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100 Greatest Players

Scott Stevens: 100 Greatest NHL Players

Hard-hitting defenseman captained Devils to three Stanley Cup titles

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Although Scott Stevens always took pride in the physical part of his game, the Hockey Hall of Famer has never been comfortable with his devastating hit on Philadelphia Flyers center Eric Lindros in Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Final being one of defining moments of his 22-season NHL career.

Lindros was knocked out of the game and sat out the entire 2000-01 season after sustaining a concussion on the hit, which was legal.


Video: Scott Stevens was a feared, big-hitting defensman


It did exemplify the defenseman's value in helping the New Jersey Devils win the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003. 

"His hits and his physicality gave our team as much of a lift as if somebody scored a goal," said Larry Robinson, coach of the Devils' 2000 Stanley Cup championship team. "I still get chills thinking about it." 

With the Devils leading 1-0 in the first period, Lindros carried the puck over the New Jersey blue line with his head down, and Stevens came across and connected with a left shoulder to Lindros' jaw, causing him to crumple to the ice.


Games: 1,635 | Goals: 196 | Assists: 712 | Points: 908


"I remember [Devils center] Bobby Holik turning around to me and he said, 'We're going to win this,'" Robinson said. "That's how much confidence he gave us and that's the impact that Scotty had on our club."

The Devils went on to win the game 2-1 to complete a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. They defeated the Dallas Stars in six games in the Stanley Cup Final to earn their second championship.

Stevens won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP after setting a physical tone throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Pavel Bure of the Florida Panthers, Tomas Kaberle and Kevyn Adams of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Daymond Langkow of the Flyers were also on the receiving end of massive hits from Stevens during that postseason.

But the hit on Lindros is remembered most.

"I don't think it's how I want to be remembered as a player, but that's kind of what people remember to a certain extent," Stevens said. "That was part of my game. I was proud to play in that era. Hockey is still probably the best sport but I think to play in the era when we played it was pretty demanding and that's something I'm proud of."

Hitting was a part of Stevens' game since he was an 18-year-old rookie with the Washington Capitals in 1982-83. Brian Engblom, his defense partner that season, said Stevens was "a man-child" who "had a tremendous instinct right from the very first day."

"Somebody would be coming down on me 1-on-1 and all the sudden this force of nature would come from the left and, 'Boom!' There'd be this giant collision," Engblom said. "He almost took me out a couple times. I'd go, 'What the [heck] was that?' It was Scott laying people out all over the place."

Years later, when Engblom was an analyst for ESPN, he asked Stevens about his technique for delivering those big hits. Stevens explained how he saw a "funnel" when the puck carrier was skating in against his defense partner and he would simply cut across and try to meet that player at the end of the funnel.

Playing against Stevens when the defenseman was with the Capitals and St. Louis Blues, or with him on the Devils, forward John MacLean saw he was a player who was "definitely feared."

"When you were playing Scotty, you had to always keep your head up," MacLean said. "You had to be aware all the time when he was on the ice."

Detroit Red Wings forward Vyacheslav Kozlov learned that the hard way when Stevens flattened him with an open-ice hit in Game 2 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final at Joe Louis Arena. If that didn't get his message across, Stevens then pointed at the Red Wings bench to Dino Ciccarelli and told him, "You're next!"

"You try to wear people down and you try to get in their heads," Stevens said. "It is very difficult win a seven-game series, so being physical, just like scoring a big goal, can actually change the momentum more than a fight in the old days. There's a lot of things than can change the momentum of the game and I believe hitting is one way you can do that."

Stevens, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, wasn't just a big hitter. He also was skilled offensively and topped 50 points eight times in his first 12 NHL seasons. That included a career-best 78 points (18 goals, 60 assists) with the Devils in 1993-94, when he finished second in voting for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the League's top defenseman, behind Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins.

In 1,635 games, Stevens had 196 goals and 712 assists for 908 points.

Stevens, from Kitchener, Ontario, played eight seasons in Washington and one with the St. Louis Blues before he was awarded to the Devils as compensation for the Blues' signing Brendan Shanahan as a restricted free agent in 1991. The turning point in Stevens' career came after Jacques Lemaire took over as the Devils coach and brought Robinson with him as an assistant in 1993.

Lemaire, a center, and Robinson, a defenseman -- members of the Montreal Canadiens dynasty of the 1970s -- each made the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player.

"That was my [12th] year but I've said before that I learned more that first year with them when they came in," Stevens said. "I think the whole team learned a lot but myself individually with Larry and Jacques coming from that Montreal way I learned a lot with just a lot of positioning with the stick. It was just little simple things, but they all added up and when you add those little things up they become big things that make the game much easier."

Lemaire and Robinson had more success than Stevens' previous coaches in getting him to control his temper. From the start of his career, he'd had a difficult time backing down from a confrontation, with opponents knowing they could goad him.

Stevens spent a lot of time in the penalty box; he ranks 14th in NHL history with 2,785 penalty minutes.

Engblom remembered then-Capitals coach Bryan Murray telling Stevens before his first playoff series, against the New York Islanders in 1983: "Watch what you're doing. Behave yourself. We need you on the ice."

"The one thing that held him back was his temper," Robinson said. "The main thing I tried to get across to him was you're just too valuable to our team to lose it and end up in the penalty box."

As Stevens himself said, "I had a bit of a short fuse when I was younger, which was a problem."

"Sometimes your strengths are your weaknesses," Stevens said. "I had to learn how to control that, but over time I guess I learned how to play on the edge. It just takes time."

Lemaire and Robinson also convinced Stevens that he could help the Devils more by focusing on being a shutdown defenseman who played against the opposition's best forwards. Although that meant cutting back on offense, Stevens committed to it fully.

"The most important thing was he accepted that," former Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "He put winning in front of statistics. He put winning in front of points. He was making these type of sacrifices to make sure that we as an organization were holding everybody accountable to what their assets were to have success."

Stevens downplayed that, saying, "Everybody made sacrifices to win on that team."

But when the captain is doing it, it sets the example for the rest of the team.

"There's no question what Scott brought to the Devils organization," Lamoriello said. "The history and the results speak for themselves. He became the leader on the ice and the leader off the ice. He led by example on the ice with the way he played day in and day out. He never cheated a shift, never cheated his teammates."

Although he was the Devils captain, Stevens was a man of few words. He did most of his talking through the way he competed in games and practices.

MacLean said Stevens was "a very quiet, very reserved guy" off the ice.

"But he'd put the skates on and he was battle-ready whether it was practice or a game," MacLean said. "That, to me, was his leadership, how he competed in games, in practices. He knew you can get better practicing against better players. And he was the guy. He set the tone. We knew we had to battle when we were in there with him. There was no letup. Whether that was a 30-minute, 40-minute or an hour practice, that's what you were going to get."

If a teammate didn't practice as hard as Stevens, the captain was sure to let him know his effort wasn't good enough.

"Well, I think I got their attention," Stevens said. "You can make each other accountable. I really believed that practice was a big part of winning hockey games and we practiced hard. We had our scuffles. We had other guys who practiced hard.

"That's a big part of having success."


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