Fans might notice there are a lot of white banners hanging up at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
In fact, the New Jersey Devils have retired five numbers in their history since they first raised Scott Stevens’ No. 4 to the rafters back in 2005-06. The Prudential Center rafters also welcomed the likes of Ken Daneyko, Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias to the exclusive class in Devils’ history.
Then, there are Hockey Hall of Famers such as Dave Andreychuck, Phil Housley, and Joe Nieuwendyk, who all spent time with the Devils.
Let’s also not forget about the fan favorites such as Zach Parise, Alex Mogilny, Brian Rafalski, Claude Lemieux, Jason Arnott, Jaromir Jagr, Brian Gionta, and John MacLean, who all experienced success in New Jersey.
Yet, there’s one Devil player who won’t just be remembered as a fan favorite and one that also experienced success. That would be defenseman Andy Greene, who is the team’s current captain and most underrated Devils player of all-time.
Greene’s Competition for the Title
After three Stanley Cups, there are several noteworthy players in Devils’ history who have one unique factor in common with New Jersey’s current captain. Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin all spent three or more seasons with the Devils, but like Greene, never earned a Stanley Cup ring in New Jersey. Respectfully, none of those players will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as players, either.
Henrique took New Jersey by surprise when he blossomed into a clutch and reliable center during his rookie campaign in 2011-12, and captured Devils fans’ hearts for eternity after his memorable double-overtime, game-winning goal in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers. The 2008 third-round draft pick transformed into a leader for New Jersey during the beginning stages of a dark era for the Devils, which may go overlooked when reflecting on Henrique’s time in the Garden State. New Jersey spiraled downhill and missed the playoffs from 2012-13 until 2017-18.
Unfortunately, Henrique’s highly anticipated and extensive tenure with New Jersey was arguably cut short after No. 14 was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in 2017-18, which is why he falls into the underrated category.
Two underrated blueliners in Devils’ history are Oduya and Martin. Neither skated with New Jersey during the Stevens-Niedermayer era, and surprisingly earned the right to act as top defensemen for the Devils while logging great deals of ice time – similar to Greene.
Both took full advantage of their opportunities to rewrite a new chapter for Devils’ defensemen, and at a time when New Jersey’s overall roster didn’t entail as much talent as it did during the Stanley Cup championship seasons.
Both Oduya and Martin finished their respective Devils’ careers with plus ratings, too. Oduya finished with a plus/minus rating of plus-45, while Martin was an impressive plus-55.
The Skaters who Have Rings
There are three other skaters who offer an argument as the most underrated Devil ever. Forwards John Madden, Sergei Brylin and Jay Pandolfo all finished their humble careers as fan favorites and were skaters that executed the “dirty work” while players such as Stevens, Niedermayer and Elias shined in the spotlight season after season.
Madden, Brylin and Pandolfo were usually together as a line or saw valuable ice time for one main reason – to shut down the opposition’s top scoring line. The trio established themselves as notorious “shutdown” forwards, and displayed their discipline as a checking line.
Aside from the five skaters who have their numbers retired by the Devils, Brylin is the only other skater who won three Stanley Cups, while Madden and Pandolfo hoisted two Cups with New Jersey. Keep in mind that all three were regulars in the lineup for over a decade and never finished a season with more than 50 penalty minutes.
Out of the three, Madden was the one skater who received recognition for his two-way play when No. 11 took home the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2000-01. Still, the trio were integral and underrated aspects of the team’s championship seasons.
Unlike most skaters mentioned in this conversation, Greene was never drafted. The expectations were never high from day one for the left-handed blueliner, who’s acted as a backbone with the organization for over a decade.
The Trenton, Michigan native signed as a free agent for the 2006-07 campaign and never looked back while proving his critics wrong. The old saying that “timing is everything” stands true for the Devils’ most underrated player of all-time.
Greene arrived in New Jersey just one season prior to Brian Rafalski’s departure from the organization after the 2006-07 season. The 5-foot-11 blueliner’s transition to fill Rafalski’s spot as one of the team’s top defensemen was both subtle and seamless. No, Greene has never recorded more than 40 points in a season, but his defensive and puck-moving abilities up the ice did the talking.
No. 6 proved that he was more than reliable during the good times and bad for New Jersey. There’s never been an issue with Greene’s attitude or leadership and that speaks volumes considering how many different coaching staffs the 37-year-old has played under with the Devils. His performance on the ice as a humble yet dynamic defenseman has always been consistent since his rookie campaign over a decade ago. After he retires, the fifth-year captain will go down as the second-longest tenured leader in team history, only behind the great Stevens (1992 to 2004).
For the record, Greene has dressed for eight different coaching staffs in Jersey. It’s unfortunate, but Greene joined the Devils at a time when the club was no longer a perennial Cup contender. Instead, the team dwindled into a borderline non-contender during the last string of his prime seasons. Still, it’s fair to say that Greene was always a positive aspect to struggling Devils’ teams with his first-class sportsmanship and exceptional hockey IQ displayed on a consistent basis. There were never “off” nights with Greene regardless of how grueling an NHL team’s schedule can be.
Keep in mind that the Devils’ defense corps entails four blueliners that are 25 years old or younger, which means Greene has been an ideal mentor for any team’s young defensemen. The chances are when a skater such as Will Butcher blossoms into a top defenseman he’ll point how Greene helped him develop and mature into a better skater.
No, Greene never earned Olympic honors, but it’s fair to say there were always whispers about him potentially bidding for a final spot on the roster, and most would argue that he was snubbed when Team USA announced its roster for the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.
At season’s end, Greene will surpass MacLean’s 934 games played with the Devils for fifth place all-time in franchise history. The team’s 11th captain has played in all 82 regular-season games on five occasions while not missing a game in four straight seasons starting at the shortened 2012-13 campaign until the end of 2015-16. Neither Stevens or Niedermayer could match that feat, nor Elias.
The veteran is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, but the chances are that the well-spoken Devil will retire from the NHL. He’ll go down as one of the few, if not the only, great New Jersey defenseman who played his entire career in Jersey. His No. 6 won’t be retired, nor will there be photos of him holding a Cup, which is why he’ll go down as the most underrated Devil of all-time.