April 28th, 2009 has gone down as my worst day as a New Jersey Devils fan in 15 years.
This day concluded a hard-fought seven-game series that ended with the Devils blowing 3-2 lead with 80 seconds to go and one of the best Goalies of all-time in net. He let in two goals, causing the Devils to bow out in the first round for a second straight year.
Right after I was done torturing myself by watching the final minutes of Game Seven (as well as Game Four), the next step in the grieving process is to remind myself of better days. I watched the Championship tapes from the 1995, 2000, and 2003 Stanley Cup Champions.
I also watched virtually all of the video I could find on YouTube involving good New Jersey Devils moments.
I was reminded of many wonderful moments: Mike Peluso crying on the bench in the final minutes of the clinching Game Four, Patrik Elias' winner in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, Jason Arnott's double-OT goal to end the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, and Jeff Friesen's icing on the cake in Game Seven of the 2003 Finals.
Many of these great moments keep leading to the same thing: Gary Bettman presenting the captain Scott Stevens with the Stanley Cup.
At some point it hit me; it's been five years since the man retired! Stevens, now 45 years old and in the Hall of Fame has moved on, but I have not. I do not want to move on, I will not move on. The man has meant too much to the New Jersey Devils and to me.
While he was not a Devil for his entire career, his eight years in Washington will be at least as well-known for his racking up of penalties and short temper as it will for his effectiveness on the power play. And he only spent one season in St. Louis.
I got a tear in my eye from merely just looking for the right picture for this article. And it is much more than the fact the man just happened to have a "C" on his jersey.
And the wonderful ride nearly didn't even happen.
The 1990-1991 season was Scott Stevens first and last season as a member of the St. Louis Blues. The St. Louis Blues signed Brendan Shanahan from the New Jersey Devils in the off-season.
Shanahan was a restricted free agent, meaning that the Devils were to be given compensation. The Blues offered goaltender Curtis Joseph, forward Rod Brind'Amour as well as two draft picks
But the New Jersey Devils were insistent on having Scott Stevens, the highest paid defenceman in the league. An arbiter ruled in favor of the Devils.
Stevens refused to report at first. Having just moved with his wife to St. Louis, Stevens wished to finish his career with the Blues. He also saw the Devils captain at the time, Kirk Muller, leave training camp and was concerned that this suggested a lack of stability.
Stevens did not want them and Devils players wanted him gone. But Stevens would show up three weeks later and how incredibly fortunate that he did.
Scott Stevens' prior success on offence would carry over to Brendan Byrne Arena. Stevens would finish fifth on the team in scoring in his first season with the team. The following year he would lead the Devils' defencemen in scoring.
In the 93-94 season he would lead the team in scoring and led the league in Plus-Minus rating at 53. Vladimir Konstantinov is the only player to lead the league in Plus-Minus since at such a high number.
Stevens would never put up those kind of offensive numbers again, but could score when needed and still did well on the power play to go with his great defence. He had some key goals in the postseason as well.
One that stands out are the one in the second round of the 2001 Conference Semifinals, in Game Seven against the Maple Leafs. Another was in the second round in 2003, where he scored the game-winner in Game Four against the Lightning after leaving Game Three because he took a slap shot in the head.
Scott Niedermayer, defenceman and a teammate of Stevens for a decade, has described Stevens as not being extremely vocal, but that he would speak up when deemed necessary.
Since the 1993-94 season, he has also had a Plus-Minus rating of at least plus-20 in four more seasons, including a rating a plus-40 in 2000-01. Only twice was his Plus-Minus rating even below plus-five: 1994-95, when the season was shortened from a lockout, and in his final season, where he played in just 38 games due to injury.
Stevens would make it to 13 All-Star games—11 with the Devils—as well as being a finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy for best defenceman three times. (How he never won is beyond comprehension.)
What I will remember most is the winning and the game-changing, open ice hits. After taking over as the Captain from Bruce Driver, the Devils would go on to the Eastern Conference Finals five times, making it to the Stanley Cup Finals four times, and capping it off as Stanley Cup Champions three times.
Stevens would guard the top forwards for each team and would hold them in check with very few exceptions. In 2000, he was honored for this as he shut down the likes of Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin, John LeClair, and Mike Modano in the Finals, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs.
And of course the on ice hits, there will never be another player that will do it like him. Stevens would glide across the ice and hit players leading an attack with their head down, getting them with the shoulder.
Arturs Irbe suggested during the 2001 Playoffs that his hits were dirty and that he was deliberately trying to kill players or knock them out for the playoffs.
Stevens retorted, "What kind of respect do I get? Just because I'm a physical player, it's O.K. to come at me and do what you want? Hey, it's a hockey game. It's not figure skating.
"You know what? I can take a hit and I can give a hit. I don't care who it is. No one gets a free ride out there. I don't get a free ride, and no one gets a free ride from me."
I agree with Stevens obviously; he played hard and was very physical, but played the right way and certainly was not a dirty player. Only four elbowing minors in his entire career supports this.
You can always see his intensity after his hits, but later you will see him visibly shaken up—his hit on Eric Lindros in 2000 stands out for this.
Stevens' open ice hits have also been defended by the likes of forward Slava Kozlov (victim of one of them) and defenceman Dan McGillis (played on the 2000 Philadelphia Flyers and was witness of two teammates suffering these hits).
Some of the most memorable victims of Scott Steven's open ice hits include-
- Slava Kozlov in Game Two of the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals.
- Daymond Langkow in Game Two of 2000 Eastern Conference Finals.
- Eric Lindros in Game Seven of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals.
- Shane Willis in Game Two of the 2001 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
- Ron Francis in Game Three of the 2001 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (this one happened along the side in the Devils zone but it is the same type of hit basically).
- Paul Kariya in Game Six of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals (the only one to return to the game).
After the third Stanley Cup victory, things ended in a hurry for Scott Stevens' hockey career. Stevens was diagnosed with Post-Concussion-Syndrome and missed the last half of the season as well as the first round of the playoffs where the Devils would be outed by bitter rival Philadelphia Flyers.
Stevens contemplated returning but regardless of decision the 2004-05 was gone to a lockout. Stevens would officially retire on September 6th, 2005, and in 2007 was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
It was a strange retirement for me. I was consistently optimistic in 2004 that he would return for the playoffs. Then I was optimistic he would return for the following season provided the lockout did not wash out the entire season, and then the year after that. Strangely enough, it did not hit me for some time.
I do not feel as if I had properly honored the man for what he did for the organization, for the state of New Jersey, for the league, and for me. I really hope I have done it here.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Scott Stevens.
And now I am off to re-watch the 2002-2003 Stanley Cup DVD.