Niedermayer goes to rafters a winner

Of the 5,619 retired NHL players and 690 currently playing in the league, only one of them has ever been able to capture all six of hockey’s major championships: Scott Niedermayer.

The Stanley Cup. Olympic Gold. The World Cup. The World Championship. The World Junior Championship. The Memorial Cup.

Niedermayer has won them all.

On Friday night, the Devils paid homage to one of the greatest winner’s the sport has ever known, retiring his No. 27 jersey during a 35-minute ceremony at the Prudential Center.

The future Hall of Fame defenseman played 12 seasons and won three championships in New Jersey. And yet, it was easy to take him for granted. After all, it wasn’t until 2003-04 -- his final season with the Devils -- that Niedermayer emerged out of the shadows of Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko -- the only two other players in the franchise’s illustrious history to have had their numbers retired -- inherited the captaincy and won the Norris Trophy for the first time in his career.

Niedermayer became the third member of that distinguished fraternity on Friday night, but not without some backlash from the fanbase. The Devils reportedly offered the All-Star blueliner a contract following the 03-04’ campaign that would’ve made him the highest-paid player in the NHL. But the allure of playing with his brother Rob in Anaheim was too much to pass up, so Niedermayer left. And, in some respects, the Devils have never recovered since.

They haven’t been the same dominant franchise they once were. Coaching changes and playoff failures have been frequent. Martin Brodeur is no longer the best goaltender in the league. Changes are coming.

Consider: Next season, if Brodeur retires and Zach Parise opts to bolt via free agency, Ilya Kovalchuk will be the Devils’ franchise player. A seismic shift for a franchise which has built itself and has always prided itself on defense.

But on Friday night from 6:49 p.m. to 7:24 p.m. thoughts of the future were few and far between. And memories of past glory -- which included Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003 -- emerged as they often do. Especially at 7:08 p.m., when Niedermayer did something he hasn’t done in seven years: put on a Devils’ sweater.

“It feels right,” Niedermayer said.

Scott Niedermayer’s career in New Jersey will always be defined by one singular moment: his end-to-end goal in the third period of Game 2 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals.

“If you had to relate to one situation that Scott Niedermayer had, it would be that goal,” said GM Lou Lamoriello whose brilliant trade led to his selecting of the offensive-minded Canadian defenseman No. 3 overall in the 1991 draft.

But there were more. Many more. Most notably his short-handed goal in Game 6 of 2000 Finals. And who could forget him punting a Rangers jersey after getting into a fight during a 1999 tilt?

In Devils’ history, Niedermayer likely ranks behind Brodeur, Stevens, Daneyko and perhaps even Patrik Elias given his heart-breaking departure. But when it comes to pure talent, only Brodeur stands in Niedermayer’s way.

Who knows. If Scott Niedermayer had stayed in New Jersey for his entire career, Friday night may have been the night the Devils retired the number of their most decorated player -- ever.