Over the long haul, Ilya Kovalchuk’s departure could help the New Jersey Devils. The latter years of his contract would have proven burdensome to the franchise.
He had 12 years and $77 million on the contract he walked away from. Devils hockey czar Lou Lamoriello gained considerable long-range payroll flexibility with Kovaluchuk off to finish his career is Russia.
But in the near term the Devils will be hard-pressed to replace his goal-scoring. This team will need young forwards like Travis Zajac (20 points in 48 games last season) and Adam Henrique (16 points in 42 games) to take big steps forward next season.
“Time will tell, but it definitely puts us in an awkward position as far as the makeup of our team,” goaltender Martin Brodeur told the Newark Star-Ledger. “We counted on Kovy to give us offense. In our minds we didn’t have to worry about some part of our offense. He was the power play. He played the whole two minutes.
“Out of the blue this kills some spirit. Everyone is going to be scratching their heads to see where we go from here to replace him and maybe change the makeup of our team. I don’t think you can find a guy that does what he does, who plays the amount of minutes he does. It frees up (cap) room in the future, but right now it’s kind of tough because everyone is under contract for next year. Not a lot of free agents out there. This came maybe a couple of weeks too late.”
By committing to Kovalchuk, the Devils were unable to keep Zach Parise and David Clarkson from exiting as free agents the last two seasons. After losing Clarkson to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Lamoriello overpaid ($24 million!) to add big winger Ryane Clowe.
This team still has franchise stalwarts Brodeur and forward Patrik Elias, but those players are in their twilight years. Lamoriello spent this year’s first-round pick to land future No. 1 goaltender Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks.
The Devils’ loss of their first-round pick in 2014 – their league punishment for circumventing the salary cap on Kovalchuk’s contract – exacerbates the situation.