Courtesy of the AP Press
The NHL’s most prized free agent has finally found himself a home. Tver native Ilya Kovalchuk has announced that he will not be moving anywhere, but instead remaining with the New Jersey Devils. Despite receiving lucrative offers from multiple other clubs, from the NHL to the KHL, Kovalchuk may have taken the grandest of them all.
No. 17 signed a 17-year deal worth a reported $107 million that will keep him with the Newark-based club until 2028. For those wondering, Ilya will be 45 years old by that time. To put that titanic number into perspective, his contract will span longer than the term of a Supreme Court Justice, longer than the Devils arena deal at the Prudential Center, longer than the state of New Jersey has existed and yes, longer than the half-life of Uranium-238.
To say he sold his eternal soul to the Devils may be the best way to put it.
The man needs little introduction. He’s been one of the finest goal-scorers in the NHL since he came into the league with the Atlanta Thrashers. Six straight 40 goal seasons, multiple All-Star selections and a Rocket Richard Trophy, there are few better gun-for-hires in the world. But one thing has eluded him throughout his NHL career to date – the Stanley Cup playoffs. With only nine playoff games on his resume, some may question his pedigree when the games matter most – but make no mistake, he now has the power to dramatically effect the Atlantic Division for quite some time as a member of the Devils.
The Devils have an entirely new reason to hope. It’s no secret that Brodeur probably will not be in the league for too much longer. A new icon is needed once the winningest goalie of all-time retires. Kovalchuk, 27, has every opportunity to become the new Devils icon. He provides a different energy, a different tempo and perhaps most importantly, a very marketable name. The Devils ranked only 21st in attendance during the regular season, rarely filling the arena to capacity. Kovalchuk should help tremendously in that sense while also attracting more national media to a team that doesn’t get as much as it seems like they should with the success they’ve had.
It’s a gamble, no doubt. But a gamble well worth taking, from a marketing and competitive stance.
From a divisional rival, the signing of Kovalchuk means one big thing. Quick-Strike Offense. The Devils as we know them, have been a defensive trapping team for the last decade. Guided by talismanic goaltender Martin Brodeur, the Devils have been the definition of that team you hate to play against, as it’s often more exciting to watch a Sequoia grow. But now with the addition of Kovalchuk, they add an elite scorer.
Now it has to be said, that Kovalchuk’s transition to the Devils way was not as smooth as a baby’s ass. You could say he still never adjusted. But the longer time he spends at the Rock, the more lethal he can become. Mixing the defensive excellence that always does well when it comes to the playoffs with a scoring tandem such as Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, the rest of the coaches in the Eastern Conference will be having nightmares about how to properly defend such a combination – if there indeed is one.
While there is concern about what the Devils could become, there is also a sense of happiness. Happiness that the Devils dealt out a downright outrageous contract. Regardless of who the player may be, contracts of 10 or more years always come with a ton of risk – this one especially, as more than half of it is paid after Kovalchuk’s 35th birthday. Will he really be as lethal of a scorer into his mid-30’s? History is not on his side. Of 50 goal scorers in the past, nearly every one of them begins to regress around that time – most never even reach 30 goals again after they turn 35 – a statistic which the Devils certainly would have known when they gave him the contract. A 17-year contract makes him now extremely static.
Will it work out? Can Ilya put his name on the Stanley Cup? He has 17 years to do it.
(Editor’s note: LOU, YOU ARE FORGIVEN FOR LETTING BRYLIN LEAVE)-SM