as the interim coach between 2009 and 2011 before retiring from coaching.
Nico Hischier - The current captain of the New Jersey Devils, Hischier was the first overall pick in the 2017 Entry Draft. Entering his seventh NHL season, Hischier is coming off of a career-best season with 80 points in 81 games and a second place finish in Selke Trophy voting.
Jack Hughes - Hughes was the team’s first overall pick in the 2019 draft. Hughes showed flashes of the player he could be during an injury-plagued season in 2021-22, but he emerged as a bonafide NHL superstar this past season with a franchise-record 99 points and topping the 40 goal mark for the first time. Hughes finished 8th in the Hart Trophy voting last season, but with him entering his 5th NHL season, the sky is the limit for #86.
These last two selections might be futureproofing the shelf to an extent, but if one was to bet on any two players on the current roster to return the Devils to what they were in their glory years, betting on the two best players on the team is a smart move. Not to mention this shelf needed a little modern day representation.
For those keeping track, that is nine people on the shelf. None of the names should be too surprising, as five of them have their numbers retired by the team, two are the winningest GM and coach in team history, and two are current star players who will be among the best players in franchise history when its all said and done.
I said that I have room for eleven pucks though, so let’s talk about some people who deserve consideration and try to fill those final two spots.
Who’s Missing among Hockey Hall of Famers?
There are eleven players who have spent a portion of their playing career in New Jersey who have been enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Brodeur, Stevens, and Niedermayer have already been represented here so lets touch on everybody else.
Peter Stastny is best known for his ten seasons as a member of the Quebec Nordiques, but he did spend parts of four seasons with the Devils from 1989-93. Doug Gilmour played a season and a half in New Jersey after coming over at the trade deadline in 1996. Joe Nieuwendyk was traded to the Devils at the deadline in 2002, and even though he also only spent parts of two seasons in New Jersey, he was part of the Stanley Cup championship team in 2003. Dave Andreychuk was one of the great scoring wingers of his era, playing parts of four seasons with the Devils from 1995-1999. Phil Housley is one of the greatest scoring defensemen of all-time, and while he’s better known for his contributions elsewhere, he did play 22 games for the Devils in 1995-96.
Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov played parts of six seasons for the Devils. He was also a member of the 1980 Soviet team that lost to the “Miracle of Ice” US Olympic Team (coached by one-time Devils coach and Hockey Hall of Famer Herb Brooks). Fetisov is best known for breaking the barrier that prevented Soviet-born players from leaving for Soviet Union for the NHL, which in turn opened the door for other Russian players to follow suit throughout the years. One of those players is Igor Larionov, better known for playing parts of eight seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, but did spend one season in New Jersey towards the end of his playing career in 2003-04.
Brendan Shanahan might be the most interesting name on this list. The 2nd overall pick in 1987, he played four seasons for the Devils from 1987-1991 before signing with the St. Louis Blues as a free agent. With how the rules worked at the time and because he was a restricted free agent, however, the Devils were entitled to compensation. An arbitrator ultimately determined that Scott Stevens would be the compensation in what might be one of the most important moments in Devils history.
For these reasons, I think the best argument could be made for Shanahan and Fetisov joining the group. I don’t write that to diminish the contributions the other players have had to the world of hockey, but this is specifically about what those players mean in New Jersey Devils history. I would put the direct and indirect contributions of Fetisov and Shanahan, respectively, on a tier above their fellow Hall of Famers with Devils ties.
Who Else Is Missing among other notable Devils?
The first name that jumps out at me is John MacLean.
MacLean played parts of 14 seasons with the Devils from 1983-98 and is one of the greatest forwards in franchise history. His 347 goals and 701 points rank second behind only Patrik Elias in both categories. His overtime goal on April 3, 1988 to send the Devils to the playoffs for the first time is one of the most important moments in franchise history, and he was a key member of the first Stanley Cup championship team in 1995. A case could be made that he should be the next Devils player to have his number retired. I do not have a MacLean puck in my collection, and that is a glaring omission that will need to be rectified.
One could also argue that Claude Lemieux also needs some representation when talking about the most important Devils players in franchise history. Lemieux played parts of six seasons in New Jersey, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1995 and picking up a second championship with the Devils 2000. Lemieux is one of the great playoff performers of his era who may be better known for his role as an agitator. His hit on Kris Draper when he was with the Avalanche is one of the most controversial moments in NHL history and is still a sore subject in Detroit to this day.
After that, I think you can make arguments for a lot of different players. Travis Zajac is one of only four Devils players to play in 1000 games with the organization and is among the franchise leaders in every major statistic. His playing career almost perfectly overlaps with former captain Andy Greene, who appeared in 923 games for the Devils. Both of those players were part of the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. So was Bryce Salvador, who played seven seasons in New Jersey, served as team captain, and remains with the organization today on the MSG broadcasts. Jay Pandolfo, Bobby Holik, Randy McKay, Colin White, John Madden, Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski, and Tommy Albelin are among the players who were part of multiple championship teams for the Devils. Brian Gionta’s 48 goals in 2005-06 is still the franchise record for a single season. On the non-player side, I think an argument could be made for Dr. John J. McMullen, who brought the team to New Jersey in the first place and has been posthumously honored as the first inductee into the Ring of Honor as well.
To me though, this is an exclusive club. Not everybody can get in. I think it would be difficult to tell the story about the New Jersey Devils without including Sergei Brylin, so he’s a player that should be represented.
Brylin played his entire 13 year career with the Devils and is one of five men who were part of all three Stanley Cup championship teams. After finishing out his playing career in the KHL, he got into coaching and has been in the Devils organization since 2012-13. The man known as “Sarge” was promoted to the NHL coaching staff prior to the 2022-23 season and has been a Devils lifer. Brylin was not the flashiest player, but he was willing to play anywhere in the lineup in any role and remains a fan favorite to this day. Depending upon where your personal threshold is when it comes to retiring numbers, one could argue that his #18 should be retired. Brylin, along with many of the players mentioned throughout this article, is certainly a candidate to one day be recognized in the Ring of Honor (assuming the Devils start doing more with that).
I do not have a Brylin signed puck, but I think it is a necessity, and I think along with John MacLean, they need to be the final two players to make the shelf.
I walked into a collectible store near me last weekend, saw this at a fair price, and had to pick it up.
It’s not Aaron Judge, but I collect baseballs now, starting with the greatest closer of all time in Mariano Rivera.
When it comes to collecting, the best advice I give to anyone starting out is to do what makes you happy. Collect what you want to collect within the parameters you set for yourself so the hobby remains fun. Don’t collect because you feel the need to be a completionist or to check names off of a list….unless that is what you want to do, in which case, do whatever you want to do. It’s YOUR collection, after all.
Ultimately, my goal for my collection was to have something on the shelf to point to when I’m old and the grandkids come over. Thirty, forty, fifty, and a hundred years from now, the younger generation will look to us to explain who these people were and why they were important. I don’t know if I’ll be blessed or lucky enough to still be around when that time comes, but if I am, its nice to know I can pull a puck off the shelf and tell the story about Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur or Jack Hughes, and its nice to know that collectively, I’ll be able to tell the story about the New Jersey Devils regardless of who I pull off of the shelf.
You’ve heard enough from me though, so now, I’d like to turn things over to you. Are you into collecting, and if so, do you have any stories you’d like to share? Maybe you’re not into pucks but you are into cards, photos, sticks, or jerseys instead? Do you have any other weird quirks or qualifiers when it comes to collecting that you’d like to share? Are there any players or people I omitted from “the shelf” that you believe need to be included? Please feel free to leave a comment and thanks for reading.
(All photos provided by myself)