Progress has appeared hard to come by, and there is no shortage of speculation that another lockout could be on the horizon. This would be the first work stoppage since the 2004-2005 season, in which the entire schedule was cancelled before a deal was reached.
If the league does indeed suffer through another lockout, it's interesting to look back at how previous Devils teams fared once the arenas reopened their doors. In NHL history, there have been only two official lockouts: a partial season cancellation in 1994-1995, as well as the aforementioned debacle in 2004-2005.
This list will try to pinpoint the Devils' best performers during the comeback seasons after the stoppages ended. With that in mind, we will look at the 1995 season once the lockout was lifted, as well as the 2005-2006 season.
Without further ado, here are the seven best post-lockout performances in New Jersey Devils history.
(Note: All statistics in this article were derived from hockey-reference.com.)
Gomez had a great offensive season in 2005-06, leading the team with 51 assists and tallying a career-high 33 goals. Overall, his 84 points were second on the team in that season and, by far, another career high.
Following the lockout, the Devils lost several key defensive players in Scott Stevens (retirement) and Scott Niedermayer (free agency). In addition, fellow winger Patrick Elias missed the first portion of the season due to illness.
With all this upheaval, Gomez's offensive jump could not have come at a better time. Though not a historically notable season, Gomez certainly stepped up during one in which his team needed him to.
For that, Gomez makes the cut for this list.
It can be argued that the 2005-06 season was the best of Gionta's career, at least offensively.
Much like Gomez, Gionta stepped up in the wake of a period of change for the Devils. The losses suffered after the lockout left the Devils looking for someone to step up on offense, and Gionta filled the role exquisitely.
Playing in all 82 games, Gionta led the team with 89 points. In addition, his 48 regular-season goals set a Devils single-season record that still stands today.
Unfortunately, Gionta notched only three goals in the post-season, cooling off a bit from his regular season surge. The team was knocked out in the second round of the playoffs, but Gionta's phenomenal regular season more than earned him a spot on this list.
Lemieux may not have lit up the scoreboards during the regular season, but his spectacular playoff performance got him a lot of pull on this list. Needless to say, the 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy-winner was hard to overlook.
To put the numbers in perspective, Lemieux led all Devils with 13 goals in the 1995 playoffs, equaling his total from the entire regular season. This also still stands as the team record for goals in a single post-season.
Overall, Lemieux put up 16 points for the playoffs, including the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Elias missed the first 39 games of the 2005-06 season dealing with a Hepatitis A infection, which came about while he was playing in Russia during the lockout season. During his absence, the team managed a disappointing 16-18-5 record.
Once Elias returned to the lineup, the team went on a nine-game winning streak, followed by another 11-game winning streak to close the season. Despite playing in only 38 games, Elias finished fifth on the team with 45 points.
The spark Elias provided undoubtedly powered the Devils into the playoffs, going from a below-.500 team to finishing third in the Eastern Conference.
However, Elias did not stop when the regular season ended. Elias recorded 16 points and six goals in the post-season, leading the team in both categories.
The Devils would fail to capture the Stanley Cup that season, but it's possible they would have missed the playoffs altogether without Elias. Triumphant returns like that more than earn a spot on an all-time list.
The Captain played a key role in the 1995 championship run, during both the shortened regular season and the playoffs.
Stevens contributed 22 points in the 48-game regular season, which was good for fifth on the team and best among defenseman. Given the unusual backdrop to the season, Stevens' leadership was also invaluable, as the team made their playoff push.
As Rich Chere described in a profile on the Devils' official website, Stevens was right at the center of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final's signature moment:
In game two at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Stevens delivered a crushing hit on Red Wings’ forward Slava Kozlov. Dino Ciccarelli led the outrage on the Detroit bench, but television cameras caught the moment when Stevens looked at Ciccarelli and warned: “You’re next!”
The Devils, of course, went on to upset Detroit in a four game sweep, clinching their first Stanley Cup championship. Without Stevens' leadership and bravado, this outcome could have been very different.
Considering his key roles on both post-lockout squads, I thought it would be best to combine Brodeur's efforts rather than take up two spots on the list. And of course, very few "all-time" rankings involving the Devils would be complete without Brodeur near the top, would they?
The iconic goaltender was lights-out in the 1995 playoffs, with three shutouts and a 1.67 goals against average. Only 22 years old at the time, Brodeur was in the midst of just his second season as the starter for the NHL squad.
Without this level of play, it's easy to say that the Devils would have had a much harder time capturing the Cup that season.
In 2005-06, Brodeur was a second-team All-Star, leading the NHL with 43 wins. The playoffs, however, were not as kind to the Devils that season, losing in the second round to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Among many other things, Brodeur has been the backbone of the Devils's success throughout his career. With two playoff berths and a championship in the two seasons considered for this list, Brodeur was an easy choice for number two.
I couldn't blame you for calling it a cop out, but there was no way around this answer as the top post-lockout performance in team history. Considering that the team took home the ultimate prize after the 48-game season, this was an easy selection.
In a team sport, the ultimate goal is always the championship, so this cannot be overlooked for the purposes of this list.
This was the first of three titles for the Devils, kicking off a long run of success for the franchise.
There you have it. This concludes our countdown of the top seven post-lockout performances of all time. If there were any glaring omissions from this list, be sure to sound off in the comments section!