The faded inspirational placard at the Devils' training site
reads, THE NAME ON THE FRONT OF THE SWEATER IS MORE IMPORTANT
THAN THE NAME ON THE BACK. But for New Jersey the names on the
back are likely to require restitching after this season. The
core of the Devils' roster, including goaltender Martin Brodeur,
defenseman and captain Scott Stevens, center Doug Gilmour and
underrated wing John MacLean, will be free agents next summer.
As a result, a sense of urgency has settled over one of the
NHL's top teams.
"We all know the situation with contracts and free agency, and
so people might be saying it's now or never," says coach Jacques
Lemaire. "But it may work to our advantage, since players in the
last year of their contracts know they need to do well."
For now, the Devils, with canyonlike depth, are focused on
regaining the Stanley Cup they won in 1995 and exorcising the
demons of last season's playoffs. New Jersey, a veteran team
that finished first in the Eastern Conference with 104 points in
1996-97, was bedeviled by a startling absence of firepower and
discipline in the conference semifinals, when its season was
ended by the Rangers. "It was disappointing," says Gilmour. "I
know when we get another crack, we're going to handle the
After a summer to stew, the Devils have returned virtually
intact. Defensemen Shawn Chambers and Dave Ellett are the only
significant deletions from last year's cast, and several
understudies, including versatile Kevin Dean, are prepared to
step in. Moreover, New Jersey has an ideal mix of veteran
leadership and talented prospects--left wing Patrik Elias;
former Michigan star Brendan Morrison, a center; and rugged
defenseman Sheldon Souray, for example--as well as a solid
The Devils' biggest strength is between the pipes, where Brodeur
is faced with the challenge of trying to improve on last
season's 1.88 goals-against average. Offense, however, remains a
huge concern. In 1996-97 New Jersey didn't have a 30-goal
scorer, one reason its power play was among the league's most
anemic. "We have to capitalize and thrive on aggressive
forechecking to create more chances," says Gilmour. "We have
guys capable of scoring a lot of goals."
In fact, in the Devils' first intrasquad scrimmage, Brodeur
failed to stop seven shots, yet he left the ice in high spirits.
"If the guys can put the puck in the net like that during the
season," he said jokingly, "we ought to win the Cup for sure."
--L. JON WERTHEIM
1. Chris Chelios, Blackhawks
2. Scott Stevens, Devils
3. Mark Tinordi, Capitals
1. Jaromir Jagr, Penguins
2. Peter Forsberg, Avalanche
3. Paul Kariya, Mighty Ducks