Ilya Kovalchuk had two goals and six points in five playoff games for New Jersey this spring. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year, despite finishing first in the Atlantic Division this season.
That’s generating talk about significant changes coming to the Devils roster, which until recently would’ve been considered unthinkable.
The Devils have been perennially ranked amongst the league’s Stanley Cup contenders over the past decade, but their inability to carry over strong regular season performances into the post-season since the lockout suggests changes could be in the offing.
Lou Lamoriello is considered amongst the shrewdest, most respected GMs in the league, but this season critics claim he failed to suitably address his roster’s needs for a scoring center and a quality puck-moving defenseman, opting instead to waste assets on winger Ilya Kovalchuk, a potential unrestricted free agent who might not return.
Kovalchuk, meanwhile, praised the Devils, admitting he’d be open to returning, although he doesn’t know what might transpire this summer.
Lamoriello told reporters Friday he expected Lemaire, who announced his retirement Monday, to return as coach and also said he hoped to retain Kovalchuk, although he hadn’t engaged yet in contract talks. The Devils GM also suggested he’d consider re-signing defenseman Paul Martin, who’s also eligible for UFA status this summer.
However, Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail wasn’t convinced Kovalchuk would return to the Devils, saying Lamoriello characterized the winger as a playoff rental – and Kovalchuk played like one.
Duhatschek suggests if Kovalchuk wants top dollar he’ll find it in the KHL, but if he wants a championship he’ll have to accept less money from an NHL team. Although given the winger’s 1-8 career playoff record, he should come with a “buyer beware” caveat.
Re-signing Kovalchuk would eat up at least half of Lamoriello’s nearly $16 million in available cap space, which wouldn’t leave enough to Martin and restricted free agent David Clarkson, and still leave room to address the Devils’ more pressing needs.
Lamoriello also dispelled speculation he might part ways with long-time starting goalie Martin Brodeur, giving him a vote of confidence.
Brodeur won’t be moved, but he only has two years remaining on his contract, which should spur Lamoriello into a long-overdue search for a successor.
One possibility could be Montreal’s Carey Price, who many observers believe will be traded this summer. Price is still highly regarded around the league as a future goaltending superstar and might thrive in New Jersey, where he could be tutored by one of the game’s greatest goalies.
• Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Semin has been fairly invisible in his team’s first round series against the Montreal Canadiens, prompting Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox to ponder how much longer Semin will remain a Capital.
The enigmatic Semin, who netted 40 goals this season, will be paid $6 million for 2010-11, after which he’ll be eligible for UFA status next July.
Cox suggests GM George McPhee – who is working on re-signing soon-to-be restricted free agent center Nicklas Backstrom – might consider how much longer he intends to keep Semin around, especially with promising center Marcus Johansson waiting in the wings.
Cox believes Semin, like Phil Kessel and Ilya Kovalchuk this season, could fetch a promising return for the Capitals.
Semin lacks a no-trade clause and if he proves too expensive to retain or appears willing to test next summer’s free agent market, it would be a good idea for McPhee to quietly inquire into the winger’s value on this summer’s trade market.
• Los Angeles Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty has one more season remaining on his entry level contract, but according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the club won’t wait to open contract extension talks.
LeBrun appeared on Hockey Night in Canada’s Satellite Hotstove segment where he reported the Kings could try to re-sign Doughty, a Norris trophy nominee this season, after July 1.
It’s a move that simply makes sense for the Kings. At only 20 years of age and in his sophomore NHL season, Doughty has not only emerged as their blueline anchor, but also ranks amongst the league’s elite defensemen.
Better to get him under contract now rather than risk his becoming a potential target for an expensive offer sheet from a rival club. It could cost as much as $7 million per season to re-sign him, but it wouldn’t take effect until 2011-12.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.