It may seem crazy to even think about, but are the New Jersey Devils better off without their departing star Ilya Kovalchuk? It has been over a month since the announcement was made. Devils fans were filled with more venom than this organization has ever seen. They had just seen Zach Parise leave for his hometown Minnesota Wild. Then they saw David Clarkson leave for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.
This made us bitter. We were angry at them, more so Parise because of how he spoke to Ryan Suter prior to the playoffs ending about where they were going to go. We had a “we will win without them” attitude. Then Kovalchuk quit on the team. He left for home, but this was not the same.
In Kovalchuk, you had a sniper, superstar and pure goal scorer. There were signs in his game that he was buying into the Devils system. He was the man who would become the face of the franchise once Martin Brodeur retired. He was the player who would turn the Devils into an offensive-minded team. They would be fun to watch for a national audience. Now the fans have none of that. Not only did he leave the team high and dry, but he left the people who spent their hard earned money to see him play and buy his merchandise.
But have we asked ourselves this question: what did Kovalchuk do while he was in New Jersey? He was very good, I won’t take that away from you, but there are glaring weaknesses in his game.
His shooting percentage dropped in the three full seasons he was with the team. If he shot his career average shooting percentage, then he would have added four goals in 2010-11, six goals in 2011-12 and six goals in the shortened 2013 season. He seemed to be almost checked out last season. It was clear his mind was still in Russia. In the playoff run to the Stanley Cup, he posted 19 points in 23 games while having a -7 plus/minus. It was not Kovalchuk who carried the team that season.
The Devils organization felt it needed to sign players to build around Kovalchuk. They brought back Andrei Loktionov so he could play with him. Now he seems to be lost in the shuffle. They made every decision to compliment one player. They were handcuffed by a contract that seemed like it would never come off the books. For what seemed like forever, there was going to be close to a $7 million cap hit. Now, they have none of that. With Josh Harris completing his bid for ownership, now the team can try and build a team, the same way they did when they were winning Stanley Cups.
They have a great young defense coming up and they can keep the core they want without worrying about losing money. They will be able to keep Corey Schneider longer than his two-year deal. They can build a team that wins by suffocating you and scoring ugly goals, but goals nonetheless.
They brought in Michael Ryder, who can find space and has a nasty wrist shot. They brought in Ryane Clowe to basically replace Clarkson. They have young stars in Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson. They brought in Jaromir Jagr to capitalize on whatever the 41-year-old has left. They made some moves that will help them at least be good this season.
Barring injury to certain players, this season is not as gloom and doom that some fans are screaming. There are analysts that are saying the Devils will be the worst team in the league. Don’t listen to those analysts anymore. This will not likely be a season where we make a lot of noise, but it will still be fun. The future is wide open now. We again have a good amount of cap room currently and have even more coming off the books. The Devils have over $25 million in cap space to make moves next offseason. There are a ton of good free agents in 2014, most notably Matt Moulson, Dany Heatley and Marion Gaborik.
The point is, don’t cry over spilled milk, or a lost Russian. Life and hockey will go on. Will we be better off next season without him? Of course not, but in the long run, this is a good change. We may not have as many nationally televised games, but that never hurt us in our goal to win the Cup before. It won’t affect us now.