Monday, July 19, 2010

Kovalchuk deal changes Devils perception

On Monday, after nearly three weeks of deliberating, left-winger Ilya Kovalchuk finally made up his mind about his hockey playing future. After flirting with the Los Angeles Kings on and off again three times, playing in Russia, or staying in New Jersey with the Devils, Kovalchuk chose the latter. Contract details have not been released, but several reports are indicating a 17-year deal worth over $100 million. I am a New Jersey Devils fan. In a few years they will be the only professional team that bares the state's name (insert a New Jersey joke here, everyone does it). The Devils won three Stanley Cups in the span of nine years, but since the last Cup in 2003, they have not made it past the second round and have not made it out of the first round in the last three years. Meanwhile, bitter rivals like the Flyers have made deep runs in the playoffs and some like the Penguins have won a Cup.

For years, the Devils would make a big splash at the deadline to add offense to the team but would never be able to retain the player they had acquired. Doug Gilmour in 1998 and Alexander Mogilny in 2001, were the biggest examples of that. But with Kovalchuk that has changed and their philosophy may have as well. You don’t pay Kovalchuk the money they are about to pay him without adapting to his style a bit. With him in the fold now, the Devils will (hopefully) finally embrace the new NHL a bit and open up the offense. Parise and Kovalchuk are a nearly as potent one-two offensive combo as Crosby and Malkin (Jeff, I said nearly, Crosby and Malkin are still the better duo). For since I can remember, the Devils have played a defensive style, known as the neutral zone trap to some (known to others as what ruined hockey) which relied on a strong defense and a goaltender and resulted in three Stanley Cups. The Devils finally have the offense to go with their strong defense and goaltending.

More importantly, the commitment to Kovalchuk is a clear sign that General Manager Lou Lamoirello is committed to doing whatever is necessary to winning at least one more Cup while goalie Martin Brodeur is in net. Lamoirello is one of the most shrewdest, sharpest and smartest GM’s in all of sports. No one gave him and the Devils a chance in hell of acquiring Kovalchuk in February and when the move didn’t create the success that was expected, no one gave him a chance to resign Kovalchuk given the Devils’ tight financial history and history of a lack of willingness to spend on offensive skill players.

Lou’s moves early in the summer, where all geared to bringing Kovalchuk back in the fold. From shedding the salaries of Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters with buyouts, to bringing in stay-at-home, physical defenseman Anton Volchenkov (a friend and countryman of Kovalchuk’s) to former Atlanta Thrashers teammate (and also good friend) Johan Hedberg as Brodeur’s back up (someone who will finally allow the Devils to rest Brodeur 15-20 nights during the regular season) to acquiring Jason Arnott to be the second-line center (something the Devils have lacked for several years).

The Kovalchuk re-signing does not come without is share of questions, like can the Devils retain Parise, who will he play with because he never really developed any line chemistry last year with anyone and how will the Devils sort of the fact that they are likely four million over the cap for the 2010-11 season.

Parise is scheduled to be a restricted free agent after next season and will surely see a big offer sheet roll-in from someone, but Lamoirello should never be underestimated when it comes to keeping his homegrown talent. Parise is the future captain of this squad (maybe even this year depending on the moves made to get under the cap) and is one of the best left wingers in all of hockey. Lamoirello will figure out a way to retain his homegrown sniper.

As for how they get under the cap, this will not be easy. A definite casuality will be defenseman Bryce Salvador and his $2.9 million dollar salary. If he can’t be moved via trade or waivers, he will be sent to the AHL, where his contract would not affect the cap. Brian Rolston is easily the most overpaid player on the roster but the $5 million per year his owed over the next two years will be impossible to move. Danius Zubrus is owed $3.4 million over the next three years and he could go, but he has been one of the few Devils to consistently show up the past three springs when the Devils have been knocked out in the first round. If I was making the decision, I would move captain Jaime Langenbrunner’s $2.8 million to clear some room. He is the player the Devils can actually get decent prospects or draft picks for and after the bitching he pulled last spring, he needs to go. For those who don’t know, Langenbrunner and former coach Jacques Lemaire did not see eye to eye and Langenbrunner was upset that he was a healthy scratch in an April game in Carolina to get some rest. Langenbrunner proceeded to give the coach and media the silent treatment before mouthing after Lemaire announced he was retiring. If you ask me, inexcusable behavior from any player and more so considering, it was the captain.

I think Lamoirello will ultimately trade Zubrus, banish Salavdor to the minors and move Langenbrunner to bring in a puck moving defenseman, clearing $9.1 million in a salary, likely leaving the Devils about $5 million under, pending the salary of the puck moving defenseman acquired in a Langenbrunner trade. Moving Zubrus and Langenbrunner would also allow for David Clarkson, a gritty, young, right winger to move to the Parise-Travis Zajac line and allow for some youngsters in the Devils system like left winger Mattias Tedenby and center Jacob Josefson a chance to get regular ice team on a third line paired with the veteran Rolston.

As for who Kovalchuk will play with, the likely early solution would be with the recently re-acquired Arnott and Patrik Elias. Elias was the only player Kovalchuk seemed to click with during his short stint last year and Elias and Arnott played very well together several years ago. Arnott gives the line a physical presence, which should provide Kovalchuk some open ice to move freely with the puck. The acquisition of Arnott, earlier in the summer, filled one of the Devils biggest needs in a second line center, which allowed Elias to move back to the wing, where has been a much more effective player throughout his career. It is also possible that Arnott or Elias could serve as the captain in the event Langenbrunner is moved.

At the end of the day, the Devils and Lamoriello have give themselves a fantastic chance for another Cup and will be right there with the Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia and Buffalo at the top of the East.

Running With the Devil-Van Halen


  1. Those are two really good lines. What are your thoughts on Kovalchuk being signed through the age of 44? I really think this front-loading stuff needs to stop. They should either make the same amount each year or have a maximum number of years they can sign for. I really hope that the NHL overturns this contract, not just because it's the Devils, but to set a precedent.

  2. Just because the team signed a decent backup goalie doesn't mean they will rest Brodeur. I also agree with Greg on these crazy deals that are all front loaded and for 10+ years. It's not like they expect him to play for all those years. I just don't get it.

  3. As an update to my post, $102 million over 17 years and it seems unlikely Langenbrunner will be moved since he will be at Kovalchuk's press conference (although I don't necessarily think that would stop Lou from moving him if it was a good deal).

    I agree that the front-loading needs to stop but the NHL doesn't have a leg to stand on until the next CBA. If you allowed the Hossa deal, this has to pass as well. The 17-yrs was done to allow them to have enough room to extend Parise over the next year as well, since Kovalchuk's cap hit will only be 6 million.

    Jeff, they gave Johan Hedberg $1.5 million to be the backup and Johnny Mac has already said he will rest more. 20 seems unlikely, but 15 would be ok.

  4. Yeah, I looked into it and the only way that the contract could be overturned is if they can prove that the Devils and Kovalchuk discussed when he would retire, which is almost impossible to prove. I still can't believe that they signed him through the age of 44. I saw some stat that only 1.3% of forwards play past the age of 38 in the NHL.

  5. Greg, Lamoirello said in an interview after the press conference that he is not a fan of these types of contracts (his comments inferred that ownership drove the length of the deal) and that when the CBA is up it is likely to be something that is a hot topic and seriously reviewed.

  6. Reports coming out that NHL blocked the deal. Once again the Devils are trying to ruin hockey. Thankfully they were blocked this time. Kudos to Gary Bettman.

  7. I understand why this was blocked, but what made this different from the Hossa deal? Double-standard on the NHL's part and bullshit at that. Bettman is just pissed because a star chose to go to the swamps of Jersey. At least the Phillies may be close to a big deal to take my attention away from this.

  8. I think it was just a little too greedy. Luongo and Hossa got signed through the age of 42. Those contracts were BS and not realistic, but a 17 year contract through the age of 44 is absurd. You have to draw the line somewhere. That being said, Devils fans still have a right to be pissed about the situation.

    I looked it up...8 players in the history of the NHL have played until the age of 44. The last player to do this before Chris Chelios was Gordie Howe in 1980.

  9. I don't think Bettman cares where Kovalchuk goes. Another Boss conspiracy.

  10. The double-standard is what bugs me. They allowed the Hossa and Luongo deals through but here they are making the assumption Kovalchuk will not play through the contract when that assumption could have just as easily been made in those cases as well. It's BS, either all the deals are valid or none of them are. Not well those two are, but this one isn't. No wonder the NHL has been hurting, Bettman has no idea what he is doing. With Donald Fehr tentaively in charge of the NHLPA, Bettman and the owners are going to get eaten alive in the next labor talks.

  11. Kudos to Gary Bettman Jeff? Really, the guy has run the NHL into the ground with a crippling labor strike (and get ready because the contract issue is the opening salvo of another one in 2 years) and a terrible TV deal. And he failed to capitalize off a terrific Olympics for the sport, which should have boosted the sport as well if people knew it even existed on television. Bettman makes Selig look like Einstein and thats hard to do considering he is a bleeping idiot too.

  12. The Devils really helped bury the NHL with their boring style of play that turned every one and their mothers off from the game.

  13. Jeff the reason the main reason the NHL is being buried is because the "face" of the NHL looks more suited for a Gerber commercial than a hockey player. If this had been Mr. Crosby you would be up in arms sir.

  14. I don't think it would ever happen with Crosby as long as Ray Shero is the GM. The guy has never given an extension longer than 5 years, let alone a 17-year deal.

    There is no way Crosby being the face of the league is the reason the NHL is being buried, and that's not even my fandom talking. You showcase the league's most talented players, and if you say Crosby is not in that group then I question your knowledge of the sport. Love or hate him, you have to recognize his talent.

    Gretzky was the face of the league and he was a pretty boy. The league sent teams notice that they weren't to hit him, and it seemed fine when he was around.