Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Scott Stevens
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One on One with Scott Stevens

8 MAY 2009
'The biggest hits of the 1980's and '90's!'

Scott Stevens played his junior hockey with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. (HHOF)
You might expect that sentence to describe a radio station in your hometown, but this title could just as easily identify the competitive game played by Scott Stevens through his 22-season NHL career.

Ronald Scott Stevens was born April 1, 1964 in Kitchener, Ontario, the second of three rough and tumble boys born to the family. "Geoff, Mike and I wrecked Mom's furniture," Scott smirked. "It was crazy. There was actually one room that she refused to decorate until we were out of the house."

Their father, a fine football player, gave more than his physical appearance to the three boys. He also infused an innate competitive spirit in his boys. "I think that's how I got so competitive," Scott stated. "When you have two brothers, you learn to fend for yourself pretty quickly." All three Stevens' boys enjoyed hockey careers: oldest brother Geoff is a scout with the New Jersey Devils and youngest brother Mike played 23 NHL games split between Vancouver, Boston, the Islanders and the Maple Leafs before embarking on a long career in Europe. You know what became of the middle child.

Growing up, Scott was a fan of the Maple Leafs, and loved to watch the play of Hall of Fame defenceman Borje Salming. "Borje was my favourite player," recalled Stevens. "I remember listening to my Dad talk about how Borje Salming was more than just a one-dimensional player for the Maple Leafs; how he hit, handled the puck and was a real all-around leader."

Scott Stevens looks on from the Devils bench.
(David E. Klutho/HHOF)
Scott earned a spot with the Kitchener Ranger B's in 1980-81, and impressed enough that he was summoned to join the Major Junior Rangers during that season. In the 1981 Ontario Hockey League Draft, Stevens was selected ninth overall by those same Kitchener Rangers.

The big, strong blueliner played but one season with the junior squad, but that 1981-82 edition of the Kitchener Rangers was loaded with talent, including fellow Hall of Fame alumnus Al MacInnis, forwards Brian Bellows and Jeff Larmer and goalie Wendell Young. Stevens was the backbone of the blueline, earning 42 points and collecting 158 penalty minutes. The Rangers went on to capture the Memorial Cup.

In the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, Scott Stevens was chosen fifth overall by the Washington Capitals. Although just 18 years of age, he joined the NHL club that fall, having never played a game in the minors. Stevens made an immediate impact on the Capitals, scoring on his very first shot in his first NHL game. The young man scored 9 goals and earned 25 points, collecting 195 minutes in penalties. That strong debut earned Scott a berth on the NHL's All-Rookie Team and a third-place finish in voting for the Calder Trophy.

The Capitals earned their first playoff appearance during that 1982-83 season, following eight seasons of futility. Washington quickly turned a corner. In 1983-84, defence colleague Rod Langway was awarded the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenceman, Doug Jarvis was recipient of the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward and the Jennings Trophy for best team goals-against average went to Washington's Al Jensen and Pat Riggin.In addition, Bryan Murray won the Jack Adams Award for ther league's best coach. "We had a great bunch of guys and we worked hard," remembered Stevens. "We were great defensively. We might have been, at times, a little challenged scoring and we might have been a bit challenged in the goal at times but there are no regrets."

After beginning his NHL career in Washington, Stevens signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues in the summer of 1990.
(David E. Klutho/HHOF)
Early in his career, Scott was more of an offensive defenceman. He scored 21 goals in 1984-85 and a career-best 72 points in 1987-88. His temper also earned him a great deal of time in the penalty box. On four occasions with the Capitals, his penalty minutes exceeded the 200-minute mark. Through eight seasons in Washington, Stevens finished with 98 goals and 429 points in 601 games, earning trips to the All-Star Game in 1985 and 1989 as well as selection to the NHL's First All-Star Team in 1988.

On July 16, 1990, the St. Louis Blues offered Stevens a four-year deal worth more than $5 million. Because Scott was a restricted free agent, Washington had the option to match the offer sheet but declined. Instead, they received five first-round draft picks as compensation. At that time, Stevens became the highest-paid defenceman in the league. Other players of comparable talent demanded similar contracts, and this salary escalation was one of the key factors in the lockout experienced by the NHL in 1994-95.

Stevens' arrival in St. Louis was greeted with the captain's 'C'. It was a solid season, and Scott again played in the NHL All-Star Game. But it would be his sole season in Missouri. The Blues signed Brendan Shanahan, a restricted free agent from the New Jersey Devils. Deserving of compensation, the Devils asked for Scott Stevens, but were offered goaltender Curtis Joseph, forward Rod Brind'Amour and two draft picks instead. The case went to arbitration, and a judge ruled that Scott Stevens was to be awarded to New Jersey after all. That fall, Stevens was part of a Team Canada squad that won the Canada Cup.

Scott initially refused to report to New Jersey's training camp. He had intended to settle in St. Louis and was not pleased that his rights had been shuffled to New Jersey, but eventually reported to the Devils and quicklly grew to love playing for New Jersey. In his first season in red and black, Stevens was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team. In fact, he would miss but one All-Star Game through the remainder of his career with the Devils.

Following the 1991-92 season, Scott was named captain of the Devils, an honour he held until his retirement. In 1993-94, he led the Devils in scoring, posting 18 goals and 60 assists for 78 points. That season, he also was the NHL's best plus-minus player, finishing the campaign with a +53 rating. The season concluded with a trip to the Conference Final against the New York Rangers, but the Devils were thwarted by a Rangers' goal in double-overtime of Game 7. Stevens was selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team but was four votes behind Ray Bourque for the Norris Trophy that season. "For the most part, (the Norris Trophy) seems to go with the guy who has got a lot of points," shrugged Scott. "I've been asked to play a certain role here, which doesn't help in that area, but I feel that gives the team a chance to win every night. That's the satisfaction I get."

That summer, the Blues attempted to re-sign the free agent. Stevens signed an offer sheet for $17 million over four years, but the Devils matched the offer and Scott would remain in New Jersey for the rest of his career.

The 1994-95 season, abbreviated because of a lock-out, was particularly satisfying to Stevens and the Devils. After eliminating Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the Devils swept the Detroit Red Wings in the Final to collect the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship.

With much of the same line-up, New Jersey was expected to defend their title in 1995-96, but instead, missed the playoffs altogether. The captain voiced his displeasure. "After winning the Cup, you expect to definitely be in the playoffs the next year. Maybe it was just a wake-up call to get back on track."

The team returned to form in 1996-97 and finished the regular season in first place in the Atlantic Division, but were eliminated in the playoffs by the New York Rangers. Scott was voted on to the NHL's Second All-Star Team and concluded the year by winning the Canada Cup playing on Team Canada.

Scott Stevens began his NHL career with the Washington Capitals in 1982.
(Paul Bereswill/HHOF)
Stevens signed a contract extension with the Devils in 1997-98, stating that he had decided to finish his career in New Jersey. The Devils finished first in the Eastern Conference but were bounced from further playoff activity by the Ottawa Senators in the first round. Prior to the next season, Scott was part of Team Canada at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games -- the first time professional players were allowed to compete in the Olympics. That regular season, the Devils concentrated more on defensive hockey, led by a trio of defencemen that accumulated plus/minuses of +29 (Stevens), +27 (Ken Daneyko) and +26 (Scott Niedermayer). Nonetheless, the Pittsburgh Penguins spoiled the Devils' year bydefeating them in the first round of the playoffs.

The 1999-2000 edition of the Devils saw the club finish fourth in the conference, but develop momentum in the playoffs. They dumped the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, and then faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Final. After facing elimination, New Jersey battled back to tie the series and move into a Game 7 scenario in Pennsylvania. During the first period came the infamous hit on Eric Lindros. The Flyers' centre skated through the neutral zone with his head down, and Stevens lined him up, levelling Lindros with an enormous bodycheck that left Lindros prone on the ice, later diagnosed as a concussion. During the intermission, Scott was inconsolable, but coach Larry Robinson assured him that it was a clean hit and that Stevens had only done his job. The fact is that the hit spelled the end of Lindros's stardom. It was but his second game back after returning from another concussion suffered earlier and the big centre was but a shadow of his dominant self afterwards. That game ended with the Devils advancing to the Stanley Cup Final after earning a 2-1 victory. New Jersey went on to win the Final in six games, winning the Stanley Cup on a Jason Arnott goal in double-overtime. Stevens was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for his dominance through the postseason in leading the Devils to their second Stanley Cup.

New Jersey again expected to repeat as the Stanley Cup champions in 2000-01, and proved their merity by finishing first in the conference. After beating the Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins, the Devils faced the Colorado Avalanche for the Stanley Cup. At the end of Game 5, the Devils were up three games to two, but Colorado rebounded and won the final two games to steal the Cup from under the nose of Stevens and the Devils. If it was any consolation, Stevens was a Second Team All-Star that year.

Stevens played his 1,500th regular season NHL game during 2001-02, but that was about all of the good news he'd celebrate. New Jersey was eliminated by Carolina in the first round of the playoffs, and left to dream of another chance.

Following only one season as a member of the St. Louis Blues, Scott Stevens joined the New Jersey Devils where he would continue to establish himself as one of the most punishing players in the NHL. (Dave Sandford/HHOF)
After finishing first in the division in 2002-03, Stevens and the Devils systematically defeated the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Ottawa Senators to earn yet another shot at Stanley Cup glory. Facing the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, New Jersey was stretched to the limit, going a full seven games, then shutting out the Ducks 3-0 to capture a third Stanley Cup championship in nine years.

During November of the 2003-04 season, Scott surpassed Larry Murphy as the NHL's all-time leader in games played by a defenceman when he appeared in his 1,616th game. But while recuperating from the flu two months later, Stevens was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, which eventually forced the star defenceman into retirement. In spite of missing the last half of the season, Scott still was a force to be reckoned with and was elected to play in the NHL All-Star Game. In the playoffs, the Devils fell to Philadelphia in the first round.

Scott had every intention to return for his 23rd NHL season in 2004-05, but the owners' lock-out canceled the entire season, and on September 6, 2005, Stevens announced his retirement. "When I first came in (to the NHL), I thought playing ten years would be an unbelievable career," Scott said. "Life's too short. I feel that it's time to do some other things I've wanted to do."

Scott Stevens retired having played 1,635 regular season NHL games in which he scored 196 goals and 712 assists for 908 points. He added 2,785 minutes in penalties. In playoff action, he played 233 games, scoring 26 times and assisting on 92 others for 118 points, while collecting 378 penalty minutes. He played in thirteen NHL All-Star Games, captained the Devils to three Stanley Cup championships and was a recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy. His legacy preserved, Scott had his number 4 retired by the New Jersey Devils on February 3, 2006. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.

During his career, the hits just kept on coming. "I'm a firm believer that a big hit could change momentum in a game, just like a big goal could. I'm proud of (my reputation)," he said. "I loved to play physical." Commenting on his biggest bodychecks, Scott was asked to name the biggest hit of his career. "I had a few of them," he shrugged. "It was my thing. Actually, a number of years back in a game against Pittsburgh, I stepped into a guy named Gary Rissling," Stevens recalled. "I thought I might have killed him. I really did!"

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.