Ilya Kovalchuk will be back in New Jersey next year after signing a seven-year deal. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The most bandied-about name in the 2010 summer free agent class now reportedly has a team to call his own. And in a minor surprise, it’s the team he finished the season with.
Reports from the New York Post have star left winger Ilya Kovalchuk re-signing with the New Jersey Devils, who acquired the Russian sniper from Atlanta at the trade deadline. The deal is reportedly worth $60 million over seven years.
New Jersey, which has posted some excellent regular seasons, but absolutely no playoff success since the lockout, has never been the type of organization to reach for a superstar (and the big contract that comes with such a player), but GM Lou Lamoriello clearly felt a certain epoch was ending for the Devils.
Franchise goaltender Martin Brodeur has but a few seasons left in his Hall of Fame pads and with the departure of Paul Martin, the Devils cannot count on their blueline for any offense.
But with Kovy in the fold, one of the power play point positions is now taken care of and the Devs have a murderers row of forwards. On any given night, the team can trot out Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and the recently acquired Jason Arnott in its top six, but the price of such firepower is high.
With Kovalchuk’s deal, the veteran-heavy Devils will have to shave salary. Before the big signing, New Jersey had less than $5 million in cap space and still needed to bring in at least two more forwards and a defenseman. Now, they’re over the cap with two or more roster players needed.
The fallout of the signing will be the truly intriguing development. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner and longtime Devils stalwart Dainius Zubrus may both need to go in order to make room for Kovalchuk’s cap hit and defensive specialist Rob Niedermayer has yet to be re-signed. Lamoriello has battled the cap in the past and though he found creative ways to wrest himself free of Alex Mogilny and Vladimir Malakhov’s stipends, this may be his toughest challenge.
The irony of Kovalchuk signing with New Jersey, instead of other rumored suitors such as Los Angeles, St. Louis or the Islanders, is that we already know what a Devils team with him looks like, since he has already played there. At the tail end of last season, Kovalchuk was a point-per-game player in both the regular season (27 games) and playoffs, but the most important stat is that the Devils bowed out meekly to Philadelphia in a five-game series.
So the new Devils are actually just the old Devils, except for the addition of Arnott and more grit (Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder), but less scoring (Martin) on the blueline. Plus, the addition of netminder Johan Hedberg hypothetically eases Brodeur’s workload.
The highly structured Devils have brought back the preeminent freelancer in Kovalchuk, but the question that remains is how the big deal will affect the bones of the team. Sometimes it’s not who you add, but what you must give up.
Of course, if Kovalchuk’s offensive panache can lead the Devils past the second round for the first time in a nearly a decade, it will be a moot point. But it will also be the first time Kovy wins a playoff series in the NHL.
Host Ryan Dixon sits down with managing editor Edward Fraser and writer Ryan Kennedy to discuss… Whether or not the New Jersey can afford Ilya Kovalchuk... If Kovalchuk can play within the Devils system… The lack of free agent excitement… And if Mike Modano is a good fit for the Red Wings. PRODUCER: Ted Cooper.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday.
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