Our second NHL Saturday miniseries takes on a fun franchise today: the New Jersey Devils, the favorite team of one David Puddy. The team started out in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts, before moving to Denver and becoming the Colorado Rockies—yes, that’s right—in 1976. Then, in 1982, the franchise relocated to Jersey, and it got good: Stanley Cup titles in 1995, 2000, and 2003 make this organization one of the better ones with 23 playoff appearances in 47 seasons.
Oddly, none of those NHL championship teams made the list here; sabermetrics are funny thing, as we see seasons all around those title years below. Just goes to show you how fickle the math can be—and how dicey and treacherous the Stanley Cup playoffs really are! Enjoy the review of these amazing seasons that ended all too soon for the Devils …
No. 5: 1996-97 New Jersey Devils
This team won the Atlantic Division with a 45-23-14 record for 104 points, and the Devils came in fifth for the SRS. That spot was based on the top-rated defense—and only the 16th-best scoring offense. That’s quite an imbalance! The postseason was balanced somewhat, though, as New Jersey knocked off the Montréal Canadiens in five games to open the playoffs before being bounced themselves in five games against the New York Rangers.
Center Bobby Holík (23G, 39A, 54 PIMs) and left wing Dave Andreychuk (27G, 34A, 48 PIMs) were the only skaters over 60 points, and the team only had 5 players with at least 45 points. Hence, the low scoring rank … meanwhile, goaltender Martin Brodeur (37 wins, 1.88 GAA, .927 S%, 10 SOs) was an all-time great in his prime. He was even better in the playoffs (1.73 GAA, .929 S%), but the Devils scored just five times against the Rangers, and it was too much for Brodeur.
No. 4: 1998-99 New Jersey Devils
The 47-24-11 record and 105 points earned these Devils another first-place flag in the Atlantic Division, with an accompanying No. 3 SRS finish. This team had some impressive balance, too: No. 2 in scoring and No. 6 in defense. Yet the upset bug got to New Jersey in the first round of the postseason, as the Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a seven-game upset: the Pens won game 6 at home in overtime, and then they got to Brodeur for 4 goals in Game 7 on the road. Ouch.
With five skaters registering at least 50 points, the offense was better, led by right wing Petr Sykora (29G, 43A) and Holík (27G, 37A, 119 PIMs). Brodeur was merely “good” this year: 39 wins, 2.26 GAA, .906 S%, and 4 SOs. The skaters only managed 18 goals against Pittsburgh, however, and that put more pressure on the goaltending, for sure. Brodeur had one of his worst playoff series, ever, giving up 20 goals and failing to register a single shutout in the series against the Pens.
No. 3: 1997-98 New Jersey Devils
This team had a very similar record to those above: 48-23-11, 107 points, first place in the Atlantic. The offense finished No. 9, while the defense was again No. 1 in the NHL. Finishing second in the SRS, expectations were high for the playoffs: This time it was the Ottawa Senators who knocked off New Jersey in the first round, needing only six games to do so. The Sens won 3 games by 1 goal each, including 2 overtime games. We all know how those games kill you in the postseason.
The top scorers were Holík (29G, 36A, 100 PIMs), defenseman Scott Niedermayer (14G, 43A), and C Doug Gilmour (13G, 40A, 68 PIMs). Meanwhile, Brodeur absolutely crushed it this season: 43 wins, 1.89 GAA, .917 S%, and 10 SOs. He was great against Ottawa, too, posting a 1.97 GAA and a .927 S%. The teams actually matched each other 12 goals apiece in the six games, but losing the close ones just buried New Jersey’s chances to advance past the first round.
No. 2: 1993-94 New Jersey Devils
Surprise! This team actually finished second in the Atlantic, with a 47-25-12 record and 106 points—yet finishing No. 1 in the SRS. Go figure; the team also was No. 2 in overall scoring and No. 2 in overall goal prevention, so the balance was really there for this team. In the first round of the playoffs, the Devils beat the Buffalo Sabres in 7 games, before topping the Boston Bruins in 6 games. Alas, the fatigue got to New Jersey in a 7-game loss to the Rangers in the conference finals.
Three different skaters notched at least 70 points: D Scott Stevens (18G, 60A, 112 PIMs), RW Stephane Richer (36G, 36A), and RW John MacLean (37G, 33A, 95 PIMs). In his rookie season, Brodeur (27 wins, 2.40 GAA, .915 S%, 3 SOs) split time with Chris Terreri (20 wins, 2 SOs) in net. Come playoffs, though, the rookie wrestled time away from the vet with a 1.95 GAA and a .928 S%. But against New York, it was a 2OT Game 7 that clinched it at home for the Rangers. Bummer.
No. 1: 2000-2001 New Jersey Devils
These Devils lost Games 6 and 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Colorado Avalanche, spoiling the best season in team history. A 48-19-15 record for club-record 111 points won New Jersey another Atlantic Division title, built upon the No. 1 offense, the No. 5 defense, and the No. 1 overall SRS. After beating Carolina (6 games), Toronto (7 games), and Pittsburgh (5 games), the Devils just couldn’t seal the deal against the Avs at home in Game 6, losing the final game on the road.
Three high-scoring skaters led the way: LW Patrik Elias (40G, 56A, 51 PIMs), RW Alexander Mogilny (43G, 40A, 43 PIMs), and Sykora (35G, 46A). Once again, Brodeur (42 wins, 9 SOs) was great in net, giving the defending champions a great shot repeating. Against Colorado, though, he faltered a bit: His overall .897 S% was bad, and in the Cup Finals, he surrendered 7 goals in the final two games with the Devils up in the series matchup. That was crushing for Jersey.