During the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Lou Lamoriello held a media session in the interview room. One of the last questions asked was whether Cory Schneider was part of a "changing of the guard" for the team in terms of acquiring young American players. Lou dismissed the notion, stating that talented players come from wherever you can find them. He's not wrong about that. Between that and the fact that today is July 4, I decided to look up which Devils team had the most Americans on it.
As it turned out, there has been a significant number of American-born players who suited up for at least one game for quite sometime. So the reporter had it a bit wrong; there were always Americans here for quite some time. Since the 2003-04 season, there have been no fewer than ten American players on the roster. There was a lull before that season, ranging from five to seven from 1997-98 through 2002-03. There were more in seasons prior to that period according to Hockey-Reference. The 1995 team actually had fifteen Americans on it: fourteen skaters and Chris Terreri. That season would hold onto the record until the 2006-07 season. New Jersey's roster in that year can accurately be described as the most American roster the franchise has ever had in one season.
The 2006-07 team had a total of eighteen American players. To put that in perspective, the Devils had 31 players play in an at least one game in that season. Over half of the roster was born in the United States and they ran the gamut from short call-up to vital player to the team. It's another notable in a season filled with them. You may remember the 2006-07 season as the one where Martin Brodeur broke Bernie Parent's record for wins in a season (cue Flyers fans whining about the shootout). It was also the final season at Continental Airlines Arena (good riddance). Lastly and infamously, that was the season Claude Julien got fired days before the playoffs would begin. Since it is the Fourth of July, let's touch base on the American players who played in that season and what they did since then. (Note: All stats come from NHL.com.)
The Goaltender: Scott Clemmensen was the backup as he was seasons prior and after until the 2008-09 season when he became the de facto starter when Martin Brodeur suffered his first major injury of his career. However, back in 2006-07, Brodeur played and started in 78 games, so it's easy to forget whether he was on this team. He was.
The Fill-Ins (Less than 10 Games): Barry Tallackson was a 2002 second round pick still trying to break his way into the roster. He only appeared in three games as he spent most of his time with Lowell. He would only appear in seven more NHL games (3 in 2007-08, 4 in 2008-09) and score no points in any of them. Dan Lacouture played six games and averaged less than five minutes per game. After this season, he moved to the Swiss league, gave the NHL one more shot (11 games with Carolina), and then jumped between Europe and the AHL before his career ended.
The More Notable Fill-Ins: Alex Brooks and Jim Fahey played 19 and 13 games respectively on the Devils' blueline. They averaged 8:38 and 10:47 in ice time per game respectively. They each had an assist and this season would be their last in the NHL. Brooks went down to the AHL for a few more seasons and then ended his career in Finland with Jokerit. Fahey spent a season with Rockford in the AHL before finishing up his career in Germany with Krefeld.
The Debut: The only American rookie in the 2006-07 season that actually stuck around was defenseman Andy Greene. The Devils signed him after four successful years with Miami University in 2006. After spending most of the season with Lowell, he got called up for 23 games and played throughout the playoffs. He wasn't used much given his 14:13 ice time per game average, but he showed flashes of the kind of defenseman he'd become. Greene is still a Devil and was the best defenseman on the team last season. He's also the only American player from the 2006-07 team who's still with New Jersey.
The Traded: David Hale started with the Devils but ended up in Calgary. Hale was a defensive defenseman who was largely relegated to a third pairing. As such, he averaged less than ten minutes per game. Hale and a 2007 fifth round pick was traded to Calgary for their third round pick in 2007. Hale did stick around in the NHL in spots, though still as a depth defender. He retired from the game after 2010-11 season when he was with Ottawa.
The Goon: Cam Janssen played 48 games in the 2006-07 season and averaged the least amount of ice time among all forwards on the team at 4:05. He racked up the PIM with his fists as one would expect. Surprisingly, he did score a goal in 2006-07 - New Jersey's first goal in a 4-2 loss to Washington on February 24. Janssen was a goon then and he continues to be a goon now.
The Local: Jim Dowd returned to the Devils organization in 2006-07. The Devils had to waive Lacouture (surprise, he cleared them) to make space to sign Dowd during the season and it paid off. Granted, it was a league minimum contract so that's not saying much. The Brick-based forward was used in a bottom six role for the 66 games he played in. He averaged just under nine minutes per game, scored four goals, and picked up four assists. He did play through the playoffs, but the team decided not to bring him back. In the following season, Dowd made the Flyers through a try-out, played with them for 73 games, and scored one of his five goals against New Jersey. However, that would be that for his career as the Flyers decided not to bring him back and he officially retired in 2009 after it was clear no other team would sign him.
The Fourth Liners: Erik Rasmussen played in what would turn out to be his last season in the NHL in 2006-07. He was in New Jersey for the two seasons prior in a fourth line role and that did not change for this one. He averaged just under nine-and-a-half minutes per game, he'd put up a shot or two in each game, and racked up three goals and seven assists. It wasn't much but he wasn't asked to do much either. Rasmussen played the next season with Lowell before playing his last season of pro hockey with Assat in Finland.
Mike Rupp returned to the Devils in 2006-07 on a one-year contract. Rupp was a big, mean fourth liner who can chip in a few goals. The 2003 Stanley Cup Final Game 7 Hero scored six in 2006-07 while putting up 92 PIM in 76 games. Rupp didn't play much in those games - average ice time of 6:26 - but he did well enough to get two-year deal with New Jersey where he repeatedly did the same thing (9 points per season, limited minutes, plenty of penalties). While Rupp doesn't add much on the ice, he remains in the NHL with the Wild after stops in Pittsburgh and Our Hated Rivals.
The Big Minute Defenders: Brian Rafalski and Paul Martin both led the Devils' blueline in 2006-07. Rafalski led the entire team in average ice time per game with 25:29. Paul Martin finished second behind him at 25:13. Needless to say, Julien leaned a lot on both guys. They played in all situations for a team that finished in the top-ten in lowest shots against per game average (28.4). Rafalski really stood out as he picked up assists left and right. He finished with eight goals and forty seven assists. He finished fifth on the entire team in scoring. Martin was not at all shabby but not nearly as productive with only three goals and twenty three assists. Nevertheless, they were #1 and #2 respectively on defense.
The 2006-07 season was Rafalski's last in New Jersey. He went home on July 1, 2007 as he signed a five-season, $30 million contract with Detroit. He continued to be very productive for the Red Wings and won another Stanley Cup in 2008. He retired after the 2010-11 season. Martin was re-signed by the Devils in 2007 for a three-season, $11.5 million deal and continued to be the top defender for the Devils for those three seasons. He decided to test the market in 2010 and Pittsburgh offered him $25 million for five seasons. He continues to play for the Penguins.
The Alternate Captains: Jamie Langenbrunner and Jay Pandolfo were alternate captains on the 2006-07 Devils and they were important players in their own right. Both played a little over eighteen-and-a-half minutes per game.
Pandolfo was a very good defensive winger back then and the media certainly felt that way in 2007. Pandolfo was named as a finalist for the Frank J. Selke trophy. Pandolfo also matched his season high in points with 27 (13 goals and 14 assists). Pandolfo stuck with the Devils and held a 307 game streak in games played until a pelvic injury ended that in 2007. While he remained with the Devils through the 2009-10 season, Pandolfo declined in his role and as a player. He did sign with the Islanders in 2011-12 and was a part of the Bruins in 2013. He hasn't retired yet, but he's thinking about it.
Langenbrunner had a great 2006-07 season with the Devils. He set a then-season high in shots with 243 and points with 60 (23 goals, 37 assists). He finished tied for third on the Devils in scoring while still taking on tough assignments defensively. A lot of Devils fans liked Langenbrunner in seasons prior but I think this is the one where most fans became enamored with what he did on the ice. He was similarly productive in the playoffs with eight points in 11 games. The best was yet to come from Langenbrunner as he set his career best in points two seasons later with the Devils while being an all-situations captain. Alas, his time in New Jersey ended with a thud of a post-Olympics 2010. He was dumped to Dallas and has played with St. Louis in the last two seasons.
The Rochester Rocket: Brian Gionta had to deal with some big expectations after a massive 2005-06 season. In that season, Gionta set a franchise record for goals in a season by scoring 48 (that's a shooting percentage of 16.9% over 291 shots). He picked up 41 assists to go with that to be one of the top scorers in the league, much less the Devils. The numbers were so great and high, one would expect a drop off. That happened in 2006-07. It wasn't that bad as Gionta still scored 25 goals and twenty assists. His season was cut short to 62 games due to injury so it wouldn't have been unreasonable to think he would have been close to Langenbrunner in points had he played all 82 games. Nevertheless, the 5'7" player who played much larger than that was still a favorite. It helped that A) he scored eight goals in eleven playoff games and B) his contract was then only $12 million over three seasons. Gionta continued to be a productive player for the following two seasons before signing with Montreal for $25 million over five years. While his offense has dipped, he has become the captain of the Canadiens so he still carries a prominent role.
The Rising Star: Zach Parise made his NHL debut in the 2005-06 season and had an OK season with 32 points in 81 games. Some players experience a sophomore slump in their careers but Parise certainly didn't. His average ice time jumped to 17:32 per game, he increased his shots from 133 to 247, and he scored 31 goals and earned 31 assists for a total of 62 points. He also scored seven more with three assists in the playoffs. Whether Parise had talent wasn't in doubt, but in 2006-07, he really put it on display. Parise led the Devils in goals in 2006-07, finished second on the team in scoring, and became a permanent fixture of the team's offense as well as a fan favorite. Parise would only get better in following years (he was simply magnificent in 2008-09) and remain an important part of the team - until he signed with Minnesota last summer.
The Pivot: The last remaining American to mention from the 2006-07 team was the team's top center: Scott Gomez. Like Gionta, he had a fantastically productive 2005-06 and so eyes were on him to see what he would do then. Surprising nobody who followed his career, Gomez wouldn't come close to matching the thirty goals he scored then. He was always a playmaking center and his numbers in 2006-07 reflected that: thirteen goals and 47 assists. That's not bad at all as it did place him tied with Langenbrunner in points on the team. Plus, Gomez was leaned on like many of the other top Americans on the team. He played just under nineteen minutes per game, he led breakouts by going end-to-end, and was just real effective on the puck. In the postseason, Gomez was the Devils' top scorer with four goals and ten assists. Yet, fans were wary on him because he was due for a new contract and he would be one of, if not the, best center available in free agency that summer. As you now know, Gomez signed a hilariously lucrative deal with the Rangers, never really met the expectations that came with it although he was very productive in 2007-08, and got dumped to Montreal in 2009. He struggled with the Canadiens. After the Incredibly Stupid Lockout of 2012, he signed a one-year deal with San Jose and played largely in a depth role. Some Devils fans still boo any mention of him for signing with Our Hated Rivals. But back in 2006-07, he was still a key part of the team.
It's important to note that while seven of these eighteen American Devils on the 2006-07 could be considered "core" players, the Devils did very, very well with that core. They finished first in the Atlantic Division and second only to Buffalo in the Eastern Conference. The 2006-07 Devils earned a record of 49-24-9, which set franchise high in wins in a season. The regular season was very much a success. The playoffs were a bit of a disappointment. After an initial scare against Tampa Bay that saw the Bolts go up 2-1 in the series, the Devils rang off three straight wins to take the series. However, they came up a bit too flat against eventual Wales Trophy winners Ottawa and just played out the final game in East Ruthersford.
As far as how the roster became so American for that one season, scouting had a lot to do with it. Gomez, Parise, Gionta, Martin, Pandolfo, Hale, Janssen, Clemmensen and Tallackson were all Devils draft picks. Scouts liked what they saw from Rafalski, Greene, and Brooks years after their draft eligible years and that led to their signings in years past. Right there, that's twelve of the eighteen. The Devils acquired Jamie Langenbrunner by trade and the rest were signings. Rupp and Dowd were a Devils draft picks but did sign separately from team for that season. Throw several coincidences in contract length and so that's how the 2006-07 team managed to have more Americans on it than any other Devils history.
With the continued growth of hockey in this country, specifically with the USHL, college game, and United States National Team Developmental Program, I think it's fair to say that we'll see some American representation on the Devils for seasons to come. It's been that way for over a decade. However, it's going to take quite a bit of fortune, circumstance, and talent for a future Devils squad to be loaded with USA-born players like that 2006-07 team. Have a Happy Fourth of July and get ready for a wild day tomorrow. But please chat about that in this post. Please comment about the 2006-07 team and American players here instead. Thank you for reading.