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Original Issue

6 New Jersey Devils

If you're a fan who had no rooting interest in last year's
finals, you probably delighted in the sight of 40-year-old
Raymond Bourque at long last thrusting the Stanley Cup into the
air. As his children wept with joy, the hockey world cheered and
television cameras captured images that would be seen again and
again in the coming weeks. On the other hand.... "I couldn't
watch a single highlight, and I never will," says center Scott
Gomez of the Devils, who lost to Bourque's Avalanche. "There's no
pleasure in it. When I think about what we could have had,
back-to-back Cups, I just get sick."

As they neared the start of this season, many New Jersey players
remained similarly stricken with thoughts of what might have
been. They controlled long stretches of the finals and built a
three-games-to-two lead before unraveling in losses at home (4-0)
and in Colorado (3-1). "That Game 6 still eats at me," says coach
Larry Robinson.

New Jersey rolled into last season's playoffs as the top seed in
the Eastern Conference and swaggered into the Cup finals after
pancaking the Penguins in five games. Though the team is largely
intact, Robinson has been talking about "Father Time catching
up," to several key players, including 37-year-old defensemen
Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko and forwards Sergei Nemchinov, also
37, and Randy McKay, 34. Stevens and Daneyko will likely have
their playing time trimmed this year as Robinson tries to phase
Sascha Goc into the lineup.

New Jersey will have a harder time replacing swift right wing
Alexander Mogilny, who scored 43 goals last year. Mogilny
demonstrated surprising grit late in the playoffs, and in July he
signed as a free agent with the Maple Leafs. Whether or not
rookie wing Pierre Dagenais (34 goals for Albany in the AHL last
year) helps make up for some of Mogilny's lost offense, the
Devils need core scorers such as Patrik Elias (40 goals) and Petr
Sykora (35) to at least match last season's career years.

New Jersey remains a serious title contender--despite their age,
the defensemen are among the best in the East--yet no runner-up
has rebounded to win the championship since the Oilers did it in
1984. That piece of history doesn't motivate the Devils as much
as their desire to dull the memory of June. Says Gomez, "The only
way to do that is to win the Cup."


Fast Fact

The Devils' five consecutive seasons with at least 45 wins
matches the third-longest such streak in league history, behind
the Canadiens (11) and Oilers (6).



FORWARDS 7 Deep group led by Arnott, Elias and Sykora
DEFENSE 6 Talented but aging; youngster Goc must help
GOALTENDING 3 Brodeur's puckhandling a big asset for
older D
SPECIAL TEAMS 7 PP should rock with Niedermayer, Rafalski
on point
MANAGEMENT 5 Expect G.M. Lamoriello to be active in
trade market