Blue And White Beat: Hall-of-Famer Devellano: “Failure is not final”
As a youngster growing up in Toronto, Jimmy Devellano enthused in a passion for hockey history by reading the plaques at the Hockey Hall of Fame, originally located at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.
Last Monday, the long-time hockey executive was finally given his due and presented with a plaque of his own upon his induction into the hallowed shrine in the Builders category.
“I always dreamed of getting into management and running a team,” said Devellano on the morning of his induction, shortly after receiving his commemorative Hall of Fame ring. “I really faced long odds if you really understood who I was. I didn’t play and I didn’t have any family in the game.”
With his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup seven times – three with the New York Islanders, and four with the Detroit Red Wings – Devellano is the embodiment of championship success.
Yet his nearly unparalleled accomplishments were preceded with frustrating, often demoralizing bouts of adversity.
Upon Devellano’s arrival as a scout for the Islanders in 1972-73, the team toiled trough a season in which the club won just 12 of its 78 games.
“In our first year, (general manager) Bill Torrey and I remember people calling us the hapless Islanders,” recalled Devellano. Over the next few seasons, futility was gradually transformed into fruition as the club, under Devellano’s guidance, hired coach Al Arbour and drafted future Hall of Famers Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier to form the basis of a Cup-winning dynasty.
Upon accepting the post as general manager in Detroit, Devellano was encumbered with the task of turning a franchise unaffectionately labeled the “Dead Things” into a winning team. Motown’s evolution into Hockeytown began with the drafting of Steve Yzerman in 1983, followed in later years by the additions of Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Vladimir Konstaninov, all via the NHL Entry Draft.
Yet the team still suffered from a post-season malaise, as evidenced by consecutive first-round exits in 1993 and 1994, followed by a sweep at the hands of the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final the following year.
But the reversal of fortune was finally completed with the end of Detroit’s 42-year championship drought in 1997, which marked the first for four titles that the Red Wings would claim in eleven years, all with Devellano elevated as Senior Vice-President.
“People ask me what makes you successful,” said the man they call ‘Jimmy D’. “It’s good hockey players. With the Islanders, it was Potvin, Trottier, Bossy, and Billy Smith. With the Red Wings it’s been Yzerman, Lidstrom, and I could go on and on.
“And then you bring in top notch coaches. I’ve been so fortunate. In ’73 when the Islanders were looking for a new coach I suggested Arbour to Torrey. They met, and the rest is history.”
Devellano also illustrated that often the best executive decisions are the ones that are not made.
“There was a lot of talk that Mike Keenan was going our way,” reflected Devellano on Detroit’s search for a new coach in 1993. “I went to ownership and really discouraged it. My answer to Mike Illitch was ‘Let’s hire either (Scotty) Bowman or Arbour.’ We got Scotty. It would have been significantly different if we hired Mike Keenan in Detroit, and probably not in a positive way.”
Devellano’s induction coincided with that of Dino Ciccarelli, who played for Detroit for four seasons under Jimmy D’s tenure.
“Jimmy was instrumental in the draft,” said Ciccarelli. “He obviously had hockey knowledge on players, styles, building a whole franchise.
Ciccarelli wasn’t fortunate enough to have shared in the Red Wings Cup dynasty but was as tough a contract negotiator off the ice as he was a player on the ice. “When negotiating, you respect guys like Jimmy. Obviously he’s doing the best for the organization. They were trying to build a puzzle and I was just one piece of it. You respect those type of things that they’ve been able to achieve.”
As he strode off the podium thanking an audience that included fellow inductees Ciccarelli, Angela James, Cammi Granato, and Bob Seaman (accepting on behalf of his late father Daryl ‘Doc’ Seaman), Devellano appropriately summarized his self-taught lessons in perseverance, culminating in seven Stanley Cup titles and a Hall of Fame plaque.
“If my 44 years in the NHL demonstrates anything, it’s you should never give up.
Failure is not necessarily final.”
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Blue And White Beat, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
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