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If the Devils lack mass appeal, it might be because they lack an identity. Richard's teams were the Flying Frenchmen. Bobby Orr led the Big Bad Bruins. Bobby Clarke's Flyers were the Broad Street Bullies. In the '70s, Rangers GM Emile Francis called his overpaid underachievers "fat cats," an identity with resonance.
But what are the Devils?
"I don't know. That's a tough question," says Devils assistant coach Bobby Carpenter, who played on the '95 Cup champs. "We're just a hardworking team that plays smart. I don't know if there's any specific name you can put on it."
"Our identity, if anything, is nothing much, just consistency," says veteran defenseman Ken Daneyko, the longest-serving Devil. "It's about team here. It's not about individual statistics. It's not about having star guys all the time. It's about winning consistently every year. That's a good enough identity."
Fair enough. But rarely has there been anything electric about the Devils, who, a year after 2 million rejoiced at the end of the Rangers' 54-year Stanley Cup drought, hosted their own victory party with 20,000 people in the Meadowlands parking lot. That doesn't seem to bother Daneyko, who admits, "Everyone knows we're always in the shadows. The New York teams always get the headlines. But that's kind of the way the Devils would like it."
There have been opportunities to break from the shadows, mold an identity, inject some fun. A mid-'90s Seinfeldepisode revolved around character David Puddy's over-the-top screaming fanaticism for the Devils, painting his face black and red, scaring a priest to death. The Meadowlands' video scoreboard ran clips from the show. An entire "Puddy" campaign might have been mounted, but few even knew that Patrick Warburton, who played Puddy, once dropped the ceremonial first puck at a Devils game.
And this year, until the Finals, the lights would dim prior to the team taking the ice as the p.a. system droned the ominous strains of A3's "Woke Up This Morning." On the video scoreboard, a shadowy figure in a long sedan passed through a toll booth, drove the Turnpike, and approached the Meadowlands Arena: a clear homage to The Sopranos. But instead of cementing a transcendent Jersey connection by revealing the man in the shadows to be Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello in the James Gandolfini role, the video concluded instead with a typical montage of game action. Another lost opportunity.
Win or lose the Stanley Cup, the Devils will change hands this summer from John McMullen to that strange new world of YankeesNets. George Steinbrenner and his partners are reportedly paying $175 million (and $15 million more if the Devs win the Cup), a $40 million premium for the hockey club, so they can build a $275 million arena in Newark and launch a regional sports cable network for their teams.
With all that cash invested, Steinbrenner and company might want to search the swamp for Maurice Richard's torch.