Let’s get right too it.
One of the greatest snipers of the post-lockout era has been traded. Long-time Atlanta Thrasher Ilya Kovalchuk has moved on to what we might call “bigger and better things”, picking up his Warrior sniper rifle and heading to Newark. In need of some offense, the New Jersey Devils shipped a package down south that included talented rookie Niclas Bergfors, veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya, now-suspended prospect Patrice Cormier and the Devils’ 1st-round draft choice in 2010. A kings ransom indeed.
Kovalchuk’s resume speaks for itself. A Rocket Richard winner in 2004, the Tver native and one-time Spartak Moscow product has two 50-goal campaigns to his name and currently sits in 6th place for goals scored with 31. Many experts have speculated that his point totals might even be better if he could escape from the dark shadow of Atlanta, but that hypothesis will be put to the test soon enough.
It makes almost 10 years ago that the Devils went out and added another Russian-born playmaker in Alexander Mogilny.
But several questions immediately arise about the addition. Will Kovalchuk be more than a rental in New Jersey? Can he fit into the defensive-oriented and systematic style of head coach Jacques Lemaire, while Atlanta never even dreamed of putting a harness on him? Will the high price be worth it, come the playoffs?
“The reason we got Alex Mogilny at the time was similar reasons – what he could bring offensively with the shot he had and he could do almost anything individually at times, but still be a team player. I feel Ilya can bring that sort of explosiveness and I also really believe strongly that he wants to win and will fit in.” said Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello. While Kovalchuk is certainly one of the best individual offensive talents in the game today and also thirsts to be part of a winning team, only time will tell how well he fits in with his new teammates.
But one thing that is no question whatsoever is what he potentially makes the Devils.
With two immensely gifted wingers in Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, along with Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, New Jersey now fields a fearsome combination of explosive offense and highly disciplined defense. That kind of mixture is one that is absolutely necessary for playoff success, and the Devils have not played past the 2nd round in some time.
Cynics will be quick to say that Kovalchuk is only making a stop in New Jersey before testing the waters of free agency, in an attempt to win now. After all, Lamoriello might feel like his team’s window to win another Stanley Cup is closing, at least with Brodeur and other veterans. Meanwhile, an optimist will say that the addition of Kovalchuk could be a new beginning and a new way of life in Newark, as the Devils plan to take more of a high-flying offensive approach in planning for Brodeur’s retirement.
Either way, the Kovalchuk era in New Jersey will begin on Friday night when the Rock plays host to the other big trade deadline player, the Toronto Maple Leafs. In doing so, there is little doubt that the most star power in the NHL resides in it’s most competitive division, the Atlantic.