As time passes, more and more people who were involved with the New Jersey Devils end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Some are players who just spent a short time of their careers in New Jersey like Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, and Igor Larionov. Others are players who spent several years with the organization like Viacheslav Fetisov and Peter Stastny. Two got in for their play with Montreal but coached the Devils: Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson. Scott Stevens is also a coach on the team, but he was truly the first player who played a majority of his career with the Devils and led them to the top multiple times. Then there's Lou Lamoriello, for who needs no qualification as to why he's in the Hall. That's one builder, two players who were coaches, and six players who suited up with the bedeviled NJ on their chest. Today, it was announced that there will be two more players who represented New Jersey to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame later this year: Scott Niedermayer and Brendan Shanahan. They will join Chris Chelios, Geraldine Heaney, and Fred Shero in the 2013 class.
There is no question that both players absolutely deserve lifelong recognition among the greatest players to have ever played the game. Shanahan pretty much defined what a power forward was from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. It was common for him to end a season with 30+ goals (he had 19 straight seasons of 20 or more, often putting up more than 30), 30+ assists, and 100+ penalty minutes - exceeding those marks several times. He threw his body around and utilized his fantastic shot, as featured in this highlight video someone made in 2008. He made opponents hurt both in body and on the scoreboard. Shanahan finished his career with 1,524 games played, 656 goals, 698 assists, and 2,489 penalty minutes to go with two first team All-Star selections (1994, 2000), a second team All-Star team (2002), a King Clancy award (2003), and three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2002). Needless to say, his credentials are good.
Most of them were earned with St. Louis or Detroit. The Devils did draft Shanahan back in 1987 and the big winger did play four seasons in East Ruthersford. However, he was a restricted free agent in 1991 and the St. Louis Blues really wanted him. Back then, a team could sign another team's Group I RFA provided they would give up a player as compensation. The Blues gave the then-young and prosperous winger a significant contract; but Lou Lamoriello wasn't interested in Rod Brind'Amour or Curtis Joseph. Lou wanted Scott Stevens, Judge Ed Houston presided over the arbitration hearing, and the Devils got Stevens as compensation for St. Louis signing Shanahan. In effect, Shahanan's longest lasting contribution in New Jersey was getting #4 here. Shanahan blew up as a top scorer in the league, putting up back-to-back seasons of at least 50 goals in 1992-93 and 1993-94. His play took some of the sting out of St. Louis giving up five first round picks to Washington to get Stevens back in 1990. The Devils made out well, of course. Stevens really took charge as the ace defenseman - even though he initially wasn't pleased about coming to New Jersey.
Shanahan would return but it would take a long time. He was very productive for four seasons with St. Louis, but was traded to Hartford, spent two years as a Whaler, and then got dealt to Detroit during the 1996-97 season. He was a part of that Cup winning team and would go on to be a key forward for the Red Wings until the 2005-06 season. There, he scored goals, racked up a lot of points, infuriated Colorado fans, and won two more Cups. In 2006, he signed with Our Hated Rivals and while he wasn't getting younger, he still had game with 29 goals and 33 assists in that 2006-07 season. He stayed on for one more year but it was becoming more apparent that while the shot and the mindset was there, the speed and reflexes were going. He remained as a free agent through the 2008 season until the Devils signed him on January 14, 2009. He was a member of the fourth line and second power play unit with New Jersey. Again, he still could fire the puck very well but it was clear he could only be used in spots. He put up six goals and eight assists in 34 games. Shanahan was in the Devils' training camp in 2009 but he was cut at the end of it. The player saw the writing on the wall and called it a career on November 17, 2009. So he began as a Devil, ended as a Devil, and made a lot of opposing players and goalies suffer along the way.
Scott Niedermayer, well, what more can one say? When sportswriters want to exalt a "winner," this man should be the archetype. He won a Memorial Cup and the WHL with Kamloops. He earned a gold medal representing Canada at the World Junior Championships, the World Championships, the World Cup of Hockey, and the Olympics (twice). He won three Stanley Cups and a Norris Trophy with New Jersey and earned a fourth with Anaheim. No player has done all that, especially at the international level. But Niedermayer wasn't just there. He didn't have some magic where All He Did Was Win. It wasn't just coincidence. No, he was a crucial player for nearly all of those teams he played for; he was a reason why they succeeded.
The Devils were fortunate to have him be available at third overall in the 1991 draft and he more than exceeded expectations. Niedermayer could do it all at both ends of the rink and in between. He would lead breakouts either carrying it or passing it out. He could run a power play and complement the even strength offense, picking up loads of points around the way. He could shut down defenders when it was needed. He could (and did) play a ton of minutes every night and perform as if he didn't miss a beat. And he did it all with one of the smoothest skating strides one would ever see. From the 1992-93 season all the way through his Norris-winning 2003-04 season, Devils fans were treated to see Niedermayer to do all the things he did.
It was a no-brainer that his #27 would be retired as part of a fantastic ceremony like the one he got in December 16, 2011. It was obvious there would be essays of praise for the defenseman, like this one I wrote on that day. At the dawn of the last decade, it became crystal clear to Devils fans all around the world that Niedermayer was an elite defenseman right along with Stevens. His continued dominance as an all-situations, big-minute, two-way defender throughout the 2000s, even including in his final season in 2009-10 (stats: 80 games played, 10 goals, 38 assists, 26:30 ATOI) guaranteed that he wasn't just a top-two guy in the NHL. He was one of the best defensemen ever. Of course he's in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
As one final note, Shanahan and Niedermayer are the also the first players that were drafted and developed by the Devils to make it to the Hall of Fame. New Jersey did draft Fetisov, but seeing as he was originally drafted by Montreal in 1978, then by New Jersey in 1983 on re-entry, and then came over from the USSR in 1989, the Devils basically got a veteran player. The Devils were present right from the start as Shanahan played immediately after being drafted and Niedermayer played one more season in juniors. They helped each through the growing pains that come with a rookie and gave them opportunities to grow. And grow, they certainly did! I think they knew how good each player was then; but who was to foresee the future. One would become one of the best big, punishing forwards and the other would become one of the best two-way defensemen of their generation.
There's no team designation in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Players don't decide whether they go in as a Devil, a Blue, a Red Wing, a Whaler, or a Duck. Getting inducted is out of respect of their whole career, whether it was for one team or five. Shanahan and Niedermayer are not just our legends, but legends to those other franchises they played for and those who just enjoyed watching them play regardless of team. We have all been blessed to witness what they did on the ice. And as Devils fans, we know this won't be the last induction involving a member of the New Jersey Devils organization. Whether it's a player (you know who) or a builder (Pat Burns got passed over again, I'm just saying), there is more to come and that in of itself is something to smile about.
Congratulations to Brendan Shanahan and Scott Niedermayer for getting elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.