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What now, New Jersey?

Ilya Kovalchuk's retirement from the NHL frees up cap space for the Devils. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Ilya Kovalchuk's retirement from the NHL frees up cap space for the Devils. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision last week to retire from the NHL and return to Russia to play for SKA St. Petersburg shocked the hockey world.

It also left observers speculating over what the New Jersey Devils will do to replace him.

Rich Chere of NJ.com wondered if GM Lou Lamoriello would pursue a free agent like Jaromir Jagr or make a major trade using some top prospects as bait.

A recent report out of Switzerland had the Devils pursuing former Detroit Red Wings right winger Damien Brunner, claiming they were doing “a lot of background work” on the 27-year-old Zurich native.

Other free agent options include Mikhail Grabovski, Vinny Prospal and Mason Raymond.

The Edmonton Oilers are believed to be shopping winger Ales Hemsky, spurring an Oilers blogger to suggest the Devils as a destination.

Those players won’t replace Kovalchuk’s skills and star power, but his departure provides Lamoriello with more than $10 million in cap space, which could be used to add one or two decent forwards.

If Lamoriello goes the trade route, he could shop a defenseman. Prior to Kovalchuk’s retirement announcement, NorthJersey.com’s Tom Gulitti observed the Devils’ recent re-signing of Marek Zidlicky gave them seven defensemen under contract, leaving little room for one of their younger blueliners.

Gulitti reported Lamoriello “strongly hinted” he’ll try to move a defenseman before the season starts. Kovalchuk’s departure could hasten that move.

OILERS AFTER PHANEUF?

Former Maple Leafs executive and hockey analyst Bill Watters recently appeared on an Edmonton sports radio show criticizing the performance of Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, claiming he’d heard the Oilers had interest in the veteran defenseman.

Show host Bob Stauffer thinks the Leafs could move Phaneuf, but doubts the Oilers would take on his salary.

Phaneuf, 28, is entering the final season of his contract with a cap hit of $6.5 million, though his actual salary will be $5.5 million. He’ll be eligible for unrestricted free agency next July.

If the Leafs shop their captain, the declining salary cap could make trade partners difficult to find. Interested clubs could prefer the Leafs pick up part of Phaneuf’s salary, as well as seek a contract extension before agreeing to a trade.

BEANTOWN DONE WITH BLOCKBUSTERS

Prior to the Boston Bruins re-signing goaltender Tuukka Rask last week to an eight-year, $56-million contract, there was speculation they could shed salary by moving forwards Brad Marchand and Chris Kelly.

Following the Rask signing, however, GM Peter Chiarelli told reporters he would stand pat for the rest of the summer, meaning Marchand and Kelly won’t be going anywhere.

Rask’s new contract pushes the Bruins over the cap ceiling by roughly $1.4 million, but the Bruins have ways to address that before the season begins.

CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reports the combination of placing concussed center Marc Savard ($4-million cap hit) on long-term injured reserve and the bonus clauses in Jarome Iginla’s contract should put the Bruins under the cap ceiling by roughly $2 million.

NO MONEY LEFT TO SPEND IN MONTREAL

Recent rumors linking the Montreal Canadiens to free agent forwards Jaromir Jagr and Brenden Morrow could be dashed by their recent re-signing of winger Ryan White to a one-year, $700,000 contract.

The Montreal Gazette’s Pat Hickey noted White’s signing pushes the Habs payroll to $63.6 million invested in 23 players, leaving no room to add veterans like Jagr or Morrow.

Barring a trade, Hickey believes GM Marc Bergevin is unlikely to make any further moves this summer.

Prior to the NHL draft, there was talk of the Canadiens shopping center Tomas Plekanec, but that has since died out, probably because of his $5-million cap hit and no-trade clause.

CAPS STAND PAT…FOR NOW

CSN Washington’s Chuck Gormley recently reported defenseman Karl Alzner’s new four-year, $11.2- million contract leaves the Capitals with 20 players signed and around $5.6 million in cap space.

Once they re-sign forward Marcus Johansson, Gormley believes they’ll have around $3.9 million. That’s enough for GM George McPhee to dive into the free agent pool, but he isn’t impressed with this summer’s available talent.

McPhee is instead looking toward the opening of the new season, believing he could better address the Capitals needs if he waits. Gormley suggests the Capitals’ weaknesses are on the left side at forward and defense.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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