x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

How the devil do New Jersey do it?

How do they contend for the Stanley Cup year after year after year, seemingly regardless of who is coaching the team - or even who is playing for the team?

It's a perennial question in the NHL: how on earth do the Devils do it? How do they contend for the Stanley Cup year after year after year, seemingly regardless of who is coaching the team - or even who is playing for the team? New Jersey's defence used to feature headliners such as Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko; now, it is headed by the likes of Mike Mottau, Johnny Oduya and Andy Greene.

If you have never heard of these guys, you are not alone. But the Devils won a franchise-best 51 games last year with them on the blue line - and they won them despite the fact that their all-world goaltender, Martin Brodeur, was injured for most of the season. How do they do it? How do the Devils win, win and win again? New Jersey have won at least 41 games per season since the 1996/67 campaign, including at least 45 victories in 10 of the past 12 years.

Here are three key reasons: Management: the Devils' general manager, Lou Lamoriello, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last week as a team builder, has conducted multiple roster overhauls over the years. Somehow, Lamoriello simultaneously has been able to command loyalty within the player ranks while relentlessly turning over his line up. Players who are not able to get in line with the Devils' system do not remain in that system for long.

The end result? There have been some hurt feelings by players who failed to fit in and were ultimately shipped out. But the ones who stick around, the players who like being Devils, really do like being Devils. And a happy employee is a productive employee. Goaltending: granted, Brodeur sat out most of last season with a torn biceps muscle. But his back up, Scott Clemmensen, was able to step in - and step up, giving New Jersey the kind of stable, solid netminding they needed.

Of course, Brodeur has been the long-term trump card for the franchise, and is the single biggest reason for New Jersey's success. Before his arrival in 1993/94, the Devils never amassed more than 87 points in a season. Since then, they have been under that total only once, with 86 points in 1995/96 (not counting the lockout-shortened 48-game season of 1994/95, in which the Devils won their first Stanley Cup).

When you have the goalie with the most wins in NHL history, it gives your team the freedom to play a certain way with confidence; the skaters can press a bit more on the offensive side, secure in the knowledge they have Brodeur back there to bail them out. The system: not so long ago, the Devils were all about defence and the dreaded neutral-zone trap. In fact, New Jersey's Stanley Cup win in 1995 pretty much ushered in the "Dead Puck Era" as the rest of the NHL tried to mimic the Devils' defence-first approach.

However, no one could do it better than the original masters, and New Jersey added two more cups, in 2000 and 2003. But when the league came back after the 2004/05 lockout with an obstruction crackdown mandate, the neutral-zone trap - as we knew it - was effectively killed. But Devils never die, and New Jersey responded to the league's more wide-open style by introducing a free-flowing, offence-friendly approach.

The names on the back of the Devils' uniforms might not be particularly familiar to the average hockey fan, but the players in those uniforms have kept the Devils' winning tradition alive. That's just how they do it in New Jersey. @Email:smccaig@thenational.ae