The New Jersey Devils are coming up on their 30th anniversary in New Jersey. During that time, there have been only eight captains for the team and the position is currently vacant, which it has been since Jamie Langenbrunner was traded to the Dallas Stars this past January. The rumor is that Zach Parise should be in line to become Captain Nine, but I won't include him here since that still remains just a rumor and/or with his recent one-year deal, it could hurt the chances or Parise being awarded the captaincy.
If you look at their history and wanted to rank the Captains based on their Captaincy, here's what you would find...one clear cut leader, and then everyone else. With that, here's ranking the eight Captains in Devils' history.
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Scott Niedermayer took over for Scott Stevens in January 2004 and his captaincy was filled with pending labor uncertainty (the lockout would cancel the 2004-05 season), not to mention the contract situation of Niedermayer himself and whether or not he would ultimately return to the Devils.
In hindsight, it seems the Devils may have named Niedermayer Captain in the hopes it would help to keep him with the team when he became a free agent. The uncertainty behind Stevens' injury did not help the cause much, as Niedermayer was considered more of an interim captain at the time and just holding the fort until Stevens would return. Lastly, the 2004 first round playoff loss to Philadelphia didn't leave the Devils and their fans with a great taste in their mouth.
The uncertainty of how this franchise would overcome the loss of Scott Stevens, the pending labor problems and Niedermayer's also pending free agency and departure just didn't allow Niedermayer's captaincy to become very memorable, at least not positively. Fair or not, Niedermayer's captaincy with New Jersey is unfortunately a cruel reminder of Scott Stevens' departure and that fact, along with the shortness of its tenure are the primary reasons why Scott's Niedermayer's captaincy goes down in Devils history at No. 8.
When the lockout ended and Niedermayer left for Anaheim, he spoke very highly of his time in New Jersey, but in the end, the opportunity to play with his brother and be closer to his British Columbia home was too much to pass up. Remember, this shouldn't be taken as a knock on Niedermayer's contributions as a Devil, as I consider him the most talented Devil ever and he ranks as one of the best Devils in their team history. I also fully expect his number 27 to be added to the rafters this upcoming season.
Bruce Driver had a very productive 12-year career with the New Jersey Devils and is remembered as one of the better defenseman in the team's history. After Kirk Muller was traded to Montreal on September 20, 1991, it left the Devils without a team captain and Bruce Driver was named the fourth captain in team history. Unfortunately, it seemed Driver was not really all that much more than a place holder for Scott Stevens, who became Captain the following season.
As for his one season wearing the "C," the Devils put up a productive 38-31-11 regular season, but fell to the New York Rangers in seven games in the 1992 Playoffs. It wasn't really anything that Driver didn't do which cost him the job, it just was everything that Scott Stevens offered which cost Driver the captaincy. In the end, Bruce Driver's captaincy wasn't much more than a warmup for what transpired after Stevens took over, and because of that, he comes in at No. 7 on the all-time Devils list of captains.
Patrik Elias was an unrestricted free agent after the 2005-06 season and had just returned to the ice after dealing with hepatitis that he had contracted during the lockout while playing in Russia. Elias was limited to just 38 games during that season, but he played exceptionally well after his return, posting 45 points and showing that he indeed was fully recovered, as he headed towards unrestricted free agency.
On July 1st, 2006, Elias hit the open market, and despite receiving higher offers from the likes of the New York Rangers, he received the assurance he sought and signed a seven-year $42 million contract to stay in New Jersey. The night before the first game of the 2006-07 season, the Devils named Elias the seventh captain in team history. The Devils would go on to win 49 games that season, as they played their 25th anniversary season in New Jersey, as well as their last season at Continental Airlines Arena.
GM Lou Lamoriello would fire head coach Claude Julien on April 3rd of that season, with the team on the verge of beginning the playoffs, because Lamoriello thought the team wasn't heading in the right direction that he deemed fit for making a deep run in the playoffs. In reality, there was an alleged incident that took place in practice where a Devils player fired a puck at Julien. The incident went unaddressed by Julien and it led to the team losing respect for him.
Unfortunately, after a playoff season that ended more quickly than the Devils hoped for, the team hired Brent Sutter as its new head coach. Sutter wanted to instill his own captain with the team and essentially stripped the "C" away from Elias, naming Jamie Langenbrunner the eighth captain in team history.
For Elias, at face value it seemed as if he was wrongly stripped of the captaincy, but in recent days, he seems to have overcome any heartbreak he may have felt back then. The team may not have been as united as one might have hoped for during Elias' one season, but without being in the locker room, its hard to know if that could be blamed on him or not.
As I have often said, the Devils go as Elias goes, and although this past year might have changed this theory some, Elias is no longer the focal point of the team like he was back then. His "reign" as Captain ranks him at No. 6 in Devils history.
In the aftermath of Brent Sutter's arrival as new Head Coach of the New Jersey Devils, Jamie Langenbrunner was named the eighth team captain on December 5th, 2007. After recovering from an injury to begin the season, the Devils played without a captain until Sutter made the announcement and Langenbrunner took over for Patrik Elias.
Langenbrunner was captain of the team until his trade to the Dallas Stars on January 7th, 2011. During that time, the Devils had a really good regular season record of 155-122-20, for a win percentage of .520. Unfortunately, the team did not win a playoff series, going 5-12 while losing to the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers in consecutive years, following it up with last season's major disappointment.
It is safe to say his tenure as Captain had its share of highs and lows. Langenbrunner was Captain while the Devils won their 50th regular season game in a season for the first time, Martin Brodeur's 552nd career win and was an integral part of a team that had a lot of success during his reign as Captain.
On the other hand, the team never won a playoff series during that span and had as crushing a playoff series loss as I can imagine, having suffered through a Game Seven collapse to Carolina on April 27th, 2009, a date that will live in infamy for the Devils franchise, likely until another Stanley Cup extinguishes that demon.
Langebrunner earned the nickname "Captain America," for his time as captain of Team USA in the Vancouver Winter Olympics of 2010, helping to lead Team USA to a surprising silver medal. He was highly praised and recognized for his contributions to the team, both on and off the ice.
Langenbrunner also butted heads with coaches Brent Sutter and Jamie Langenbrunner, so its tough to say his tenure was 100 percent positive. All in all, he brought more good than bad, and earns the No. 5 spot in the rankings.
Head Coach Billy MacMillian named Don Lever as the first captain in team history on August 20th, 1982. On October 5th of that season, Lever scored the first goal in team history, during its initial game against the Pittsburgh Penguins (the game ended in a 3-3 tie).
Lever was part of some downright awful teams in New Jersey, totaling a record of 26-79-16 in the 121 games he was Captain. The teams had plenty of veterans, most of which were past their primes, as well as a few green rookies that may not have been ready for the NHL just yet, but Lever provided great leadership for a team that greatly needed it. He surely didn't back down from his opponents when the situation called for it.
He would play for the Devils in a part of history many fans would like to forget, but it's those lean times that have allowed the loyal faithful to enjoy the success the franchise has had since all the more. Since Lever helped to build the foundation of the franchise, he earns the No. 4 spot on the Devils all-time list of Captains.
Mel Bridgman was acquired by the New Jersey Devils on June 20th, 1983 from the Calgary Flames along with Phil Russell, in return for Steve Tambellini and Joel Quenneville. Bridgman would be named Captain on January 9th, 1984 and would be in the role for 270 games. The team struggled for most of that time, posting an 82-154-24 record, for a win percentage of just .348.
Despite the record during that time, Bridgman did provide a lot of leadership that helped lay the foundation for the success the team would have a few years later. Kirk Muller gave a lot of credit to Bridgman for helping to "show him the ropes" a bit. It definitely made an impact on Muller and made him a more effective leader quicker.
It wasn't necessarily something easy to see in the standings, but the Captaincy of Mel Bridgman was more successful than simple statistics would indicate. As a result, he ranks as the No. 3 Captain in team history.
"Captain Kirk" was drafted No. 2 overall by the Devils, after the great Mario Lemieux. There were definitely rumors of the Penguins "tanking" the season to end up with the number one draft pick. While technically a consolation prize, Kirk Muller did not disappoint, becoming one of the major building blocks for the Devils as they climbed toward mediocrity and beyond.
Muller was named team Captain in 1987, after Mel Bridgman was traded away. He was the best all-around player amongst the young core the Devils were developing, and the team that eventually made the playoffs for the first time in 1988. He fit the mold of the team, as young talented guys like Pat Verbeek, Craig Wolanin, Ken Daneyko and others helped build the team into a winning franchise for the first time.
Culminating on April 3rd, 1988, with the famous overtime goal by John MacLean, the Devils earned a playoff berth for the first time in their history. Had it not been for a contract dispute at the beginning of the 1991-92 season, Muller may have stuck around in New Jersey his whole career. After the nasty contract dispute, GM Lou Lamoriello sent Muller and Roland Melanson to the Montreal Canadiens in return for Stephane Richer and Tom Chorske.
Muller was the biggest homegrown star the Devils had until the Devils produced Martin Brodeur and Scott Niedermayer. He was a great fit with the young team around him that he helped grow out of the "Mickey Mouse" era and into the prominent franchise they have become. The team fell short of its ultimate goal (a Stanley Cup), but for what they did achieve, Kirk Muller is easily the second best team Captain in the history of the New Jersey Devils.
To put things simply, when you think of the Captain of the New Jersey Devils, one clear name should jump to the forefront—and that is of Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens. His arrival to the Devils as compensation for the free agent loss of Brendan Shanahan instantly changed the course of the franchise, and brought it to the next level.
Up until Stevens arrival, the Devils were a team with very little playoff success. Beyond the Cinderella-run of 1988, there really was nothing of much significance. That all changed with Stevens becoming Captain in his second season with New Jersey, as he helped to lead them to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals, before losing to the hated New York Rangers in double overtime of Game Seven.
The following season, after an NHL lockout, Stevens led the Devils to the NHL's Promised Land, sweeping the Detroit Red Wings to give the Devils their first Championship. The franchise became one of the most winning franchises in the league during Stevens 4,000-plus day reign as Captain of the Devils. Their record during his Captaincy was a startling 486-283-123-19 (.611 win percentage) in the regular season, and also 87-59 during the playoffs, which the team made all but one season (1995-96).
Included during this time were four trips to the Stanley Cup Finals (winning three), many All-Star appearances and a Conn Smythe Trophy (2000). There aren't a lot of accolades that need to be thrown his way to realize that Stevens belongs at the top of this list. To put it simply, it's Scott Stevens and everyone else. He was captain for over 43 percent of all Devils' regular season games in the team's history, but his real impact is shown in the post-season, where he served as Captain for two-thirds of the team's playoff games.
Stevens is recognized as a true Hall-of-Famer for his body of work, but he is best known for the leadership he provided as Captain of the three-time Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils. It's pretty obvious to just about anyone that he correctly sits atop this list.