‘Devils In The Details’
By Sean Hartnett
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Sometimes, it’s the little things you do that send the right messages to your teammates.
Bryce Salvador always acted as a captain with or without a letter sewn on the front of his jersey. The New Jersey Devils officially named Salvador as the team’s 10th captain on Thursday, following in the footsteps of Scott Stevens, Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise.
During the 2012 playoffs, NHL analyst E.J. Hradek labelled the Devils’ blueliners as a “no-name defense.”
As the leader of the New Jersey Devils’ defensive corps, Salvador took exception to Hradek’s remark and used it as motivation for himself and his fellow defensemen.
The Devils’ blueliners shared a water bottle during practices usually marked with “Salvador 24.” Salvador took out a magic marker and wrote ‘No-Name D’ on the piece of tape that used to bear his name.
His teammates got the message as the Devils marched past the favored New York Rangers and into the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2003.
Salvador went on to have the finest playoff performance of his career, tallying 14 points in 24 playoff games. His inspired play got the attention and admiration of everyone around hockey — including Hradek.
When Salvador joined Hradek for a live interview, he called out Hradek on his previous declaration that the Devils were indeed a “no-name defense.”
After the 2012 playoffs were over, everyone knew who the 36-year-old veteran was: The unquestioned leader of the Devils’ defense and a huge reason why New Jersey surpassed the expectations of many to reach the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.
Salvador’s message to the entire league is clear — even without Parise’s influence and goal-getting, you can never count the Devils out. That’s what he and his teammates inside the Devils’ locker room believe every day they go to work.
Predictions and expectations aren’t the kinds of things that drive Salvador and the Devils. Adversity is what fuels the Devils’ desire.
That was the case for Salvador last season after he missed the entire 2010-11 season with a concussion. Salvador picked up right where he left off as the heart of the Devils’ defense by playing in all 82 regular-season games in 2011-12 and logging over 20 minutes per game.
Devils head coach Peter DeBoer leaned on Salvador during the playoffs, increasing his ice time by over two minutes per game.
Throw all the pressure on him and Salvador has broad enough shoulders to handle whatever DeBoer and the Devils ask of him. His rugged, yet steady play along the boards and in the defensive zone speaks for itself as an example for all teammates to follow.
He’ll be an ideal captain, as he has the complete trust of every teammate who pulls on the red and black jersey with the horned NJ.
Zajac Next In Line?
Travis Zajac also rebounded from a stop-start regular season, as an Achilles’ tear disrupted his 2011-12 regular season. Zajac tried to beat the prognosis by returning in mid-December. His return only lasted eight games and the injury forced Zajac to make a late-March comeback.
A 15-game season didn’t stop Zajac from putting together an outstanding playoffs. Despite limited time to get up to speed, Zajac scored 14 points in 24 games during the 2012 NHL playoffs.
On Wednesday, the Devils inked the 27-year-old Zajac to an eight-year, $46 million extension. After a stop-start 2011-12 season, Zajac appears ready to leave any injury concerns behind him and get back to the best hockey of his career.
After two consecutive 60-plus point seasons, Zajac’s numbers fell off in his last full season of 2010-11. With Parise now in Minnesota and his Achilles issues behind him, Zajac will get his chance to shine as one of the men DeBoer will count on heavily.
It seems that Zajac is being groomed to be the next man after Salvador to wear the captain’s badge. He’s shown that he fits the mold of what the Devils are about: commitment, perseverance and determination.
Devils fans, what do you make of your new captain? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.