The 5 Biggest Villains in New Jersey Devils History
Just like a hero, a villain can be born in an instant or bred over many years. There is one trait that all villains have in common, though. When a fan hears their names, thoughts of irritation and misery typically follow.
This list will rank the New Jersey Devils' five biggest villains of all time.
Many of the players chosen were guilty of different crimes. Most of them wear red, white and blue.
As you will see shortly, however, being on the Devils' principal rival is not a prerequisite for making the list. It doesn't hurt either.
All that it really takes to have made this list is to have acted in a way or done something that will forever have Devils fans loathing their names.
5. Scott Gomez
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Every fan knows that in the world of professional sports, business comes first. In most cases, it is a bad idea to get attached to a particular player because the next year, he could easily be playing somewhere else.
That is what happened with former New Jersey Devils fan-favorite Scott Gomez in 2007.
Gomez was loved by the Devils faithful fans. During his time in New Jersey, Gomez won the Calder Trophy, was selected to an All-Star Game and, most importantly, was a big contributor on two Stanley Cup teams (2000 and 2003).
Probably unbeknownst to the fans however, while Gomez was piling up trophies and points for the Devils, he wanted to be somewhere else.
According to Lindsay Berra of ESPN Magazine, Gomez had "been gazing longingly across the Hudson River from New Jersey since joining the Devils as a rookie in 1999."
That's right, Scott Gomez always wanted to play for the hated New York Rangers. As an unrestricted free agent in 2007, he jumped at the opportunity.
This incident brings up the grey issue of whether players owe anything to their teams and fans outside of giving everything they can on the ice. While most would argue that they do not, Devils fans still felt betrayed when Gomez left for the Rangers.
They let him know their feelings when the Rangers visited New Jersey in 2007, the Devils' first year in the Prudential Center. Gomez was harassed with deafening jeers every time the puck touched his stick.
In the case of Scott Gomez, it can be said that Devils got the last laugh.
Some say that he was only a product of a system in New Jersey. Others that he could never handle the pressures of playing in a major market. One thing is for sure though—Scott Gomez's production began to plummet soon after leaving New Jersey.
Gomez played well for the Rangers for two years before being traded to Montreal. After another decent season with the Canadiens, Gomez went on to score only 11 goals in the last three seasons.
In fact, Gomez's struggles away from New Jersey, paired with the time between 2007 and now, have probably resulted in a softened stance toward the forward from Devils fans.
You will probably never be able to say that about the next player on this list.
4. Ilya Kovalchuk
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The wound inflicted by Ilya Kovalchuk on the fans of the New Jersey Devils is still very fresh, so it is hard to say how they will feel toward him in five or ten years.
Right now, however, it's safe to say that Kovalchuk is as universally hated by Devils fans as anyone ever was.
This summer, in the midst of general manager Lou Lamoriello's revamping effort to get the Devils back into the playoffs, Ilya Kovalchuk decided to retire from the NHL to go back to Russia.
This selfish decision, while financially helping the Devils in the future, hurts them on several different levels.
First and foremost, Kovalchuk was the best player on the team. He was the Devils' best offensive weapon and special teams player. Aside from his skill set, he ate up ice time, averaging an astounding 25 minutes per game in 2013.
His departure leaves a tremendous void in the 2014 roster.
While Scott Gomez's departure may have hurt the fans' feelings, Kovy's actually hurts the team as a whole.
Kovalchuk also differs from Gomez in that Gomez did not do anything that can be considered ethically wrong. He honored his contract with the Devils and left for their biggest rivals.
It might upset the fanbase, but it happens often enough in every sport.
Kovalchuk, on the other hand, retired from the NHL in the prime of his career.
Worse still, he left with 12 years remaining on his contract. While the Devils won't mind the $80 million in savings they got, they had planned the future of the franchise with Kovalchuk in mind.
In 2010, they traded Johnny Oduya (Cup winner with Chicago) and a first-round pick for Kovalchuk. Later that year, they lost another first-round pick and a third-round pick for trying to circumvent the salary cap to give Kovalchuk his huge deal.
Many fans also argue that if it wasn't for Kovalchuk's massive contract, Lou Lamoriello would have had a better chance of re-signing Zach Parise, who left as a UFA for Minnesota in 2012.
And still, Kovalchuk's talent made it all seem worth keeping him in New Jersey, at least in the minds of most.
Kovalchuk's retirement, however, means that everything the Devils gave up will have been for nothing, and it is hard to ever see the Devils fans forgive him for that.
3. Tie Domi
We now move from a couple of turncoats to a player who committed a much more serious crime. One cheap shot guaranteed that Tie Domi would forever draw the ire of the Devils' faithful.
The Devils finished the 2000-01 season with 111 points, good for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference bracket of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Although the Devils took a 2-1 series lead into the Air Canada Centre for Game 4, with less than ten seconds remaining in the third period, Toronto had the game won with a score of 3-1.
That, apparently, was not good enough for notorious Toronto enforcer Tie Domi.
The Devils had the puck in their zone as the final seconds ticked away when an unsuspecting Scott Niedermayer was dealt a vicious elbow to the jaw from Domi on the other side of the ice, away from any action.
The shot knocked Niedermayer out cold, and he would miss the next two weeks.
According to Niedermayer, the drama actually dated back to Game 2 of the series.
In that game, Niedermayer had hit Domi with a high stick that went unpenalized. That's when, Niedermayer recalls, Domi promised retribution.
"He said he was going to take a suspension on me... So I kept one eye on him when [we were] on the ice at the same time. But I never expected anything more than that."
Nothing abnormal happened between the two in Game 3, and Game 4 seemed like it would pass without incident as well.
With a little under a minute and a half remaining, however, Tie Domi found himself with a scoring chance up front until Devils captain Scott Stevens knocked him down and held him on the ice with his stick, drawing a two-minute minor.
A little more than a minute later, with his blood doubtlessly still boiling, Domi caught Niedermayer with the cheap shot while Stevens watched helplessly from the box.
Tie Domi later apologized for his actions, but his track record may lead some to question his sincerity.
Tie was suspended for the remainder of the playoffs and the first eight games of the next season.
Although the Devils were able to defeat the Maple Leafs in seven games in 2001, it is still safe to say that his incident with Niedermayer has guaranteed a spot for Domi as a Devils villain for the rest of his days.
2. Sean Avery
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Although he didn't make it to the top of this list, Sean Avery is probably every Devils fan's least favorite player.
He made it his mission whenever the Rangers played the Devils to get under as many skins as he possibly could.
Avery seemed to take enjoyment in provoking his opponents. Sometimes, he'd tangle. His usual goal, however, was not to pick a fight.
At least not with his fists.
Sean Avery was a notorious trash talker. He'd rile up players beyond their limitations, at which point, Avery would play the victim while the real victim would either be tossed in the box or off the ice all together.
What made Sean Avery more frustrating for the Devils is that he was not merely an agitator—he could score as well.
A mere goon can be an annoyance, but if that same guy can turn around and score goals, it could be enough to drive a team crazy.
Avery's antics were certainly not confined to the Devils, but he always seemed to step his game up against his Hudson River rivals.
Avery typically targeted his opponents' best player. For the Devils, that player was always Martin Brodeur.
This highlight reel chronicling the two players' personal rivalry shows how heated they could get when their teams played.
That rivalry came to a head in 2008 when the teams played each other in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In Game 3, Sean Avery began waving his hand and stick in front of Brodeur's face in an effort to screen him. Avery's antics led the NHL to rule that what he had done would not be tolerated in the future.
Although the Devils would go on to win Game 3, they would lose the series 4-1. During the ceremonial post-series handshake, Brodeur infamously refused to shake Avery's hand.
To this day, you'd be hard pressed to find a Devils fan with anything nice to say about Sean Avery.
1. Mark Messier
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The last name on this list is a hockey legend. He never did anything worse than making a bold guarantee and backing it up. So why is Mark Messier the number one villain in the history of the Devils franchise?
Because he did it against New Jersey. On the biggest stage possible.
In 1994, New Jersey surprised the hockey world with a 106 point season followed by a deep playoff run. That run eventually led them to New York to face the Rangers, winners of that years President's Trophy, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After the Devils won Game 1, the Rangers and Devils each won two in a row. That gave the Devils a 3-2 series lead with a chance to clinch at home.
Before the game, however, Messier shared some very strong words with the media.
"We're going to go in and win Game 6 and bring it back here," he said, "We've just got to win the hockey game. We know we have to win and we feel we can win and we will win."
The Devils would score the first two goals of Game 6, but Messier set up the Rangers' first goal to bring it within one.
He then went on to score three consecutive goals to lock up the game.
From that point on, the Rangers seemed like the team of destiny, and surely, they were.
The Devils managed to force overtime in Game 7, but Stephane Matteau's now legendary wrap-around goal sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals where they eventually won the whole thing.
Mark Messier never did anything wrong by the Devils. He was not selfish or malicious, and yet, his guarantee and performance in Game 6 is still the most disheartening moment in the franchise's history.
The reason is that New Jersey was so close to obtaining the ultimate prize for the first time. They had the Rangers against the wall until one man changed everything.
The rivalry between the Devils and the Rangers as it now stands was an inevitability. It officially began, however, on that night at the end of May in 1994.
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