Fearless. That's a leader everyone loves to have. A player who lays it all on the line for the ultimate prize. He is the ultimate sacrifice. And he lets his teammates know that he expects the same dedication for them.
That is Scott Stevens.
Scott Stevens (Washington Capitals 1982-83 - 1989-90; St. Louis Blues 1990-91; New Jersey Devils 1991-92 - 2003-04)
Growing up in the southern Ontario town of Kitchener, Scott Stevens grew up idolizing a Leaf great: Borje Salming. The middle child of three boys, Stevens loved hockey. He missed a chance to travel to Czechoslovakia with a Kitchener midget team to be able to play Junior B hockey. That's where the scouts noticed Stevens, and he was selected ninth overall by his hometown Rangers in the 1981 OHL Draft.
The 1981-82 Kitchener Rangers were loaded with future NHL players, including Al MacInnis, Dave Shaw, Brian Bellows, Jeff Larmer, and goaltender Wendell Young. Stevens and Shaw were instrumental parts of the Rangers run to the Memorial Cup. Both would play in the OHL All-Star Game, while Stevens would lead all rookie defenders in scoring.
To top it off, OHL coaches voted Stevens as the second-best defensive defenseman and the second best body-checker in the league.
No kidding: best body-checker.
That season would get him his ticket to the big show. Stevens was taken fifth overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals. Due to injuries, Stevens made the team at the young age of 18 and made an impact immediately, scoring in his first NHL game on his first shot.
That season, Stevens would finish with 25 points and finish third in Calder Trophy voting and led all rookie defenders in penalty minutes. Stevens would lead the Capitals in PIMs five times while in Washington.
On a Washington team that had a defense-first approach, Stevens still flourished offensively. During the 1984-85 season, Stevens scored 16 powerplay goals and tied the team record for goals by a defender with 21 goals.
Alongside NHL great Rod Langway, Stevens learned the defensive side of the game more acutely and it showed.
Stevens would lead all Washington defenders in scoring three times while with the Capitals. There was almost a shift of Stevens up to a winger during his time in Washington. During the 1987-88 season, Stevens compiled 12 goals and 60 assists for 72 points, yet finished second in Norris Trophy voting behind the legendary Raymond Bourque.
In his time in Washington, Stevens would score 98 goals and add 429 assists and would participate in the 1985 and 1989 All-Star Games.
After eight seasons with the Capitals, the St. Louis Blues courted the restricted free agent and offered him a four-year deal worth $5.145 million. The Capitals refused to match the offer and received five first-round picks in compensation. Yet the signing of Stevens would trigger waves through the NHL.
At the time, Stevens was the highest-paid defender in the league. Not even Bourque or Chris Chelios were making this amount of money. It eventually led to players demanding more money, and the 1994-95 lockout ensued.
However, on the ice, Stevens was given the captaincy in St. Louis. That season he would score five goals and add 44 assists on a team led by superstars Brett Hull and Adam Oates. The Blues didn't make it past the second round.
That summer, the Blues went after another RFA in Brendan Shanahan of the New Jersey Devils. The two teams could not decide on what the compensation for the Shanahan signing should be.
After the Blues offered goalie Curtis Joseph, forward Rod Brind'Amour and several draft picks, the Devils claimed they wanted Stevens. The case went to arbitration and the Devils were eventually awarded Stevens as compensation.
The controversy was not gone overnight. Stevens refused to report to training camp. New Jersey was in disarray as captain Kirk Muller had also walked out of training camp and others didn't feel they wanted Stevens on the team.
Eventually, Stevens reported to camp and would finish fifth on the team in scoring, made an appearance at the NHL All-Star Game, and make the second-team All-Star Team.
That offseason, Stevens was named the Devils captain. In 1993-94, Stevens showed he still had that offensive ability he showed in Washington. He posted 18 goals and added 60 assists for 78 points, leading the Devils in points. Stevens finished second only to Vladimir Konstantinov in +/- with +53.
With his strong leadership, the Devils marched all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals only to be upset by Mark Messier and the New York Rangers in seven games. Stevens then came up four votes behind Ray Bourque for the Norris Trophy nomination, the closest in trophy history.
After 1993-94, Stevens was to be a free agent. St. Louis offered Stevens $17 million over four years, yet five days later the Devils matched it and he stayed in New Jersey. Unbeknownst to the Devils, the Blues had talked to Stevens before the beginning of the free agency period. After an extensive investigation, the Blues were fined $1.5 million and lost two first-round picks to the Devils.
Despite more controversy and the heartbreak of the previous year's playoffs, the Devils were not to be denied in 1995. After the lock-out and a slow start, the Devils marched through the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Philadelphia Flyers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals against the heavily favoured Detroit Red Wings.
Fearless and always a hard-hitter, Stevens leveled Detroit forward Slava Kozlov in Game 2, knocking him unconscious and giving him a concussion.
As Detroit teammate Dino Ciccarelli complained about the play, Stevens quipped his famous line, "You're next!"
With his fearless drive and the skill of the Devils with Martin Brodeur and Scott Niedermayer, the Devils beat the odds and swept the Red Wings in four straight for the franchise's first Stanley Cup.
However, the next season came and went quickly. The Devils became the first team in 26 years to win the Stanley Cup and not make the playoffs the following year as they were bounced from the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Stevens frustration was evident, "After winning the Cup, you expect to definitely be in the playoffs the next year...maybe it was a wakeup call to get back on track."
And that's what the Devils did.
As the 1990s rolled along, the Devils' solid defensive core of Stevens, Niedermayer, and Ken Daneyko kept teams on their toes with deft skating and puck handling combined with bone crushing hits. Stevens signed a contract extension after the 1996-97 season and stated he wanted to finish his career in New Jersey.
With a resurgence of youth in the Devils' dressing room, Stevens was paired regularly with rookie Brian Rafalski starting in 2000. The 1999-2000 Devils were focusing more on offense and they would score 251 goals, good enough for second in the league.
After dispatching the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first two rounds of the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Devils met the Philadelphia Flyers and the injured Eric Lindros.
During Game 2 of the series, Stevens laid out Daymond Langkow giving him a concussion and ending his season. But during Game 7, with Lindros newly returned to the Flyers lineup, he skated in with his head down through the neutral zone and Stevens lined him up and gave Lindros another concussion.
After the hit, Stevens was upset and had to be consoled by coach Larry Robinson. However, Philadelphia defender Dan McGillis claimed that the hit on Lindros had been clean. The Devils would take the series in seven.
The Devils faced the defending Stanley Cup Champion Dallas Stars in the Finals. Stevens and Rafalski were sent to shut down the likes of Mike Modano, Brett Hull, and Joe Nieuwendyk. And so they did. The Devils would claim their second Stanley Cup in six games, with Jason Arnott scoring the winner in triple overtime. Stevens was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
With a spectacular run through the following 2000-01 season, led by Patrick Elias and Scott Gomez, the Devils were looking to reclaim hockey's top prize. New Jersey would dispatch Carolina, Toronto, and Pittsburgh en route to the Finals, where they faced Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque, and the Colorado Avalanche. Despite being up three games to two, the Devils could not put the nail in the Avalanche, losing the series in seven.
Stevens once again was denied a Norris Trophy, finishing third in voting. During the 2001-02 season, Stevens finished with the lowest scoring total of his career with only 1 goal and 16 assists. Yet, Stevens became the youngest player to reach 1,500 games played. He also became the first player to play 600 games with two different teams.
During the 2002-03 season, Stevens was named captain of the Eastern Conference All-Star Team and would finish with the fewest amount of PIMs in his career. After winning the Atlantic Division, the Devils dispatched the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Ottawa Senators to face the upstart Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the Finals.
During the Finals, Stevens broke the record for most playoff games played by a defenseman.
In Game 6, Stevens delivered another hard hit, laying out Duck captain Paul Kariya as he came through the neutral zone with his head down. Kariya laid dazed on the ice for a few moments. Yet, it was another career defining moment for the Devils' fearless leader.
Despite the Ducks' best efforts, the Devils went on to win their third Stanley Cup in seven games.
The 2003-04 season would prove to be Stevens' last as he only played in 38 games, yet passed Larry Murphy for the NHL's All-Time lead for games played by a defenseman when he appeared in his 1,616th game. Stevens was out with the flu for most of the season and was later diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.
Despite working out and trying to get back into shape for the NHL, Stevens return would not be, due to the 2004-05 NHL season lockout. Stevens then retired on September 6, 2005.
During his career, Stevens has been accused of being a cheap player and hitting to hurt players. After Carolina Hurricanes netminder Arturs Irbe complained about a hit Stevens laid on forward Shane Willis, Stevens replied, "What kind of respect do I get? Hey, it's a hockey game. It's not figure skating. You know what? I can take a hit and I can give a hit. No one gets a free ride out there. I don't get a free ride, and no one gets a free ride from me."
Stevens finished his career with only four elbowing minors in the regular season and was voted the fifth most fearsome player in NHL history by the Sporting News in 2001.
Despite all the controversy in his career, Scott Stevens was a fearless, intimidating leader who would rise to the occasion and make sure his teammates knew their job—to win—and play hard.
Scott Stevens Regular Season Career Stats (1635 GP, 196 Goals, 712 Assists, 908 Points, +393, 2785 PIMs)
Scott Stevens Playoff Career Stats (233 GP, 26 Goals, 92 Assists, 118 Points, +34, 378 PIMs)
4th All-Time Games Played - 1635
45th All-Time Regular Season Assists - 712
14th All-Time Regular Season PIMs - 2785
Awards & Accomplishments:
Amassed 12 Points & 28 PIMs in 49 Senior International Play with Team Canda from World Championships to Olympics
Stanley Cup - 1995, 2000, 2003
Conn Smythe Trophy - 2000
Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame - 2007
#4 is Retired by the New Jersey Devils
Played in 13 NHL All-Star Games - 1985, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003
NHL First All-Star Team - 1988, 1994
NHL Second All-Star Team - 1992, 1997, 2001
NHL All-Rookie Team - 1983
Alka-Selzter Plus/Minus Award - 1994