Friday, February 5, 2010

A History Of Sniping For The Devils

Known mainly for a defensive style introduced back in the mid-'90s by current coach Jacques Lemaire, the New Jersey Devils have won Cups mainly thanks to that stifling D.

So why is Ilya Kovalchuk ending up on New Jersey really not all that surprising? GM Lou Lamoriello as the cagey post-modern Sam Pollock knows you do need a sniper or two when it comes to building Cup teams.

This article here touches a bit on the impact Alexander Mogilny had on the Devils' Cup in 2000 and the Cup run in 2001 that ended in a Game 7 loss (where have you gone, Alex Tanguay?) to the Colorado Avalanche.

Yet the article really doesn't go far enough. To do that you have to go back to 1991 and the deal for Stephane Richer. Richer was two years removed from a 51-goal season with the Montreal Canadiens. (The deal was also significant for the Habs as they got Kirk Muller in the deal from the Devils and he went on to play a big role in the Habs' Cup of 1993.)

The Habs, though, were fed up with Richer after his goal total fell to 31 the year after his 51-goal season. The Devils then saw him put up seasons of 29, 38, 36 and a prorated 41 (23 goals in 45 GP the lockout-shortened 1994/95 season). Those '95 playoffs saw Richer lead the Devils in scoring with 21 points in 19 playoff games as the trap team upset the mighty Detroit Red Wings in the Final.

Fast-forward to 2000 and Mogilny's on the Devils. We all remember him here in Vancouver. First season with the Canucks--55 goals, 107 points. Here we go! Oh, hold on, that was his contract year. You see, Mogilny had this uncanny ability later in his career to play phenomenally well when in a contract year. The other seasons, not so much.

How did the Nux not win a Cup with these two guys?

That's why after oft-injured 18-goal, 14-goal and 21-goal efforts the Mogil was traded to Jersey in the March 2000 Brendan Morrison deal (which also worked out fairly well for both clubs so Lou really is an equal opportunity GM). The following season Mogil was on fire with 43 goals and 83 points (many assists courtesy of rookie center Scott Gomez) and contributed a decent 16 points in 25 playoff games as the Devils won their second Cup.

The Devils that year led (yes, led!) the Eastern Conference in goals for thanks to the power of Robbie Ftorek's sweaters...which got him to the altar but only to see Larry Robinson take over with eight games left and coach the Devs to a Cup. Robinson's 2001 Cup Finalist team continued the scoring trend as the Devils finished atop the league in goals for (yes, you are reading that correctly, New Jersey led the league in goals for).

Mogilny, of course, left as a free agent after the '00/01 season to sign with the Leafs and promptly dropped to 24 goals in 66 games. So much for 40-goal seasons let alone the amazing 76 he scored in '92/93 with the Sabres.

Now the '03 Devils Cup team did not really have a sniper per se as their own draft pick Patrik Elias was two years removed from a 40-goal season, '02 late season pickup Joe Nieuwendyk had not scored 40 since '90/91 and both Jamie Langenbrunner and Jeff Friesen, who led the Devils in goal scoring in the playoffs, would never be considered snipers by any stretch.

What does getting the Devil sniper-for-hire in Kovalchuk all mean? Well, so far, the Devils have not gone deep in the playoffs since Scott Stevens' hits retired and Scott Niedermayer's playoff beard left for the West Coast. With one of their best puck-moving defensemen, Paul Martin, out for four to six weeks with a broken arm the Devils did need a shot in the arm (all puns intended), they are hardly likely to break that poor playoff run.

Kovalchuk certainly is a huge upgrade on a latter career stage Mogilny or Richer, and as many of you who have seen him play live, he not only has a killer one-timer but can chop wood with the best of a Steve Yzerman. He is physical but in a way that's both dirty and sneaky. This helps create that space for him to wind up and blast those one-timers. Add in that cocky attitude (who can forget his in-your-face goal celebrations against Canada at past World Juniors and the World Championships) and he makes the Devils worth watching despite being coached by the anti-Larry Robinson.

Of course, all this talk that he'll love New York means ...he's signing with the Rangers once his free agency kicks in on July 1? For some reason no one ever says players will love the Garden State when they get traded there. I wonder why that is?

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