This past June was the 15th anniversary of the New Jersey Devils 2003 Stanley Cup Championship. This article will be a break from the present Devils and will look back at the dynasty and history of the organization. As well as why they will have a high standard for expectations from it’s players to ownership. While ownership, the front office, coaches, and players have changed, the heritage and roots of this organization have not.
The Roster and Team
The Devils run in 2003 can be traced back to big roster moves, starting at the 2002 trade deadline. On March 19, 2002, general manager Lou Lamoriello traded away Jason Arnott, Randy McKay, and a 2002 first round draft pick for forwards Jamie Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk. Following the 2001-02 season where the Devils were eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round, the Devils lost Bobby Holik in free agency as he signed with the New York Rangers instead of returning to New Jersey.
Another move which sent shockwaves through the NHL came shortly after Lou Lamoriello traded away Petr Sykora and some prospects in exchange for forward Jeff Friesen and offensive-minded defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky. Lamoriello was quoted saying “Friesen is an elite player at 26-years old. And Tverdovsky gives us three of the top offensive defensemen in the league with Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski” in an article from The New York Times by Jason Diamos in 2002.
Holik and McKay were key pieces of the Devils defensive structure as they made up “The Crash Line” with Mike Peluso, which dominated both offensively with their aggressive forecheck and defensively by shutting down opposing forwards. Both Holik and McKay also contributed to the Devils’ Stanley Cup Championships in 1995 and 2000. Arnott and Sykora were a part of the dynamic A-Line with linemate Patrik Elias and they were a dominant offensive force from 2000 to 2002.
The Devils also hired the late Pat Burns as head coach prior to the championship season. Burns was a well-respected coach with three Jack Adams Awards for best head coach and many playoff runs between Montreal, Toronto, and Boston prior to joining the Devils.
The Regular Season and Playoffs
The Devils finished the 2003 campaign with a record of 46 Wins – 20 Losses – 10 Ties – and 6 Overtime Losses. They won the Atlantic Division title that year over the Rangers, Islanders, Flyers, and Penguins. They also finished second in the Eastern Conference behind President’s Trophy winners, the Ottawa Senators.
The Devils playoff run began with a quarterfinals matchup against the Boston Bruins and a young Joe Thornton. They would end up winning the series in five games. There were many storylines along the Devils playoff run, and one included Ken Daneyko being a healthy scratch for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. Daneyko acted like a true professional and knew it was in the best interest of the team, but the move was still a sight Devils fans were not used to.
The next round, the Devils faced off against the Tampa Bay Lightning who had a young core that included Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards. Another major storyline in the playoffs that came from this series is when captain Scott Stevens fell to the ice with a blood trail after taking a puck off the side of his helmet by his ear. Stevens had to exit the game and the Devils ended up losing that contest.
Stevens displayed his grit, leadership, and determination that made him the captain. He returned for the next game and with an extra protective piece on his helmet covering his ear. With the captain back, the Devils would win the series with a historic overtime series-clinching goal from Grant Marshall. The Devils then moved on to the Eastern Conference Finals to take on the first seeded Ottawa Senators.
The Devils appeared to be dominating Ottawa. However, the Senators won games five and six to come back and force a game seven. Jamie Langenbrunner was a dominant force and was on a tear throughout the playoffs, scoring two goals quickly in game seven for the Devils. Jeff Friesen would prove to be the hero as he scored the game series-winning goal in the final minutes off a pass that was thread through a needle by Grant Marshall. The Devils were now the Eastern Conference Champions and moving on to the Stanley Cup Final.
Clip above from McKay4429061 youtube channel.
The Stanley Cup
The Devils would battle the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the Stanley Cup Final. The Ducks were led by Head Coach Mike Babcock and players such as Paul Kariya, Adam Oates, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, and …. Petr Sykora. Talk about a hockey trade where it works out for both sides. Both the Devils and Ducks made it to the finals with their respective acquired players from a trade that occurred before the season began.
The series went seven games and was ominous for many after losing the potential Cup-clinching game six in the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals against the Colorado Avalanche. The Devils would finish the job at home, though, with a 3-0 shutout in game seven to win the Stanley Cup. There were plenty of storylines in this series, such as Scott Stevens hit on Paul Kariya and Kariya’s comeback in that same game. There was also Mike Rupp’s first playoff goal in his first playoff game while filling in for the injured Joe Nieuwendyk, Brodeur’s seventh playoff shutout and in game seven, or Jean Sebastian Giguere winning the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Ducks lost the series.
The one memory that will last forever is the emphatic lifting of the cup that symbolized a franchise that went from a “Mickey Mouse Organization” to four Stanley Cup Finals and three Championships in a span of nine seasons and became a dynasty.