A look at the New Jersey Devils’ All-Decade team for the 1990s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.
Team: New Jersey Devils (1990-91 to 1999-00)
401-276-109, .580 WIN PCT, 2,481 GF vs. 2,112 GA, +369 Diff, 9/10 Playoff Appearances, 2 Stanley Cups
Simply put, the New Jersey Devils were one of the most successful teams in hockey during the 1990s (and specifically during an 8-year run from 1995 to 2003). The Devils opened the decade with a 32-33-15 effort in ’90-91, “good” for a 49.4% win percentage: they would not post a sub-.500 record again. They had a win percentage above .600 five times, and won two Stanley Cups (1995 and 2000; they won another in 2003). They made the playoffs nine times, with their lone miss coming in ’95-96 when they had the dubious distinction of missing the playoffs despite being the Stanley Cup champions. They were knocked out in the first round five times, but they still won a total eleven playoff series (between 1994 and 2000). Their 58.0% win percentage for the decade ranked 3rd out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. The only two teams to perform better than New Jersey were the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils were middle-3.16 goals for per game, ranked 11th. But their defense was top-notch, allowing 2.69 goals against per game: the best defense of any team during the 1990s. Ultimately their goal differential of +369 ranked 2nd in the league (behind only Detroit). The Devils spent the 80s being one of the league’s whipping boys, and they definitely made up for lost time in the 90s.
Left Wing: Patrik Elias (238 GP, 72-92-164, +48, 122 PIM, 17 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Dave Andreychuk
For all their success in the 1990s, the Devils were not terribly deep at left wing. Patrik Elias was developing into a quality player: he played 1 game in ’95-96, then 17 games (with 5 points). In his first full season (’97-98), he recorded 18 goals and 37 points. He improved to 50 points (17 goals) the following year, and finished the decade with an outstanding 35-goal, 72-point effort in ’99-00. His +/- was +16 to +19 in his three full seasons. He scored as many game-winning goals as powerplay goals (17 each), an impressive feat: his game-winning goals represented 24% of his total, and he had 9 in ’99-00 alone. Dave Andreychuk also merited a look: he had 13 points in 15 games after being acquired from Toronto in ’95-96 in the Devils’ failed bid to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. He had a 27-goal, 61-point season in ’96-97, then fell to 14 goals and 48 points the following year. He struggled through an injury-shortened ’98-99 season, scoring just 15 goals and 28 points. He left for Boston as a free agent. He had 14 powerplay goals and 7 game-winning goals, along with solid +/- throughout (including +38 in ‘-96-97). But Elias had a better top season and improved each year, whereas Andreychuk was moving into the player-coach stage of his career. Still, the fact that these two stretches are the cream of the crop at left wing for New Jersey in the 1990s is rather surprising.
Centre: Bobby Holik (563 GP, 158-201-359, +110, 603 PIM, 36 GWG)
Bobby Holik had a great eight-year run with New Jersey. He was acquired in the Sean Burke trade with the Hartford Whalers. Over the next four seasons he scored 10+ goals and 30+ points three times (and had 20 points in 48 games during the shortened ’94-95 season). He improved tremendously towards the end of the decade into a skilled two-way forward: he had four straight 20+ goal seasons, and three straight 60+ point seasons. His +/- was positive seven straight years: his only negative was a -6 in ’92-93, and he had three seasons in the +23 to +28 range. He didn’t score a tremendous amount of powerplay goals, but he had five seasons in the 5-8 PPG range. He was also clutch for New Jersey, scoring 4+ game-winning goals five times (good for 23% of his total; he twice hit 8 GWG in a season). He had 180+ shots on goal six times. Holik certainly didn’t lack a physical game: he had three straight 100+ PIM seasons, and four others in the 54-75 range. He was a solid contributor to the Devils for a very long time, and represented them at the 1998 and 1999 All-Star games. It’s a shame he left for the Rangers (for what was a wildly overpaid sum) in 2002, but that shouldn’t detract from the quality decade+ of hockey he spent in New Jersey.
Right Wing: Stephane Richer (350 GP, 146-134-280, +29, 125 PIM, 30 GWG)
Honourable Mention to John MacLean
Stephane Richer took over as the go-to offensive player of the New Jersey Devils in the post-Kirk Muller era. Muller led the Habs to a Stanley Cup in 1993, while Richer was a solid contributor when the Devils won in 1995. Richer scored 29 goals and 64 points in ’91-92. He then improved, scoring 38 goals and 73 points in ’92-93, and then 36 goals and 72 points in ’93-94. He was still a point-per-game player in ’94-95, scoring 23 goals and 39 points in 45 games. He slowed in ’95-96 though, scoring just 20 goals and 32 points in ’95-96. The Devils believed a change of scenery might be best, and flipped him back to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Lyle Odelein. Richer was clearly done as an impact NHLer, and the deal was very one-sided for New Jersey. But Richer still gave five 20+ goal seasons and two 70+ point seasons. He was never an all-star, but he was effective on special teams, scoring 23 powerplay goals and 11 shorthanded markers. What’s more, he chipped in a very impressive 30 game-winning goals (21% of his total). He had four seasons of 190+ shots on goal as well. John MacLean was a more heart-and-soul type player. He had a solid 45-goal, 78-point effort in ’90-91, and a 37-goal, 70-point year in ’93-94. Otherwise he tended to be a 20-goal, 50-point player (finishing around those totals three times, and scoring at that pace in ’94-95). He had 45 PPG, but scored fewer GWG than Richer (despite playing with the Devils from ’90-91 until early into the ’97-98 season). I wouldn’t argue THAT strongly against MacLean, but I feel Richer’s consistent offensive skills on such a defensively-oriented team give him the nod over MacLean.
Defense: Scott Stevens (674 GP, 76-274-350, +206, 829 PIM, 13 GWG)
Without a doubt (in my mind), the single most important player the New Jersey Devils had in the 1990s (the only debate is whether he was more important than Martin Brodeur, but that’s an argument for another time). Stevens joined the Devils in September of 1991. Over the next nine years, he played at least 68 games (the only exception being ’94-95, where he played in all 48 games the team played). Stevens shockingly didn’t win many individual awards in the 1990s: he represented the Devils at the All-Star game in 1992 and 1997, and he made the NHL’s First All-Star Team in 1994. But he won two Stanley Cups (’95 and ’00), and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2000 as the Playoff MVP. Stevens was one of the most feared open-ice hitters of all-time, but people forget how strong he was a s a two-way defenseman. Stevens scored 59, 58 and 78 points in his first three seasons with New Jersey, scoring 20 powerplay goals and 7 game-winning goals in the process. He began transitioning into more of a stay-at-home role, posting 22 points in 48 games in ’94-95 (a 38-point pace). He then posted five straight seasons in the 24-29 points range. His +/- was never negative: in fact, he only had two seasons below +14, and he was +24 or better five times (including a high of +53 in ’93-94). His 13 game-winning goals also represented 17% of his total.
Steven’s toughness was unquestionable: he had 100+ PIM five times, and never had less than 56 in a season (in 48 games in ’94-95). He was a leader, a game-changer, a physical force and an offensive threat. He was to New Jersey what Zdeno Chara is to the Boston Bruins, except with (arguably) a better offensive game. He even sacrificed personal glory and offensive totals in the name of team success. What more could you ask for?
Defense: Scott Niedermayer (597 GP, 70-245-315, +103, 320 PIM, 9 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Bruce Driver
What Scott Stevens provided in strength and power, Scott Niedermayer provided in skill and finesse. They were the equivalent of the Hart Foundation: Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Niedermayer had four 40+ point seasons, with a high of 57 in ’97-98. He also had three others with 30+, and a 19-point, 48-game season in ’94-95 that translates into a 30-point pace. Niedermayer scored 10+ goals four times, and had 30+ assists five times (plus another season with 29 assists). His +/- was positive seven times in eight full seasons: his low was -4, and he was +16 or better four times (including +34 in ’93-94). He was always a threat on the powerplay, scoring 43 of his 87 goals with the man advantage (including 11 in ’97-98). He even chipped in 9 game-winning goals, and had 130+ shots on goal six times. His individual accolades included making the All-Rookie Team in 1993, and the Second All-Star Team in 1998. He also played in the 1998 All-Star Game. It wasn’t until the 2000’s that Niedermayer’s individual abilities gained more post-season recognition. Niedermayer was one of the finest two-way defensemen in the NHL; had he played for Detroit or Pittsburgh, his offensive totals would have been significantly higher. But he was still an integral part of New Jersey’s success in their most successful decade. Honourable mention to longtime Devils’ defenseman Bruce Driver. Driver had three 40+ point seasons (with a high of 54 in ’92-93) in five seasons, a high of +29 in ’93-94 and a +34 in 341 games.
Goalie: Martin Brodeur (447 GP, 244-125-65, 42 SO, 2.20 GAA, 0.913 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Chris Terreri
Chris Terreri was the #1 goalie for the Devils in the 1990s until Martin Brodeur’s ascension in ’93-94. Terreri had a record just above .500 from ’90-91 to ’92-93, going 65-64-20 with 4 shutouts, a 3.15 GAA and .889 PCT. Not stellar, but decent for the era. He was strong in ’93-94, going 20-11-4 with a 2.72 GAA and .907 PCT. But Brodeur’s play forced Terreri into the understudy role from that point on, playing 15 games in ’94-95 and 4 in ’95-96 before he traded to the San Jose Sharks. Brodeur seized the reigns in ’93-94 and never looked back: here we are twenty years later (in the midst of the 2013-14 NHL season) and not only is Brodeur still going, but he was the cover artist for NHL ’14.
Brodeur had a four-game audition in ’91-92, and didn’t appear in the ’92-93 season. But in ’93-94, he went 27-11-8 with a 2.40 GAA and .915 PCT in a performance that won him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie, as well as a spot on the 1994 All-Star Team. He then followed that up by playing in 40 of 48 games in ’94-95, going 19-11-6 with a 2.44 GAA and .902 PCT as the Devils won the Stanley Cup. He played in 67-77 games per seasons over the next five years, winning 34 or more games each season (including twice winning 43 games). He posted 10+ shutouts twice, and had five others in the 3-6 range. His goals-against average was 1.88 to 1.89 from ’96-97 to ’98-98, and in the 2.24-2.34 range in every other 60+ game season. His save percentage reached a high of .927 in ’96-97, and was only below .910 twice in seven seasons (and never below .902). Brodeur was a world-class goaltender: he played in every All-Star game from 1996-2000, placed on the Second All-Star Team in 1997 and 1998. He also won the William Jennings Trophy when the Devils had the NHL’s best defense in 1997 and 1998. Had he not been rising to prominence at the same time that Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy and Ed Belfour were in their primes, Brodeur would likely have won even more individual accolades (as he did during the 2000’s, where he won four out of five Vezina awards as the NHL’s best goaltender between 2003 and 2008). Brodeur is definitely in the conversation for greatest goaltender of all-time, and is inarguably the best goaltender the Devils had during the 1990s.