The familiar red-and-black uniforms are gone, replaced by suits and ties, and lapel microphones and pens are in place instead of skates and sticks. On a nearby wall is a reminder of their successes over the years — their names, inscribed with others who have won the Stanley Cup.
Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko sit beside each other on set at the NHL Network and it feels like the good old days when they played for the New Jersey Devils and won the Cup three times. After 12 years of playing together and developing on-ice chemistry at hockey’s highest level, the two retired defensemen are reprising their relationship as television analysts.
“On the ice, we could beat people up a bit, and that was a lot of fun,” Stevens said as Daneyko sat a few feet away and laughed along. “It’s different. Now we’re doing a different thing. We played hard together and we had a lot of good years together killing penalties and were fortunate to win Stanley Cups, but it’s fun to work on TV. I think we both love the game, we love to talk about the game and watch hockey.”
They are both 55 now and long enough removed from the game to appreciate how much it has changed since their halcyon days of delivering bone-crushing hits, some of which would be suspension-worthy today. Their chatter on the air is cleaner now — maybe not so much during pre-show meetings — but the dialogue is much the same as when Stevens and Daneyko manned the blue line and killed penalties together for the Devils dynasty.
“We talk more like analysts when we’re looking at a play, but we did that in the (locker) room,” Daneyko said. “That’s why our team had some success: We had great leadership, we had guys that understood the game.”
More than anything else, Stevens and Daneyko understand each other as they finish their second season together at the network. Daneyko calls Stevens a “coach at heart” — evidenced by his stints as an NHL assistant — but thinks he’s probably too intense to be a coach. Stevens lauds Daneyko’s broadcasting skills from years of experience as the Devils’ color analyst.
“I paid him to say that,” Daneyko chirps.
NHL Network senior coordinating producer Josh Bernstein said his two former players have “almost a ‘finishing each other’s sentences’ kind of chemistry,” though the network likes to mix up the pairings, so it is not always Stevens-Daneyko.
“But when we do and it’s the two of them, it’s certainly special just because of their great history together,” Bernstein said. “They’re a great team.”
It’s 90 minutes before air time and the team heads upstairs to look at video of plays that will be broken down on the show. This particular night, it’s Matt Duchene’s Game 2 overtime winner for Columbus against Boston and a handful of goals from the Colorado-San Jose series.
Stevens points to the screen and motions like he’s drawing on the screen, showing where Boston’s Sean Kuraly should have been and what Zdeno Chara was trying to do. The two go back and forth.
“I just think the one guy’s got to be a little lower, Scotty,” he said. “Maybe I’m nitpicking. That’s probably good execution.”
The former teammates look as comfortable on set next to host Scott Braun as they did in front of Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur. Braun opens the show and declares, “The champs are here!” before Stevens and Daneyko debate everything from the likelihood of a team winning a series when up 2-1 to whether an MVP has to come from a playoff team.
Equipment repairs are necessary here, too. Instead of a dull skate or a broken stick, Stevens’ earpiece has echoing audio problems and Daneyko jokes during a commercial break that his pops out of his ear when he gets animated.
They get plenty animated, too, especially at playoff time.
“Sometimes when we get into it or it gets intense watching a playoff game or commenting, doing analysis of the game, it’s like when we were playing because we’d talk in the dressing room or we’d talk on the ice and you get that feel again of that intensity,” Daneyko said.
The intensity is measured for a TV audience, of course, and the comfort level for two is clear. Just as they learned how to know where the other would be on the ice, a familiarity that made New Jersey such a hard team to score against, they are now trying to perfect their latest collaboration.
“We’ve been through a lot of wars and battles together,” Daneyko said. “But now we talk about the battles and try to relay our insight on what those teams are going through, players are going through situations and certainly what it takes to win.”