Adding Scott Stevens as an assistant coach is a great move by the New Jersey Devils, but not for the reasons you might expect.
For those who think Stevens will now try to turn Adam Larsson, Mark Fayne, Andy Greene and other New Jersey defensemen into thundering open-ice hitter has completely missed the point of what Stevens was as a player and what he can bring as a coach.
True, Stevens was one of the greatest open-ice hitters in hockey history, but he was not inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007 on that element of his game alone. Stevens was one of the game's great complete packages, a player who had the skills to play any style you wanted and a player who changed his game over time to not only become a smart and mature player, but one who accented the skills needed to make his team better.
Remember, at times during his career, Stevens was a potent offensive player. remember, he scored 21 goals during his third NHL season and three times had 60 or more assists in a season. So, Stevens has the offensive skills to cement his place as one of the top all-around defensemen in the game. But like Steve Yzerman in Detroit, who heeded the words of Scotty Bowman to become a better defensive player, Stevens also heeded the words of Jacques Lemaire, who wanted the big defenseman to concentrate on preventing goals, rather than scoring them.
When Stevens made that sacrifice to do the dirty work on defense, the equation changed. His game became all the more impressive. His leadership skills all the more significant and as a result, the Devils have three Stanley Cups in the trophy case, three teams captained by Stevens to win it all.
So, Stevens will teach the team's defensemen a lot more than how to line up a forward at the blue line. He will be a continuation of what Larry Robinson brought to the team's defensemen over the years. The chain will not be broken.
“This is a good start and we’ll see how this goes," Stevens told reporters. "Right now, my focus is just being an assistant coach and working with the defensemen and trying to do what Larry did. Larry was great at that job and I have a lot of respect for Larry and I look forward to trying to fill his shoes and do as good a job as he did.”
Since retiring after the 2004-05 lockout, Steven has been a special assignment coach, one who worked with the organization's young defensemen and also at the NHL level on a part-time basis while his children were finishing school. The part-time status allowed Stevens to not only get a feel for what's coming on the New Jersey blue line, but also for how he would fit in as a full-time coach.
“We have a lot of good, young defensemen and a lot of size, which I like,” Stevens told reporters after being introduced Tuesday. “I definitely like size on defense. They take up a lot of space and make things difficult on the other team’s forwards. So, I like that and just the talent level. I think this is the deepest we’ve been on defense for young, upcoming defensemen in a long time. I don’t think we’ve ever had this kind of depth before. It’s very exciting. You can never have enough defensemen. It’s a position that takes some time to develop.
“We’re looking to try to get some of these guys to the NHL as quickly as possible to help our team.”
“He’s really acquired the experience over the last several years," General Manager Lou Lamoriello said. "I’ve been extremely impressed with his evaluation ratings and what he offers. You never know sometimes. Great players don’t always make great coaches, but Scotty is a student of the game and always has been. I don’t think we have to question his knowledge of defense.”
Ah, no. Definitely no need to do that. As in the past when the Devils boasted the likes of Robinson and Slava Fetisov as coaches and players like Stevens, Bruce Driver and Ken Daneyko on defense, young defensemen had unpredcented resources with which to learn from. With family commitments met, Stevens now turns to what should be the next chapter of his Hall of Fame career.
“I’ve been thinking about it all year of possibly getting more involved and maybe trying to get behind the bench and get down closer to the action and being an assistant coach,” Stevens said. “With Larry leaving, it was unfortunate. He’s a great assistant coach and has done a great job, but I think it’s best for him and his family what he’s doing, so it kind of opened the door for myself and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“I’ve kept my foot in the door, but I’ve been away for a while now and just the way things have transpired with the coaching staff there was an opportunity and it just feels right now,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed what I’ve been doing, but I feel like I’m ready to jump in full-time. It’s tough when you’re not around full-time. I think it’s more fun being there on a full-term basis and really being involved and I’m excited to get behind the bench and really be part of the game and part of the process of helping the defensemen and working with them.
“I’ve had some time,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been very busy and I find I have a little more time on my hands and have been kind of itching to get back into the game and I’m looking forward to being around the defensemen and the team full time and having some input. This is what I guess I’ve always seen myself (doing) when I was getting close to retiring at the end of my career. I always saw myself as a teacher and at some point an assistant coach and I guess things just seem right right now. The kids are getting older and I have more time and the timing is right and I’m looking forward to it.”
Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.