Devils coach Robbie Ftorek had just finished guiding his
talented club through a spirited scrimmage one morning last
month. He sat in a warm room off the rink, still wearing his
skates, peering out from behind professorial spectacles. He was
in no mood to talk about playoffs, past or future. He certainly
didn't want to recall April, when top-seeded New Jersey was
knocked out of the first round by the opportunistic
Penguins--after which a somber Ftorek described his coaching
performance as awful. Nor was he eager to look toward next
spring's postseason. "We have to get ready for opening night,"
he said, "not the playoffs we aren't in yet."
Rest assured, the Devils will be ready for opening night and for
the remainder of the regular season. Barring divine
intervention, they won't fall far from their customary perch
atop the Eastern Conference; New Jersey's record of 140-70-36
the past three seasons is the conference's best. Over that time,
though, the team has gone 10-13 in the playoffs. Whether Ftorek,
who is beginning his second year behind the Devils' bench, likes
it or not, the spring season is how this team has been--and will
The same holds true for goalie Martin Brodeur, who made his
reputation by leading New Jersey to within a game of the Stanley
Cup finals in 1994 and to possession of the Cup a year later.
Brodeur, 27, remains a top goalkeeper, and he has shone in the
regular season. He has not, however, regained his heroic '95
postseason form, and he explained his awful .856 save percentage
in seven playoff games last season by saying, "Well, you can't
win every year."
The Devils can win this year. Among the returnees are a very
good cast of forwards, including bruising center Bobby Holik,
rough-and-ready right wing Randy McKay and swift left wings Petr
Sykora (a team-high 29 goals and 72 points last year) and Brian
Rolston. The New Jersey defense, long among the NHL's best, is
anchored by 35-year-olds Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko, both of
whom are extremely fit, and 26-year-old Norris Trophy candidate
This depth explains why the Continental Airlines Arena remains a
hellish place for opponents to visit in fall and winter, if not
spring. The Devils vow to escape their own hell--the one in
which they keep reliving their postseason loss to the Penguins.
"We don't talk about last year, because it's behind us," says
defenseman Sheldon Souray. "But we were all in the room after
the last game against Pittsburgh, and we were all looking around
at each other. When you lose like that in the playoffs, it
doesn't just go away."
Since World War II no goaltender with 200 or more wins has a
better career goals-against average than Martin Brodeur's 2.19.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 4 Balanced scoring; youngsters ready to
DEFENSE 1 Deep unit; return of coach Robinson makes
GOALTENDING 3 Brodeur won't see as many odd-man rushes
SPECIAL TEAMS 2 As power play quarterback, Niedermayer is
COACHING 4 Ftorek is not afraid to try new things