The best team wins the Stanley Cup. But every spring when the top two clubs meet to claim victories 13 through to 16 of the postseason, there are plenty of individual stories worth noting. Here are a dozen intriguing individuals to get to know as the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils prepare to meet in the championship series opener in Newark on Wednesday.
The Devils goaltender won his first Stanley Cup at age 23, his second at 28, his third at 31 and now will take a shot at his fourth at age 40. There is no denying Martin Brodeur's place in history, but a fourth Stanley Cup championship would tie him with Patrick Roy.
Until Brodeur's run this spring, the Devils goalie had fallen on hard times. Since the 2004-05 NHL lockout, he lost in Canada's bid at gold at the 2005 world championship. He advanced past the first round only once. And he was replaced as Canada's starter in the 2010 Olympics by Roberto Luongo.
Brodeur has a shot at redemption, and you know he wants to go out on top.
There not many people in hockey today who can spin a story like Jack Ferreira, the 67-year-old special consultant to Kings general manager Dean Lombardi. This is Ferreira's 40th year in pro hockey. Back in 1972, the Hartford Whalers of the WHA hired the old Boston University goalie as a scout. He worked his way up to assistant coach and assistant GM.
Ferreira has a Stanley Cup ring from his days as director of pro scouting for the 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens. He has been general manager of the Minnesota North Stars, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. He also has worked for the Calgary Flames, where he was responsible in the mid-1980s for unearthing Joel Otto and Joe Nieuwendyk. But he didn't stick around long enough when the Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1988-89.
However, Ferreira is back in the final again, hoping to win another ring.
The transition from a head coach in junior to the NHL is not an easy one. In fact, name one coach who has enjoyed the sort of success that Devils bench boss Peter DeBoer has had just four years removed from his days with the Kitchener Rangers.
DeBoer won a Memorial Cup with the Rangers in 2003 and went back to the junior championship game in 2008. Now he finds himself in the Stanley Cup final four years later. The last coach we could find to have this sort of swift success from junior to pro was Terry Crisp. He led the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the 1984-85 OHL championship, but spent two seasons in the AHL with Moncton before taking over the Flames and winning the Stanley Cup in 1988-89.
Jeff Carter and Mike Richards
Shortly after Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were brought together in Los Angeles
Hockey Night in Canada analyst Glenn Healy responded to the reunion of the party boys with a brilliant line calling them "Dean Martin and the Brat Pack." But as much as Carter's production hasn't been eye-popping since his arrival in Los Angeles, the two have played a role in an impressive 25-7-3 run for the Kings since that trade.
Did the Philadelphia Flyers error in shipping out the two talented forwards last summer? It sure looks that way now with the Flyers on the sidelines and the Kings in the Stanley Cup final, two years after they helped the Flyers get there.
Lamoriello, who will turn 70 on Oct. 21, is in his 25th season running the Devils. The next longest serving general manager in the NHL is Ken Holland, who was appointed GM of the Detroit Red Wings on July 18, 1997. Holland has steered the Red Wings to Stanley Cups in 1998, 2002 and 2006, while Lamoriello is seeking his fourth after championships in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
Until this season's terrific run, it appeared Lamoriello's magic had disappeared with the advent of the salary cap. They had to shed salaries of players like Dan McGillis coming out of the lockout. In Sept. 2010, the Devils were punished for their attempt to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a front-loaded 17-year, $102-million contract earlier that summer. The deal eventually was voided and the Devils were fined $3-million, lost 2011 third-round draft pick and will lose a first-round pick of their choice as a result.
Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake
The big shots with the league's player safety department will be in a dicey situation with these two Stanley Cup combatants. Shanahan was drafted by the Devils and played five seasons in New Jersey. Blake was drafted by the Kings and played 13 years in a Los Angeles sweater.
Last year, then NHL chief disciplinarian Colin Campbell had to step aside from any supplementary discipline decisions because his son Gregory played on the Boston Bruins. So when Vancouver Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome stepped into Bruins forward Nathan Horton with a late hit, it was NHL vice-president Mike Murphy who ruled that Rome deserved a four-game suspension.
With concussions such an omnipresent issue in the NHL for the past two seasons, Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell has an opportunity to write another feel-good chapter in his comeback story from a heady injury suffered two-and-a-half years ago.
Mitchell was playing for the Canucks at the time of his concussion, and Vancouver chose not to sign him later that summer to the two-year deal he desired. Instead, the Kings gave him a two-year deal and has since been locked up for an additional two years.
Now the 35-year-old from Port McNeill, B.C. has a chance to win his first Stanley Cup against the team that drafted him in the eighth round in 1996. Mitchell only played 18 games for the Devils before he was traded to the Minnesota Wild in March 2001 for veteran Sean O'Donnell.
It was 25 years ago, the Brandon, Man. native burst onto the NHL scene with an impressive rookie season for the Flyers. He not only won the Vezina Trophy in his first year and was named to the first all-star team. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy in Philadelphia's march to the Stanley Cup final that they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in seven games.
Hextall made it back to the final 10 years later, when he shared the Flyers net with Garth Snow, but this time Philadelphia was swept by Detroit.
There currently are no GM vacancies in the NHL, but the 48-year-old Kings assistant GM likely will receive strong consideration the next time there is an opening. He has done an excellent job in his six seasons in Los Angeles.
The bear hug that DeBoer gave Devils assistant coach Larry Robinson following their win to claim the Eastern Conference title on Friday was priceless. People love to be around Robinson. As the rock band Staind sings in their classic It's Been Awhile, Robinson hasn't been back to the Stanley Cup final since 2003 when, as a Devils assistant coach alongside his late friend Pat Burns, New Jersey beat Anaheim.
But here is Robinson again. He'll turn 61 on June 2 and the Hockey Hall of Famer hopes to win his 10th Stanley Cup ring (To contrast, fellow assistant coach Adam Oates would get his very first). Robinson has six as a player with the Montreal Canadiens, two more as an assistant coach with the Devils and one as a head coach of New Jersey in 2000. What a ride it's been for Big Bird.
The 32-year-old from Ste-Foy, Que. hasn't played since he was knocked out of game with a concussion on Dec. 26. But the two-time Canadian Olympian recently was cleared for contact and there he was on Friday back at practice for the first time since his injury.
Whether or not Gagne will see time in the Stanley Cup final will depend on the Kings success early in the series and whether the series goes deep into a sixth or seventh game.
Gagne has a wealth of postseason experience. He has played in 105 NHL playoff games and has scored seven game winners in the postseason. In his last two playoffs, he went to the Stanley Cup final with the Flyers in 2010 and to the Eastern Conference final with the Tampa Bay Lightning last spring. It would be nice to see him return.
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