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Between the Devils and the deep blue sea

Now that the New Jersey Devils have won the Stanley Cup, there are several questions to be answered.

1. Where will the parade be?

Okay, that's the least of the franchise's worries. The more pressing questions are:

2. Where will the team's championship banner be hung _ The Meadowlands or Nashville?

3. Will head coach Jacques Lemaire return?

4. Will assistant coach Larry Robinson return?

5. Will Martin Brodeur go from the league's lowest-paid player to one of its five highest-paid?

Let's start with the possibility of relocation. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the team has not submitted an application to move. But that doesn't mean it won't.

The Devils and their landlord, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns the Meadowlands Arena, put lease negotiations on hold until after the finals.

But now the two sides will get down to business. Bettman said that although there is no deadline for the Devils to make a decision about where they will play next season, they can't wait much longer to decide. The NHL master schedule needs to be completed, and that's done usually by mid-July.

"They can't come to us in September and say they want to move," Bettman said.

Nashville has courted Devils owner John McMullen with a new building that will be completed in time for the 1996-97 season. Meanwhile, it has a temporary facility available.

The Devils are the nomads of the NHL. The franchise began 21 years ago in Kansas City as the Scouts. After two seasons, the team moved to Denver and became the Colorado Rockies, whose caliber of play was known as "Rocky Hockey." After the team struggled for six seasons, McMullen moved it to East Rutherford, N.

J., in 1982.

This year the Devils said they tried not to think about the move but rather concentrated on winning the Cup.

So did Lemaire.

He has indicated that if the Devils move to Nashville he might not move with them. "I'll make a decision after the playoffs," he said.

Lemaire originally didn't want to coach the Devils. He had coached the Montreal Canadiens for two seasons, resigning in 1985 to become a special assistant to Canadiens general manager Serge Savard and was content with that job.

But McMullen was relentless about snaring Lemaire, who had won eight Stanley Cups as a player for Montreal. His job with the Devils, who had made seven coaching changes since moving to New Jersey, was to turn a team of underachievers into winners.

The first thing Lemaire did was hire Robinson, a former Canadiens All-Star defenseman, as his assistant coach.

"Jacques and all the coaches were hired to do a job," Devils right wing Claude Lemieux said. "There was immediate positive response. Two years ago we won our first eight games. You could just tell that the players respected them and believed in them. They were going to bring that something that we needed. They deserve all the credit and so much more."

If the Devils do move, McMullen might have to brush up on his sales pitch to keep Lemaire.

But if Lemaire doesn't leave, the Devils may not be able to keep Robinson, whose days as an assistant coach likely are over. Several NHL teams, including Los Angeles, Chicago and the New York Islanders, are interested in him as a head coach.

Brodeur, 23, can just about write his own ticket. He has been in the league for only two years, and the first year he helped lead New Jersey to within one overtime goal of the Stanley Cup finals. And of course, this year, he led them all the way.

He's about as cool as they come in the playoffs.

And he's a restricted free agent.

He was the lowest-paid player in the NHL this season, making $140,000 base salary. It worked out to a prorated salary of about $80,000 because of the shortened 48-game season.

However, that figure likely will increase to about $850,000 because he asked for arbitration over this season's salary.

Next season, he could receive one of the biggest raises in NHL history. He should expect to make about $3-million a season.

"Right now I don't worry about that," Brodeur said in the locker room after his team clinched the Cup.

A few minutes later he sauntered down the hall of the Meadowlands to the interview area, puffing on a cigar and guzzling champagne from the bottle. A reporter said, "You look like you own the place."

He smiled, and said, "We do. We won the Cup."

Maybe the answers to the questions can wait at least another day.

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