Cool story: One time I was at an old job when I went to do some computer service for a fellow employee who happened to be from New Jersey. When I told her I was from Detroit she said "Are you still mad about it?"
I said "The fact that you even said that rules!"
While the story out of the East for this season is Boston, and to a certain degree Washington, I can't help but feel happy for New Jersey being the top of their division. I thought they'd be done for the season after losing Brodeur, but they've proven time and time again to be a smart organization that has a knack for developing talent and displaying great leadership both on and off the ice. While I typically pay most attention to the Coyotes and Red Wings, I wanna take a minute and give praise to one amazing yet rather unheralded team considering how lesser teams get better attention.
New Jersey intrigues me because I take a look at their roster and think I've seen them around before...
- Scott Clemmensen was drafted by New Jersey in 1997 during the 8th round, played backup to Brodeur for several seasons before going to Toronto for a season only to return during the off-season.
- Brian Rolston was New Jersey's first round pick in 1991 and came back after spending time with Colorado, Boston, and Minnesota.
- Brendan Shanahan, the second overall pick in 1987, returned to the team after a storied career that has seen him win Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.
- Bobby Holik, who was initially drafted by Hartford but was a significant part in New Jersey's Cup victories from 1995 to 2003.
- Michael Rupp, who's carved a career out of being a checking-line player, was a NJ draft pick who went on to spend time with Phoenix and Columbus before returning to the team.
All and all, when you look at the 23 guys on New Jersey's active roster (including Brodeur), more than half of them were drafted by the team, three were signed specifically as undrafted free agents, and in Holik's case, he spent significant time with the team just to return. Call me biased, but I think it's great when I see a team built off of American talent. Splash some Czechs and Canadian talent in the mix and the formula for success is amazing.
The other thing to consider is their success. Granted, there was a time The Great One referred to them as a Mickey Mouse organization, but from the span of 1995 to 2003, they were the only other team aside from Detroit to win the Cup three times. That wasn't by accident folks, as Lou Lou Lamoriello built and developed a strong and winning team, regardless of whatever questionable moves occurred in the process (see the dismisal of Claude Julien right before the playoffs two seasons back.)
But while they've proven to be winners, there always seems to be a team that gets more love than the Devils based on their name rather than what they've done with themselves. Being the "second" team in a three-team market, the Rangers always seem to get better recognition as "the team" in the area despite having their last Cup victory in 1994, 9 years prior to New Jersey's last Cup victory. The Canadian media focuses almost exclusively on the Canadiens or the down-trodden Leafs over the Devils, while the American media is more concerned about the young guns playing for Washington or the far overrated Pittsburgh Penguins. You can point to the Sidney Crosbys of the world and say how talented they are, but when a team displays a constant model for winning, that's what should be respected most in my opinion.
So to the New Jersey Devils and their fans, I raise my glass and say a cheers to you. May you never lose faith in your team and may you always manage to find a way into the Top 8, if not the Top 3.