The New Jersey Devils got Ilya Kovalchuk. OK, now what?
One thing seems certain: The Devils join a long line of teams that think they have a 1-2 punch to match Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin just because they have two decent offensive threats. Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are good. Sid and Geno, they aren’t. Neither is as good as either.
Where does Kovalchuk fit in with New Jersey’s regimented trapping system? Will he make it, or break it? Like-minded Marian Gaborik hated playing for Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota. Lemaire has decelerated Parise’s production this season.
Who is Kovalchuk’s playmaking center? Travis Zajac? Jamie Langenbrunner? Please.
Kovalchuk is a huge add on the power play. If you beat the Penguins on the power play – not exactly a daunting task – you can beat the Penguins, not that the Devils have had any trouble dealing with the Pens so far this season.
New Jersey didn’t give up much, not really. It shows how stars with expiring contracts can put teams over a barrel. Kovalchuk turned down $101 million over 12 years to stay in Atlanta. He wanted OUT. Once the rest of the NHL realized that – don’t forget, potential suitors were limited because of cap issues – the best Atlanta could get was Johnny Oduya.
Some compare this trade to the acquisition of Alexander Mogilny when the Devils won the Cup in 2000. Hardly. New Jersey was loaded then: Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Petr Sykora, Jason Arnott, Bobby Holik and Claude Lemieux up front, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski in the back, Martin Brodeur in goal.
Kovalchuk, unlike Mogilny then, is in his prime. Kovalchuk will be counted on to do more, and he’ll have to do it with much less. The heat is on.
New Jersey may eliminate the Penguins this spring. But it won’t be because the Devils got Kovalchuk. If anything, Kovalchuk’s style and attitude could erode what the Devils have done to dominate the Penguins so far this campaign.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).