New Jersey Devils
The definitive history.
The New Jersey Devils began their NHL life in Kansas City as one of two 1974 expansion teams, the Scouts. The Scouts won just 20 games in their first two seasons, and won just once in the final 44 games in the 1975–76 season. Facing huge losses, the team’s owner sold to a group in Denver. The team played the next seven seasons as the Colorado Rockies.
New Jersey businessman Arthur Imperatore bought the club in 1978 hoping to move it to New Jersey, but the league blocked the move because a suitable arena did not exist. At the end of the 1981–82 season, Imperatore sold the Rockies to Garden State shipbuilding magnate John McMullen. McMullen moved the team into the Meadowlands for the 1982–83 and renamed it the Devils.
Prior to the 1987–88 season, the Devils hired Lou Lamoriello to build a winning franchise around the young players it had begun to acquire. Lamoriello was a longtime college coach with no pro experience. He applied the successful lessons he had learned, which went against NHL thinking: Create a culture and a system and find players whose talent fits the system.
In Lamoriello’s first season as GM, the franchise had a winning record for the first time. On the final day of the season, New Jersey erased a 3–2 deficit against the Blackhawks and won 4–3 in overtime to clinch a spot in the playoffs. The victory triggered a magnificent playoff run, which ended one victory short of a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In 1993–94, the Devils hired Jacques Lemaire as coach. A clever offensive center with the Canadiens, he installed a defensive system called the neutral zone trap. This system prevented fast-skating teams from starting their offense, and forced them into costly errors. Just as important, it enabled the Devils to assemble a winning roster without depending on high-priced superstars. Lamoriello wanted a club with players who played for the name on the front of their sweaters, not on the back, and now he had it.
The Devils reached the 100-point plateau for the first time under Lemaire, but fell to the hated Rangers in the playoffs. The following year, 1994–95, New Jersey made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they swept the favored Red Wings in four straight. Goalie Martin Brodeur led a defense that starred Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer. The Devils’ scoring punch was supplied by Bobby Holik, Stephane Richer, John McLean, Neil Broten, Bill Guerin and Claude Lemieux. Lemieux won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs.
In 1999–00, the Devils were one of the best teams in the NHL during the first half, but began playing lackluster hockey in the second half. Having peaked early and flamed out in the playoffs several years in a row, Lamoriello replace coach Robbie Ftorek with Larry Robinson in the final weeks and the Devils tore through the postseason. They defeated the defending champion Dallas Stars in the finals, with Stevens winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. Newcomers Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez were key contributors to the team’s second championship. Arnott scored the cup-winning goal in the second overtime of Game 6.
In 2000, John McMullen sold the Devils to the same company that owned the Yankees and Nets, which was controlled by the Steinbrenner family. The plan was to supply year-round sports content for the Yes Network, and move the hockey and basketball teams to a new arena in downtown Newark. However, the company divested itself of the Devils before this happened.
Meanwhile, the Devils made a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2000–01. They held a 3 games to 2 lead over the Colorado Avalanche, but lost the series in seven games. The Devils won their third Stanley Cup in 2002–03, beating the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in seven games.
In 2004, Lehman Brothers executive Jeff Vanderbeek purchased a controlling interest in the Devils. He continued to leave the team in Lamoriello’s capable hands. In 2005–06, Brian Gionta set a new franchise record with 48 goals, the last one coming during the Devils’ 11th straight victory to close the season.
The team moved to Newark after the Prudential Center was completed early in the 2007–08 season. Using the ageless Brodeur and the veteran Elias as linchpins, the team rebuilt itself around dynamic forwards Ilya Kovalchuk, Zack Parise, David Clarkson and Adam Henrique. The Devils returned to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. The Los Angeles Kings won the first three games, but the Devils battled back to win the next two. LA took game 6 to deny New Jersey its fourth championship.
During the summer of 2013, Vanderbeek sold the Devils to Josh Harris and David Blitzer, who also own the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team. The Prudential Center was part of the package. Scott O’Neil, who ran Madison Square Garden for many years, was installed as CEO of the Devils and the arena, while simultaneously holding the same job with the 76ers. As always, the day-to-day operations were left in Lamoriello’s hands.