The Devils’ Top 15 Moments of the Decade

A photo of a packed crowd for the Devils home game against Tampa in the playoffs. (Photo Credit to Patrick Dodson)
A photo of a packed crowd for the Devils home game against Tampa in the playoffs. (Photo Credit to Patrick Dodson)

Writer’s Twitter: @ChrisMottHockey

As this decade comes to a close, folks start to think about the past of what once was. If I were to describe this past decade for a Devils fan in one word, it would be “roller-coaster.” This is because this is the decade where we truly saw the fall of the Devils’ perennial dominance in the NHL over a roughly 20-year span.

Still, there were plenty of high points throughout this decade for the Devils, even though the overall playoff success has gone away due to a necessary rebuild of the entire organization. I have pieced together 15 events of this decade that, at the time they occurred, were huge events for the franchise. These events are ordered in terms of how much of an impact they have had on the franchise.

With that said, it is important to keep in mind the size of that impact for an event that occurred a couple months ago versus a couple years ago. The impact is harder to assess long-term for events that are more recent. So for those who feel certain events in this list should be higher, they more than likely will be in a year, five years, or even another decade.

15 – Devils Win the Draft Lottery and Draft Jack Hughes

Last season the Devils were expected to take another step forward after reaching the playoffs the previous season. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and the Devils even regressed. They ended up being the third-worst team in the NHL last season; though, luck seemed to be on the Devils’ side in the end.

With the Devils clearly not done with the rebuild and needing more talent overall, they won the Draft Lottery on April 9, 2019, and took Jack Hughes 1st overall on June 21, 2019, while the rival New York Rangers took Kaapo Kakko 2nd overall. The draft results between the Devils and Rangers have certainly added another chapter to the rivalry between the franchises, and a chapter will likely not be over for a long time.

14 – Devils Acquire Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks

The Devils stunned the audience and the NHL at home in the Prudential Center for the NHL Draft in 2013 when they traded the 9th overall pick (which became Bo Horvat for the Canucks) for young star goaltender Cory Schneider. We know what has happened with Schneider recently and while we all hope he can find his game in Binghamton, we also are aware of the current reality.

At the time though, Schneider was eyed by so many with Vancouver stuck in a goalie situation between Schneider and Roberto Luongo. Devils fans rejoiced because of another fact that was apparent that I would say fans did not want to focus on: the era of Martin Brodeur was coming to an end. Schneider was phenomenal for the Devils for a number of years but unfortunately, the team around him was not. The chart below from hockey-reference.com helps show this:

Cory Schneider's stats from hockey-reference.com
Cory Schneider’s stats from hockey-reference.com

Schneider would, unfortunately, suffer a nagging hip injury, which is what he has been battling to come back from for the longest time. Unfortunately, the Devils now have good talent on the roster, but Schneider is not the Schneider of old, although we really do hope he returns to form.

13 – The Ilya Kovalchuk Saga

Gif from giphy.com

There are not many players across professional sports who make themselves beloved by a franchise’s fans and then ultimately become one of the most hated players in franchise history. It’s like the quote “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” from Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight. The Devils acquired Kovalchuk right towards the start of the decade on Feb. 4, 2010, around the trade deadline. A breakdown of the deal from CapFriendly is below:

A breakdown of the Kovalchuk trade from CapFriendly.
A breakdown of the Kovalchuk trade from CapFriendly.

Kovalchuk would become an offensive force for the Devils and re-signed a long-term deal to stay in New Jersey. He would also go on to be an integral part of the Devils’ 2012 Stanley Cup Final run. Everything was great until a lockout-shortened season occurred, where Kovalchuk spent his time during the lockout playing in the KHL over in Russia.

Things would never be the same after.

General manager Lou Lamoriello did everything he could to try and keep him from leaving, including getting him to come back for the shortened season but ultimately, Kovalchuk walked away from his contract and money, one that the Devils ended up being penalized for. While Kovalchuk is back in the NHL, he is not near the same player he once was or while he was over in the KHL. Devils fans remember the mass exodus over a span of two years, where Zach Parise and David Clarkson left as UFAs, and Brodeur was approaching the end of his career. Kovalchuk, however, was the one player fans did not have to worry about until we did.

12 – Devils Win the Draft Lottery and Draft Nico Hischier

The Devils won the Draft Lottery twice (sorry not sorry Colorado, maybe someday we will call it even after 2001 but I digress). The first time the Devils won the Draft Lottery was in 2017, where they selected Nico Hischier first overall. Hischier has proven to be as advertised and is still developing in the NHL. Not to mention he is fresh off signing a seven-year extension to stay in New Jersey because he wants to win here. However, it gets even better when you look at the Devils 2017 draft class as a whole:

New Jersey Devils 2017 Draft Class from hockey-reference.com
New Jersey Devils 2017 Draft Class from hockey-reference.com

There are a couple players who have NHL experience now and also some other interesting prospects. Overall to this point, this draft class does not seem like a bust, though we still need to see more. Regardless, this will be an important chapter in this organization’s history.

11 – Devils Trade Away Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes

A breakdown of the Taylor Hall trade to the Coyotes from capfriendly.com
A breakdown of the Taylor Hall trade to the Coyotes from capfriendly.com

While this is a pretty fresh event in Devils’ history, the trade of Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes has a huge immediate impact on the Devils and Coyotes. The Devils are trading away arguably their best offensive threat and star for a couple of prospects and draft picks who will not help the organization at the professional level right this second. I believe this pill was easier to swallow for Devils fans because of the struggles this season, the firing of head coach John Hynes, and perhaps most importantly witnessing the whole situation between John Tavares and the New York Islanders a couple seasons ago.

Moving Hall was necessary, and we certainly thank him for everything he did for us here in New Jersey and wish him nothing but the best in the future professionally and personally. I also am now a huge fan of the Coyotes aside from the Devils and want them to go past the first round in the playoffs and open up their checkbooks for Hall this summer…

10 – Devils Trade Adam Henrique for Sami Vatanen

The trade that sent Devils’ legend Adam Henrique to the Anaheim Ducks for Sami Vatanen was not one that could easily be processed by fans. To start, yes Henrique is a Devils’ legend, I should not need to explain why this is. The trade, though, was a good hockey trade for both teams. At the time Anaheim needed offense and had depth on the back end, while the Devils were in the opposite position and needed help on the back end with the ability to move some offense. Here is a summary of it below again from CapFriendly:

The Devils trade involving Adam Henrique and Sami Vatanen
The Devils trade involving Adam Henrique and Sami Vatanen

Joseph Blandisi was also involved in the deal, who seemed to be a prospect bouncing between the NHL and AHL levels with the Devils before being moved. In the long term, I believe this was a smart deal, especially if Ray Shero is able to extend or re-sign Vatanen without paying too much, though it was still tough to say goodbye to Henrique.

9 – Patrik Elias’s Final Goal

Patrik Elias had so many iconic and historic goals in Devils’ history, yet he added to that list one last time in his final game on Apr. 9, 2016 in front of the home crowd at the Rock for his final goal of the season. It was poetic and given the fact the Devils were not making the playoffs that season, it was the best way to end a career for Elias.

I remember wondering if Elias would come back for one more year, up until that goal happened. But once it did, I just knew and could not describe how but that this was it, this was the end and to savor the last goal I and other Devils fans would ever watch Elias score in a Devils jersey, as well as a final piece of the Devils big Cup dynasty winning core joining the rest in retirement.

8 – Devils Play Outdoor Game at Yankee Stadium for Stadium Series

The Devils played their first-ever outdoor game on Jan 26, 2014, against their long-time rivals the New York Rangers. The Devils would jump out to a 3-1 lead, with 2 goals coming from Patrik Elias. Unfortunately, the Devils would lose the game 7-3. Still, the first-ever goal scored at Yankee Stadium was scored by Elias, and the Devils were the home team. This is an iconic moment in franchise history as while this was not the Winter Classic, this was the first time the NHL introduced the Stadium Series and the Devils were one of the teams involved.

Overall, it was nice to see the Devils as a new participant in an outdoor game rather than the same teams as usual on pretty much a rotation. Thus why I am so excited to watch Dallas and Nashville play in the Winter Classic this year. I wrote an article last year discussing my problem with the same teams usually playing and the NHL listened. I am just kidding, I am sure my article had nothing to do with the decision, but if you want to check out my article discussing the problem with the Winter Classic, I will leave the link here.

7 – Lou Lamoriello Steps Down and Ray Shero Takes Over

Every Devils fan knew something was up when the team announced Ray Shero would be taking over as general manager, with Lamoriello becoming president of hockey operations. We are talking about the man who would fire a coach and then take over behind the bench himself rather than hire a new coach. We are talking about the man who did not care if you were an unhappy player in terms of wanting to be moved to another organization. So the whole move of bringing in Shero in the first place already turned a lot of heads. Soon after that, Lamoriello actually stepped down from his general manager position and would eventually go on to become the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

6 – Scott Neidermayer’s Number is Retired

Scott Neidermayer was the third defenseman to have his number raised to the rafters and retired forever on Dec. 16, 2011. Neidermayer was perhaps the most explosive defenseman in Devils’ history in terms of how offensively gifted he was. His number was raised at the time to hang with Ken Daneyko and Scott Steven’s numbers, as Neidermayer was one of four players to win all three Stanley Cups in New Jersey. Neidermayer would later have his number retired in Anaheim with the Ducks, but the impact he had in New Jersey for the majority of his career is what people will remember the most.

5 – Patrik Elias’s Number is Retired

Patrik Elias appears on this list more than once, and that shows how important he was to this organization. I was actually there for that game, as I flew up from Florida to come to see it and took a vacation from work for it. There were many who grew up idolizing different Devils’ players and wanting to be as good as they were. For some kids it was Marty, for others it was a choice amongst the dominant defensive core. For myself, and those who played forward, we all wanted to wear number 26 for a reason. Elias still comes over to help the Devils today as a consultant when he can. His number was retired to the rafters on Feb. 23, 2018 and will hang there forever.

4 – Martin Brodeur’s Number is Retired

The most iconic jersey retirement was that of Martin Brodeur. Also known as the Greatest Of All Time (come at me in the comments), Brodeur holds numerous NHL records, most that will more than likely never be touched. The fact that you still get the chills watching that ceremony for his jersey retirement shows how important he was to New Jersey. This decade we had three different players have their numbers retired. And to be in that position for this organization shows the pedigree that is pushed forward to the younger generation.

3 – Devils Acquire Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson

The trade that was a part of an infamous end of the hockey world kind of day, the Devils acquired Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson and that tweet from Bob McKenzie became immortal. Fans everywhere were stunned. Devils fans could not believe we just pulled that trade off and pretty much wanted Shero signed for life, while Oilers fans and the rest of the league were wondering what just happened and what was going on. \

There are plenty of different ways to look at this trade now in hindsight, but I really do not see how the Devils are not the winners of it. Even when the Devils traded Hall earlier this month, we got back more for him than we initially gave up. I will post a youtube clip of Steve Dangle for Sportsnet below pretty much recapping how the entire hockey world was reacting that day because it truly was one of the craziest days in the hockey world.

Steve Dangle is a die-hard Leafs fan and has his own youtube channel, check him out

I would have loved to get Taylor Hall signed to a long-term extension to stay in Jersey, but it looks like that was not in the cards. This was perhaps the biggest deal made by the Devils since they acquired Ilya Kovalchuk in a trade from the Atlanta Thrashers. Hall would go on to be a phenomenal player for the Devils in different areas including…

2 – Taylor Hall Wins the Hart Trophy and Devils Snap Playoff Drought

Hall had a phenomenal year in the 2017-18 season, as he won the Hart Trophy and essentially carried the Devils to the playoffs and ended their playoff drought. Hall became the first and only Devils player to win the award in franchise history, which is why he should always be treated with respect in Jersey. I have no issue with him wanting to win and if it can not be in New Jersey, he has earned the right to do so elsewhere. And if this season was any indication, the Devils are closer to becoming contenders but still have some work to do. There are a lot of solid pieces in place that just need to continue to develop.

1 – “Henrique, It’s Over”

May 25th, 2012. The moment where Adam Henrique went from a talented rookie for the Devils to a Devils; Legend. I remember the emotion I had when he scored that goal, it took me at least 20 minutes before I started to calm down. Every Devils fan had to listen to Rangers fans talk all year about them being the 1st seed and how they would go all the way and this series would just be 94 all over again until it was not.

Obviously, Devils fans were very disappointed when we lost to the Kings in the Cup Final that year. But beating the Rangers in the Conference Final the way we did to exorcise the demons of the past, that was the best consolation prize possible as a Devils fan. The Eastern Conference Final series that year between the Devils and Rangers, and the regular-season matchups as a whole, showcased the peak this rivalry hits when both teams are very good and very talented. What could possibly make this moment any better? How about Doc Emerick, long-time Devils’ play-by-play broadcaster making the call.

Honorable Mentions

  • Bryce Salvador becomes team Captain starting the 2012-2013 season
  • Andy Greene becomes team Captain starting the 2015-2016 season
  • Zach Parise becomes team Captain for the 2011-2012 season
  • Martin Brodeur returned to New Jersey with the role of Executive Vice President, Business Development
  • Brian Boyle’s Masterton Trophy Season and Hockey Fights Cancer Night

What Do You Think?

Do you think I missed any big events? Maybe the hiring of John Hynes? Or the winning streak under Lemaire in 2011, where the Devils won 11 of 13 games in February. Or maybe the line brawl to start a game against the Rangers? What moments do you remember the most and which were the most important to you? Let us know in the comments. Happy New Year Everyone!

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