New York Life is sponsoring a series of posts around the network called Iconic Families. Usually, family members in sports has some mix between greatness and, well, not-so-greatness. There are examples of great players in a family like Bobby, Dennis, and Brett Hull and Gordie, Mark, and Marty Howe. There are examples of a fantastic brother and a serviceable but not great brother, such as Scott and Rob Niedermayer. The Sutters are iconic simply for being everywhere in the game. There are even examples of a legendary brother and a not-so-great brother like Wayne and Brent Gretzky. Today, to contribute to this series, I'd like to highlight two brothers on the Devils that were part of very different times of the organization: Aaron and Neal Broten.
OK, it's not the first set of brothers you think of when you think of family members on the Devils. The first is probably Scott and Rob Niedermayer. The second (or maybe first if you're newer to the team) is Brian and Stephen Gionta. After them, you may jokingly bring up Zach and Jordan Parise or Travis, Darcy, and Kelly Zajac. Come to think of it, Lou seemed to push to bring in brothers of Devils when he could. The difference with the two Brotens is that they were very good players when they were on the Devils. They were important parts of the team when active. Since it's been so long since someone named Broten wore Devils red, let's revisit them.
Neal Broten is probably the one you're more familiar with. He was an important cog in the machine that successfully won the 1995 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I wrote about Broten at length last September, and I called him the Devils' greatest veteran acquisition because he was absolutely wonderful in New Jersey. After a long and successful career with Minnesota, he was acquired from the Dallas Stars for Corey Millen. Broten arrived in New Jersey and went on a tear in the remainder of the lockout-shortened season. 28 points in 30 regular season games. 19 points in 20 playoff games. He scored goals, made plays, and pushed the offense forward - all while over 35 years old. For a team that was good but not great, the fact he played like he found the Fountain of Youth, the Burning Fire of Desire, and the Pool of Replenishing Talent made him crucial. Neal Broten didn't last long in New Jersey. The 1995-96 season saw Broten and the team crash down to reality and he was unceremoniously traded away at the beginning of the 1996-97 season to LA. That would be his final season in professional hockey. Nevertheless, Broten's arrival was glorious and it led to the team's first championship. He will not be forgotten.
Unfortunately, Aaron Broten may have been over the years. While Neal has a ring and an argument of being of the greatest American hockey players, Aaron does not. He still had a very good career and can claim to see the organization change firsthand. In fact, he saw multiple changes. Aaron was drafted and originally made his debut with the Colorado Rockies after two years of dominating for the University of Minnesota. His first season would be the Rockies' last in 1981-82 with 15 goals and 24 assists in 58 games. Then, along with the rest of the organization, he moved on to New Jersey. He spent the vast majority of 1982-83 with the Devils and he remained in the NHL from 1983-84 all the way through to 1990-91.
For those who remember those early Devils teams, they were pretty awful. That meant someone like Broten, while his point totals seem modest, got plenty of ice time and opportunity to attack. Aaron was similar to Neal in that they weren't big (Aaron was 5'10", Neal was 5'9", and both were about 170 pounds) and didn't play physical. They didn't have to. They were quick with the puck and had an eye and a knack for making plays. Aaron wouldn't be as prolific as his brother, but he was no slouch at all in terms of offense. That he was a mainstay on a team that not only moved to a new place, but also witnessed eight coaching and four general manager changes, made him stand out. That's a lot of turnover to survive. It speaks to his quality that he didn't get jettisoned from the team as a result of them.
In retrospect, Aaron really broke out when put on a line with Pat Verbeek and Kirk Muller. The trio were quite productive and added some needed strength to the Devils. Aaron led the 1986-87 team in points with 79, just three ahead of Muller. True to his playmaking ways, he did it with 26 goals and 53 assists. Broten would never score more than 26, but he managed to help others score a little more in the following season to reach 83 points - second behind Muller's 94-point campaign. While Aaron hit a career high in assists (57) and points (83), the biggest accomplishment was contributing to a team that actually made the playoffs. Yes, the 1987-88 Devils weren't a loser for a change thanks to the good work of Aaron, Muller, Verbeek, John MacLean, Sean Burke, and many others. Oh, and they had a new general manager (Aaron's fourth) named Lou that might have hand or two in it too. In any case, the team's improved play gave them a chance to get in and they won their last season game to do so. What followed was a dream of a playoff run. It ended at the Eastern Conference Finals, but the team got there partially because of Aaron's play. Aaron put up five goals and eleven assists in 20 playoff games, the fourth most points on the team.
That season would be the apex of his professional career. Aaron struggled a bit in the following 1988-89 season with 16 goals and 43 assists; and he was traded to Minnesota during the 1989-90 season. As much Aaron enjoyed the chance to play with his brother, the production dropped further to a total of 36 points. He bounced around three teams in the next two seasons before ending his professional career. Still, no one would question that Aaron Broten had a very good career even though he played on a lot of bad Devils teams for much of them. Aaron got to be a part of the team before Lou (including a little bit before New Jersey) and back when making the playoffs was a sincerely huge deal. He was a talent on a team that really could have used all the talent they could get. He's not as easily remembered as Neal, but he was notable in his own right.
He has gotten his due, though. Like his brother Neal, Aaron is a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. The Broten brothers may not be as recent as the Giontas or half-legendary, half-decent like the Niedermayers. Yet, they were important for their own times with the Devils. Aaron produced through the bad times of the 1980s, and Neal was crucial in the short and glorious run to the Cup in 1995. In their way, they are iconic.
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