A story came out last night that the New Jersey Devils will honor Scott Niedermayer by retiring the former defenseman’s jersey number 27 high in the rafters at the Prudential Center.
This should come as no surprise to anyone, as Niedermayer was a part of all three Devils’ championships in the last two decades (1995, 2000, ’03), served as team captain in 2004, and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in that same year that he wore the “C.” What was a little surprising to me was that Scotty will be only the third player to have his number retired by the Devils, but then again, this is a team that has only been in New Jersey since 1982. On top of that, some of the Devils’ heroes and Cup winners are still playing, although it could be argued that only goaltender Martin Brodeur’s jersey number 30 has a reservation up on the ceiling. The other players to have their numbers retired by the Devils are both defensemen from the same era — Ken Daneyko and Scott Stevens (jersey numbers 3 and 4, for those who care).
I’m not sure that any Devils forwards will get the honor, although Jason Arnott’s overtime goal to win the Stanley Cup in 2000 was kind of a big deal. In addition, Patrik Elias is entering his 14th season as a regular in the lineup, served as captain in 2006-07, and is the franchise all-time leader in regular season and playoff assists and points, playoff goals, game winning goals, and many other notable statistics. To add to his resume, the team captaincy is currently vacant following the departure of Jamie Langenbrunner, and Elias just may be the logical bet to fill the spot once again, since Zach Parise’s future with the team is in doubt, and to name Ilya Kovalchuk as team captain would almost certainly be kissing Parise goodbye. [Read Tram’s Table on American NHL team captains, which includes a bit on Parise’s prospects of joining the bunch.]
An interesting note on the retirement of Niedermayer’s jersey is that the team is waiting until December 16 to do it. New Jersey will host the Dallas Stars on that night, which ties in with those 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, when Arnott’s Game 6 overtime goal reversed the fortunes of the Stars, who scored their own controversial Game 6 (triple) overtime Cup clincher of their own just one year prior. But that matchup isn’t the only thing linking the two franchises.
As I alluded to in my early prognostication of the central division, specifically Langenbrunner and Arnott being current members of the St. Louis Blues, there was a trade between Dallas and New Jersey in 2002 that many in the lone star state consider to have derailed the franchise. The sentiment only grew stronger when New Jersey won the Stanley Cup in 2003.
At that time, still in the aftermath of the 2000 Cup Finals defeat at the hands of the Devils, Stars GM Doug Armstrong orchestrated a trade to bring Arnott to Dallas, along with Randy McKay and a first-round draft pick. In exchange, Dallas sent Jamie Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk to New Jersey. Both players were important parts of the Devils’ most recent Cup win. Langenbrunner captained the Devils from 2007 – 2011. Nieuwendyk is currently the general manager of the Stars. Interestingly, Armstrong is now the GM of the Blues, who will roll out Langenbrunner and Arnott for the first time as members of the Blues in just over a week’s time.
So while it makes sense to honor Niedermayer on a night when the visitors are a team that played a key role in the storyline of the hosts, I have to wonder if there isn’t a little bit of rubbing it in going on here. Why wait three-and-a-half months into the season to have this ceremony on the one night this year that the Devils host the Stars? It could be that this is the date that best fits Niedermayer’s schedule. It could also be that the teams of the NHL want to bring history full circle as a way to remind old fans and educate new ones. It could also be that Nieuwendyk rather likes the idea of remembering his ’03 Cup hoisting against the franchise that he poured his heart and soul into — the very one that betrayed him with that ’02 trade, and the one that he is now in charge of. Or, it could be none of these things.
The logical choice as visitors to honor Niedermayer would have been the Anaheim Ducks, who play in New Jersey on February 17. Any other team in the league would have been an arbitrary choice, and one that would put the sole focus on the legendarily smooth-skating defenseman. But to choose the one night in the season when the Dallas Stars are in town reeks of sly salt-pouring, or perhaps an ode to warriors past. But whatever this decision was, it almost certainly was not arbitrary.