A work in progress
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Captain Scott Stevens once again led in all the ways a leader should. His open-ice hit on Anaheim's Paul Kariya in Game 6 helped set the tone for a dominating 3-0 victory in Game 7. It was just the latest in an anthology of thunderous, momentum-changing body shots doled out by the player many consider to be the best leader in the game today. At 39, Stevens likely has at least two more years to contribute, especially if his team is in the hunt for more rings to add to his fingers.
Center John Madden, already a veteran of two Cups, has become the checking center that has driven all of New Jersey's success since 1994's run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Patrik Elias, just 27, is among the most skilled forwards in the game today.
In fact, New Jersey's depth goes so far that a career minor leaguer, center Mike Rupp, scored the series-winning goal in Game 7 in just his fourth postseason game. In that memorable Game 7, Rupp had three points, yet, he may well not make the team out of training camp next year.
Veteran defenseman Ken Daneyko has seen it all since joining the parent club during the 1983-84 season. What most impresses him about the team, he says, is the way that General Manager Lou Lamoriello continues to reload -- and reshape -- his team to be among the sport's best teams on an annual basis.
Extremely proud of what both he and his team have accomplished in the last 10 years, Daneyko grins his lopsided grin each time outsiders try to shortchange what this franchise has accomplished in the last decade.
He knows despite all the banners that hang in the rafters of Continental Airlines Arena, many hockey people are hesitant to give this team its deserved due. He knows that might have been different if the Devils could have vanquished the cross-river Rangers in that unforgettable seven-game showdown in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Holding onto a three-games-to-two lead in the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals might've helped, too. Instead, New Jersey dropped the final two games to finish runners-up to the Colorado Avalanche.
"Well, three Cups in nine years is something special," says Daneyko, who has hinted repeatedly that Game 7 of the Finals will be his swan song. "Especially these guys next to me (Stevens and Brodeur), we have built a solid foundation for next year. For us, we didn't care about the 'Rodney Dangerfield' mentality.
"This year was probably the most difficult year of all. It was a year going into the season, I didn't really know what to expect. We were a different kind of team, and like Marty said, we lost (Bobby) Holik, but then with the additions of Madden and (Grant) Marshall, it was great. This is as great of a feeling as you're ever going to get."
Come next year, the faces might be different. Joe Nieuwendyk, who missed the Finals with an injury may be gone. Daneyko may retire, joined on the sidelines by fellow defenseman Tommy Albelin. Newer faces, like Rupp and Jiri Bicek, may take places in the lineup.
Yet, the tradition of winning will remain for the franchise. The desire to add to an already convincing legacy will spur this team to chase even greater glories.
Until then -- until that desire for championships is extinguished in the franchise -- Brodeur stands correct in his assessment that it is too early to label his team a dynasty.
But, that time will come, as it should.
The Devils, with their play, will determine exactly when it happens.