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September 7, 2005 - Devils' defense takes a hit as Stevens retires

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Devils' defense takes a hit as Stevens retires




morane@phillynews.com

Keith Primeau was on the bench next to Keith Jones during the seventh game of the 2000 Eastern Conference finals as Eric Lindros crossed the blue line with the puck on his stick, his head down, and Scott Stevens lining him up.

"I believe I said I just watched that kid's career end," Primeau said, recalling his immediate reaction to the shoulder-on-jaw hit that knocked Lindros to the ice like a rag doll. "I really believed that I had watched Lindros play his last game."

He was not the only one to think so that night.

Lindros left the ice wobbling between two teammates while the sellout crowd in the First Union Center sat stunned. The Flyers lost the game and the series, which they had led three games to one, and Lindros never played another game as a Flyer, although he has resumed his career.

The Devils, of course, went on to win the Stanley Cup.

As for Stevens, anyone who had watched the bruising New Jersey Devils defenseman could have predicted the hit on Lindros. It was a move that Stevens had perfected throughout his career - catch a forward coming into the zone with his head down, drop the shoulder and step in.

He did the same thing to Anaheim's Paul Kariya during the 2003 Stanley Cup finals. The only difference was Kariya got up and played.

It is a move that will not be repeated, at least not by the 41-year-old Stevens. After missing the last 44 games of the last regular season and a playoff series against the Flyers, Stevens yesterday announced his retirement after 22 seasons. He stated that he had learned to live without hockey and would spend more time with his family.

He made no mention of the concussion problems he has suffered since sustaining a head injury against Pittsburgh on Jan. 7, 2004.

"There's no question [being out] gave me a taste of what it would be like to retire,'' said the 13-time All-Star, who helped the Devils win three Cups. "It was enjoyable. I had a chance to do things I haven't been able to do in 22 years. It showed me I could live without hockey, and that definitely helped in the transition.''

Stevens said he wanted to make the announcement before training camp to avoid being a distraction. He said announcing the decision was a relief.

"I guess I feel a little relieved,'' he said. "I've kind of been dragging my feet on this. Deep down you try to change your mind, but it was time to let everyone know, to keep the questions away and let the Devils move on.

"I've done a lot in my career. It's not like I'm chasing a Stanley Cup. I've been fortunate to have done that, and I know what it takes. If I was a player who hadn't won a Stanley Cup, it might be a little different.''

The departure of Stevens leaves another big hole in the Devils' defense. Free agent Scott Niedermayer signed with Anaheim.

Stevens, who was drafted fifth overall by Washington in 1982, played eight seasons with the Capitals before signing as a free agent with St. Louis in 1990. Stevens played only one season with the Blues before being sent to the Devils as compensation for the signing of Brendan Shanahan.

Stevens spent the next 13 seasons as the anchor of the Devils' defense and a key part of their Stanley Cup championships.

General manager Lou Lamoriello said Stevens, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2000 as the MVP in the Stanley Cup playoffs, will stay with the organization in some capacity. Stevens said he would consider helping out Devils coach Larry Robinson, if asked.

While Stevens' retirement should come as a relief to players throughout the league, his announcement is also being seen as a loss to the game. Simon Gagne was just a rookie when he learned to keep an eye on Stevens.

"I was playing in just my first playoffs when he took out Daymond Langkow first and then Eric Lindros," Gagne said.

"Every time you lose a key guy like that, a guy that gave the kind of big hits you love to see on TV, it's a loss. It's always bad to lose a guy like that."

Primeau agreed. "I always enjoyed playing against Scotty, as insane as that may sound,'' he said. "He caught me a few times, but I always knew when he was on the ice. He brought that fear and respect on the ice with him and you had to know when he was on the ice."