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Smart Devils should continue to prosper

6/10/2003 - New Jersey Devils

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Devils represent neither a dynasty nor
domination.

Rather, their success -- three Stanley Cup celebrations in nine
seasons -- involves a consistency of excellence over a span of a decade, and
a financial approach that at least stops slightly short of the relative free
spending of such franchises as Detroit, Dallas, Colorado and the (hated)
Rangers.

Whether to pay homage to their nickname or otherwise, the Devils
also frequently bore the hell out of us, and they haven't even become
automatic sellouts in the Meadowlands.

General manager Lou Lamoriello fires coaches more often than his players
change cars, and given the buy-and-trade practices of young millionaires,
that's often.

But the Devils win, including under the latest soon-to-be-ex-Devils coach,
Pat Burns, and how can we argue with that?

Especially given the Devils' semi-restrained financial approach -- which
often is overstated to the point of ridiculousness -- it all adds up to the
inescapable conclusion that Lamoriello, the one-time Providence University
athletic director, is the best general manager in the NHL.

And that means the Devils aren't disappearing from the ranks of the
elite any time soon.

In fact, if the next collective bargaining agreement involves anything from
a "hard" salary cap to a luxury tax that makes extravagance doubly
expensive, in effect, that can only play into Lamoriello's strength. And
that's the savvy use of resources in the context of the league's times,
taking such ineffable concepts as chemistry and character into
consideration.

Plus, Martin Brodeur isn't going anywhere.

"I think it's important to know that it's not over for us, and we are going
to try to build on this," Brodeur said late Monday night, after the
Game 7 victory over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in Continental Airlines
Arena. "I think we have a great bunch of guys. We have a great organization.
We have a lot of young guys that are going to come up, like the one right
beside me (Michael Rupp) who scored a big goal for us tonight. We hope that
we are going to continue that.

"Ten years, 20 years down the road, people will look back on what we have
accomplished and they will say if they feel we deserve to be a dynasty or
not. Right now, I don't think (it) is the time to call ourselves a dynasty."

At age 31, Brodeur has this celebration business down pat -- or should that
be, he has it down Patrick. With three championships to his credit, he now
is only one behind Patrick Roy, and that's just one of the benchmarks and
records established by the recently retired Colorado goaltender Brodeur will
be chasing.

After the game Monday night, in the Devils' dressing room, Brodeur trudged
in -- whenever you're still wearing your pads, you trudge -- and climbed on
the risers to do a brief interview with Canadian television.

A little photographer was snapping away with his camera. It was Denis
Brodeur, the former Canadiens' team photographer who once took photos of Roy
in his Montreal uniform and glory. He is Martin's dad too.

Martin Brodeur turned around and, with tongue in cheek (well, maybe) hollered,
"Isn't there anything to drink? Didn't we just win something?"

And within minutes, Martin was carrying a champagne bottle, as well as
taking puffs from a cigar, which, of course, violated the anti-smoking rules
of the building. But nobody complained.

The funny thing about all of this is that the Devils were in a potentially
perilous position going into Game 7, and the judgments of their nine-season
run were hanging in the balance.

If they won, they were the team that equaled the Red Wings' three
championships over nine seasons.

If they lost, they were in danger of being remembered as the team that twice
in three seasons blew 3-2 leads in the finals.

Now, the Devils are able to talk about what might have been if they hadn't
let the 2001 championship get away, when Colorado won the final two games --
Game 6 at New Jersey and the Game 7 at Denver. Sometimes, we overlook the
fact that failures can provide impetus, and that it's folly to assume that
everything that followed would have followed in any case. But, yes, it's
interesting to ponder the Devils' place in history if they had won four
times since 1995.

That's not Islanders or Oilers or Canadiens territory, but in this age of
far more drastic player movement and what amounts to self-imposed financial
constraints (such as they are), four times in nine seasons would be
remarkable.

"We had a great opportunity in 2001, and we didn't come through," said
Brodeur. "I don't think we'll forget about that. Definitely, it's nice to be
able to go back to winning ways and define our club as a great organization.
But I still think that's something we wish we could have had.''

But three championship in nine seasons?

In this era, and especially because it comes within a 15-minute drive (in
slack traffic times) of the blank-check Rangers, and because it involves
considerable roster evolution, that's what passes for dynastic.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His book, Simon and Schuster's "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming," is available nationwide.