Ranking the New Jersey Devils' 5 Best Players of All Time

Adam Braun@abraun_15Contributor INovember 16, 2014

Ranking the New Jersey Devils' 5 Best Players of All Time

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    New Jersey Devils captain Scott Stevens celebrates the team's first Stanley Cup victory in 1995.
    New Jersey Devils captain Scott Stevens celebrates the team's first Stanley Cup victory in 1995.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    In the last 20 years, several world-class players have come through the New Jersey Devils organization. Two of those players' numbers, Scott Stevens' No. 4 and Scott Niedermayer's No. 27, now hang from the Prudential Center rafters. When Martin Brodeur finally retires, his No. 30 will certainly join them.

    Though not all 20 of those years have been successful, New Jersey fans would do well to remember that since 1995, only the Detroit Red Wings have more Stanley Cups and conference titles. This is thanks in large part to the Devils' five best players of all time.

    This list of the Devils' top five players will focus not only on the talent of these players but specifically their contributions to the success of the organization. Without these five players, New Jersey would not be a three-time Stanley Cup champion.

Honorable Mention

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    Glenn "Chico" Resch was at times a lone bright spot on early Devils teams.
    Glenn "Chico" Resch was at times a lone bright spot on early Devils teams.Denis Brodeur/Getty Images

    Glenn "Chico" Resch

    Resch's numbers in his four years as a Devils goalie are not tremendous. But this is through no fault of his own.

    The Devils of the early '80s struggled mightily, and Resch was often the only reason the team was worth watching. In the 1982-83 season, the club's first in New Jersey, the team went a brutal 17-49-14. That season, Resch finished sixth in the voting for the Vezina Trophy (best goalie) and ninth in voting for the Hart Trophy (MVP).

    Any player who notched Hart Trophy votes on a team 30 games under .500 deserves an honorable mention.

    Ken Daneyko

    Like Resch, Daneyko does not have numbers that jump off the page. But he embodies the Devils' era of success from 1995 to 2003.

    Daneyko spent his entire career in New Jersey, playing from 1983 to 2003. In that time, he was a leader, a shutdown defenseman and became a face of the franchise. His record of 1,283 games played for the team will likely never be broken.

    On a team known for its stifling defense, having a reliable stay-at-home defenseman like Daneyko was vital.

    Kirk Muller

    Muller was the captain of the first Devils team to make the playoffs, in 1987-88, a season in which he amassed 94 points. Muller also led the team to playoff berths in 1989-90 and 1990-91, leading the team in assists both seasons.

    Though he was traded after the 1990-91 season, it was Muller's offensive prowess and leadership that pushed New Jersey into regular postseason competition.

5. John MacLean

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    John MacLean (center) celebrates a goal by Claude Lemieux in Game 1 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final.
    John MacLean (center) celebrates a goal by Claude Lemieux in Game 1 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final.Associated Press

    John MacLean, like Resch, was one of the few bright spots on the Devils during the early and mid-80s. Unlike Resch, though, MacLean was in New Jersey long enough to see the Devils go from poor, to decent, to good, to champions.

    MacLean scored two goals on the final day of the 1987-88 season, including an overtime game-winner, to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks and clinch the team's first postseason berth. 

    The players celebrated like the team had won the Stanley Cup. It was New Jersey's first modicum of success. 

    It remains a landmark goal in Devils history. The team went all the way to the Eastern Conference Final that season and proceeded to make the playoffs in seven of the next eight seasons.

    Of course, MacLean's contributions to the organization are much larger than one goal. In 14 seasons with the team, MacLean scored 347 goals and amassed 701 points, putting him in second place on the all-time Devils list for both categories. 

    Though his raw numbers are good but not astounding, MacLean's goal scoring was immeasurably important for the Devils, a team that for much of this era was not a high-scoring team.

    He led the team in goals in the 1988-89 season, the 1989-90 season, the 1990-91 season and the 1993-94 season. 

    Pat Verbeek left the team in 1989, Kirk Muller left in 1991, Alexander Semak left during the 1994-95 season and Valeri Zelepukin only played four games during the 1994-95 season. This left the scoring burden largely on MacLean's shoulders in the buildup to the 1995 run to the Stanley Cup.

    MacLean put up 17 goals and 29 points in 46 games during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, with another five goals and 18 points during the playoffs. 

    Though the team got important contributions from Claude Lemieux, Neal Broten and Stephane Richer as well, the Devils would not have been in a position to succeed without MacLean's contributions.

4. Scott Niedermayer

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    Scott Niedermayer is one of only five New Jersey Devils to play on all three teams that won the Stanley Cup. His contributions from the blue line, both offensively and defensively, were so ubiquitous that it makes it difficult to even know where to begin.

    His offensive contributions are simpler to quantify. Over 13 years with the club, Niedermayer scored 112 goals and picked up 364 assists, giving him 476 points. He is second all time among Devils in assists and fourth in points, a tremendous achievement for a defenseman. 

    Niedermayer certainly had a respectable shot, but his offensive prowess did not come from having a cannon. Instead, it often came from his lightning speed. 

    The video above is certainly the most iconic instance of Niedermayer's quickness, a goal that tied Game 2 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final 2-2. The Devils went on to win the game 4-2 and sweep the Red Wings en route to the team's first title.

    Niedermayer had a tremendous postseason in 1995, picking up 11 points in 20 playoff games—and he was only 21 years old at the time.

    He had a habit of coming up big in the playoffs. When the Devils won the Stanley Cup again in 2000, he scored five goals. In 2003, when the Devils captured their third title, he picked up 18 points in 24 playoff games. 

    Defensively, he and Scott Stevens led a unit that has become (in)famous for its ability to smother opponents. His plus/minus of plus-172 is third best all time among Devils. 

    Niedermayer was also a recognized leader in New Jersey, spending several years wearing the "A" before briefly taking over the captaincy after Scott Stevens' departure in 2004.

3. Scott Stevens

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    This is the quintessential Scott Stevens hit.

    Perfectly clean. Player has the puck. Elbow is down. Does not leave his feet before contact.

    Stevens was a player from a different era perhaps, but no one could ever call Scott Stevens a dirty player.

    Stevens was more than just a hard hitter, though. He was a leader who played with tremendous fire. This check has found its way into Devils lore, but perhaps just as iconic is what happened next.

    Dino Ciccarelli, upset with the hit, expressed his displeasure from the Detroit bench. Stevens heard his complaints and responded from the New Jersey bench with two words: "You're next."

    For more than 10 years, Stevens captained the Devils with the same fire and intensity. He was the unquestioned leader on a team that won three Stanley Cups in a span of eight years. 

    Stevens' defensive ability is perhaps best shown by his plus/minus during his time with the Devils, a ludicrous plus-282. During the 1993-94 season, his plus/minus was plus-53, second best since 1990. 

    In each postseason in which the Devils won the Stanley Cup, Stevens' plus/minus was equally spectacular. In 1995, he was a plus-10. In 2000, he was a plus-nine. In 2003, he was a plus-14.

    What many often forget about Stevens is that he was also a dangerous offensive defenseman during his first four seasons as a Devil. In those four seasons, he averaged just over .75 points a game, in addition to being a solid defensive defenseman.

    Of course, as time passed, Stevens focused more on the defensive side of his game, with players like Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski being the blue-line playmakers.

    Stevens remains the only Devils captain to lead the team to a Stanley Cup, and he earned the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) in 2000 in recognition not only of his three goals and eight assists that postseason but his generally solid defense and leadership.

2. Patrik Elias

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    Patrik Elias celebrates his series-winning goal in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final against the Philadelphia Flyers.
    Patrik Elias celebrates his series-winning goal in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final against the Philadelphia Flyers.CHRIS GARDNER/Associated Press

    Patrik Elias as the No. 2 Devils player of all time? It is not an easy call, but it is the right one.

    Here's why.

    Elias has more goals, assists and points than any other Devils player, and it is going to be an incredibly long time before any Devil even has a chance of catching him. But that does not tell the whole story.

    Much like MacLean, Elias has watched a litany of forwards enter and exit New Jersey in his 19 seasons as a Devil. For much of his time as general manager, Lou Lamoriello has rarely been interested in spending big money on free-agent forwards, instead focusing on what the team had internally and making subtle but key moves in the trade market.

    Elias' consistent play over the last decade-and-a-half has given Lamoriello this freedom. It is for this reason that Elias ranks above Stevens and Niedermayer: He brought a level of consistent offense that was needed more than anything else for the team's success.

    Since his breakout season in 1999-00, Elias has scored at least 20 goals and 55 points in every season that he has played more than 55 games. His lowest point-per-game average in any season during that time is 0.70 points per game, with his career average at 0.85 points per game.

    Elias was crucial in the Devils' 1999-00 Stanley Cup victory. He played on a line with Petr Sykora and Jason Arnott, known simply as "the A-line" or "the Arnott line." 

    In that postseason, Elias put up seven goals and 13 assists over 23 games.

    Elias' most important point of those playoffs came in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Elias made a blind, back-handed pass from the right corner directly to Arnott's stick, who beat Eddie Belfour to take home the Cup.

    Of course, Elias would not be such a long-tenured member of the Devils if he was not a defensively reliable player. He is a career plus-183, second all time among Devils, reflecting his commitment to defense. 

    He has also killed penalties during the majority of his time with the team, with 16 short-handed goals to show for his work. 

    Elias' goal-scoring and playmaking ability, defensive responsibility and consistency make him the second-most important Devil ever.

1. Martin Brodeur

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    Martin Brodeur celebrates his third Stanley Cup victory with Ken Daneyko and Patrik Elias.
    Martin Brodeur celebrates his third Stanley Cup victory with Ken Daneyko and Patrik Elias.CHARLES KRUPA/Associated Press

    At the very least, Martin Brodeur is in the top three of his position all time. It comes as no surprise that he is the top Devil of all time, then.

    Here's a quick rundown of his numerous records and achievements:

    • 688 career wins; first all time. As a point of comparison, the only current goalie with any chance of catching Brodeur in wins is Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is now 32 and has 316 wins. At 32, Brodeur had 403 wins. Lundqvist averages around 34 wins a season, so to catch Brodeur, he'd have to play 11 more seasons at that pace.
    • 124 shutouts; first all time. Terry Sawchuk is second with 103. The closest active player is Roberto Luongo with 67 shutouts.
    • 2.239 GAA; third among modern-era goalies. 
    • .9124 SV%
    • 12 shutouts in the 2006-07 season; second in single-season shutouts among modern-era goalies.
    • 48 wins in the 2006-07 season; highest single-season win total ever.

    Brodeur's postseason numbers in the years that the Devils won the Stanley Cup are amazing:

    • 1995: 16-4, 1.67 GAA, .927 SV%, three shutouts
    • 2000: 16-7, 1.61 GAA, .927 SV%, two shutouts
    • 2003: 16-8, 1.65 GAA, .934 SV%, seven shutouts

    There is little that can be said about Brodeur that has not been said before. His numbers point to him being the best goalie of all time. 

    Some critics have pointed to the Devils' defensive structure during the majority of Brodeur's tenure as a huge contributing factor to his success in New Jersey. While there is some truth to the effect of the Devils' defensive prowess on Brodeur's career, it should not detract from his achievements.

    New Jersey made a point of limiting shots against during the height of the team's success, but that meant Brodeur's focus and big-save ability were crucial. It is hard to think of a goalie better in either of those categories than Brodeur.

    At any rate, Brodeur's goaltending was the backbone of three Stanley Cup champion teams. Without a doubt, Martin Brodeur is the best New Jersey Devil of all time.