The Waiting is Over…

After 65 days of being held hostage….yes 65…. the Ilya Kovalchuk saga is over. The NHL finally approved Kovalchuk’s 15 year, $100 million dollar deal with the New Jersey Devils and the rest of the hockey world can now move on with their lives. Personally, I was finally able to wear my ‘Kovalchuk 17’ t-shirt that I purchased after he signed the first contract that was rejected by the league and then rejected again by an independent arbitrator.

So what’s next for the Devils? Kovy’s deal puts them about $3 million over the salary cap limit with only 21 of 23 players on their roster, meaning they will have to shed at least two contracts (perhaps Bryce Salvador and Dainius Zubrus) and sign some other players to small money contracts to fill out the roster. By the way, has anyone else noticed that on the Devils official website that Jay Pandolfo is no longer listed on the team’s roster? Other candidates to be moved include Colin White and Brian Rolston, but both have no-trade clauses in their contracts and both are undesirable to other teams as of this moment. If Salvador is moved, I would expect them to bring defenseman Mike Mottau back on a one-year, cheapie deal. If Zubrus is shipped out, expect the team to add some depth by signing a solid veteran such as Richard Park, Brendan Morrison or Jeff Halpern.

With the players they have under contract now, assuming Salvador & or Zubrus are moved, here is what the opening night lineup could look like:

Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Jamie Langenbrunner
Ilya Kovalchuk-Jason Arnott-David Clarkson
Patrik Elias-Brian Rolston-Vladimir Zharkov
Pierre-Luc Leblond-Richard Park-Mattias Tedenby

Anton Volchenkov-Andy Greene
Henrik Tallinder-Anssi Salmela
Colin White-Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur-Johan Hedberg

spares: Mike Mottau?, Rod Pelley, Tim Sestito

Who are the teams left that can afford to add a contract like Salvador ($2.9 million) or Zubrus ($3.4 million) this late in the summer?
The Islanders, Thrashers, Blues, Hurricanes, Coyotes, Panthers, Lightning, Stars, Ducks, Predators & Kings all have $9 million or more in cap space.
Time will tell how GM Lou Lamoriello is going to shape and mold his 2010-11 roster and all we can do is sit back and wait; this time it won’t be 65 days because training camp starts for New Jersey on September 17, but they don’t have to be under the salary cap until October 8.

How do you feel now that the second best goal-scorer in the NHL will be a Devil for the next 15 seasons?

Advertisements

Devils’ Season Ends with a Thud

Here is my recap of the Devils 3-0 loss to the Flyers in Game 5, ending their season. I will have a season-ending roster report in the coming days:

Philadelphia 3               Devils 0

The New Jersey Devils have officially become the NHL’s version of baseball’s Atlanta Braves: they have one of the best records in the league year in and year out, but haven’t found a way to get even close to the Stanley Cup Finals since 2003. By losing to the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in five games, it became the third consecutive postseason in which the Devils failed to advance at least one round.

The Flyers (picked by no one to win the series) won in convincing fashion in the clinching Game 5 by a score of 3-0, without two of their best players — Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter — who both suffered foot injuries in Game 4. “I can’t speak for the past years,” said Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, “it’s being able to believe in what we’ll do and play playoff-hockey. There’s not ten ways to play in the playoffs, there’s not; there’s one way to play — that’s how we need to play, otherwise we have no chance to win. We didn’t play that way.”

Making matters worse for New Jersey, they were eliminated for the third straight spring in their brand-new, shiny, three-year-old arena, forcing their faithful fans to endure watching another post-game handshake on the Prudential Center ice; they are now 3-7 in ten playoff games at the Rock. When asked if he was shocked by yet another early summer vacation, Devils defenseman Colin White gave a simple explanation that summed it all up, “Obviously yeah; it sucks. Lots of things go wrong to lose four games in a series. Not just one thing, especially that way — four games to one — we didn’t give ourselves much of a chance.”

The Flyers gave the Devils an opportunity to seize control of the game (and perhaps some momentum in the series) when Dan Carcillo took an ill-advised tripping penalty just 43 seconds into the match; but New Jersey’s power play sputtered and 46 seconds after the man-advantage began it was over as captain Jamie Langenbrunner was handed an avoidable tripping minor. After a brief four-on-four, Philadelphia converted on their power play when a pass from Claude Giroux hit Daniel Briere in the skates and slipped between Devils goalie Martin Brodeur’s right skate and the goal post — giving the Flyers all of the offense they would need on this night.

New Jersey still had its chances to even the game, but they were unable to solve third-string goalie Brian Boucher who soundly outplayed Brodeur in four of the five games. In the second period, still down just one goal, the Devils fired nine shots at Boucher and they were rebuffed each time. “Tonight he looked extremely confident in net, like it wasn’t a question,” said coach Peter Laviolette of his goaltender. “He was in charge of his crease; he was in charge of the puck.” In contrast the Flyers were held to only four shots on goal in the middle period — and scored twice on Brodeur in a span of 1:59, both by 2010 Devil-killer Giroux (six points in five games).

The only Devils players who never seemed to give up throughout the night were Ilya Kovalchuk (seven shots on goal) and Dainius Zubrus (four), but they needed more help that never came in a must-win game. Lemaire pretty much admitted after the game that he could tell his players weren’t ready to battle like the Flyers were. “There are little things — battles here, battles there, the sharpness of the individual, being really positive on everything, when you try do certain things, change certain things you have their look that tells you they understand and they want to do it. It was a little lacking there.”

Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac had horrible series, Zach Parise might as well been invisible because he never could get around the imposing Chris Pronger, and Patrik Elias never found his scoring touch (four assists, no goals, -2) in any of the five games. “It’s never just one thing when you get beat like that; it’s a combination of things,” explained disappointed Devils defenseman Andy Greene. “Special teams were a big factor, they had some big power play goals and some big stops and vice versa — we didn’t get the goals we needed on the PP and we let in a few goals on the PK, this time of year that’s what it’s about.”

For New Jersey, it was another Cup-dream shattered as reality smacked them in the face and sent them packing before May 1 for the third consecutive season. “There will be 29 teams feeling exactly the way I’m feeling right now,” said Brodeur. “There will be one team that will be ecstatic this year; you have to put that in perspective. But at the same time, when you have opportunities and you feel that your organization is making moves to get yourself in a position to be successful, and you fold in five (games), it’s just not right.”

Game 5 Hero: Claude Giroux

Game 5 Goat: Martin Brodeur

Game Notes: After winning the World Series in 1995, the Atlanta Braves were eliminated ten straight years without a title, losing five times in the first round; they’ve now failed to qualify for the postseason over the last four seasons after a 14-year run of playoff appearances. The Devils have made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons, won nine Atlantic Division titles, 12 100-point seasons, three Stanley Cups; they have failed to get past the second round since 2003, with three straight first round exits (2008-Rangers, 2009-Hurricanes, 2010-Flyers) and their record in postseason games since 2003 is 16-26, 6-16 over their last 22. Elias has just two even-strength goals over his last 27 postseason games. New Jersey finished the series 4-for-32 on the PP (12.5%) and Philadelphia was 8-for-29 (27.6%). Pronger led all skaters in ice-time with 28:49 and Kovalchuk led the Devils with 24:45; Pronger also had a game-high six blocked shots, New Jersey only had five total as a team. Kovalchuk led all players with seven shots on goal and Giroux led Philadelphia with four. Flyers captain Mike Richards led all players in the series with eight points (2g-6a) and Kovalchuk led the Devils with six points (2g-4a). Philadelphia is the first team to advance to the second round this postseason and will likely play the top-seeded Washington Capitals.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Claude Giroux (Phil) – 2 goals (4), assist (2)

#2 – Daniel Briere (Phil) – gw/pp goal (2), assist (3)

#3 – Mike Richards (Phil) – 2 assists (6)

Dan Rice covers the New Jersey Devils & NHL for NYCSportsnetwork.com and IslesNation.com. He can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Devils-Hurricanes Postgame Quotes [12.09.09]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after Wednesday’s 4-2  win by the Devils over the Hurricanes:

Zach Parise:

Describing Andy Greene’s power play goal that he assisted on…

“Andy pretty much did it all; he made a nice break in and their guy kind of backed off of me and let me take it to the net. I tried to shoot low blocker and it went right over to Andy.”

Are these Hurricanes any different than the team that you lost to in the playoffs last spring, despite their record?

“I think it’s the same team. For whatever reason they’ve struggled, but they’ve still got good players. I think they’re a lot better than their record says — that’s a good team over there.”

Johnny Oduya:

You blocked a lot of shots tonight (4) can you talk about that a little?

“Did I?”

You had at least four through two periods, including one where Marty was out of position and you went down to one knee…

“Well, that one I was a little bit out of position and it was my guy that was wide I think; I had to make a choice and got caught a little bit in between. I don’t know, I think I got lucky and his shot caught me because it was pretty much an open net.”

Carolina has a pretty bad record right now (7-18-5), do you notice anything different about them from last year’s playoffs?

“Well they have a couple of guys out; I always think they’ve been a good team. I know last year at times they were struggling a little bit too before they got it going at the end of the year. They’re one of those teams that, maybe, they get up a little bit more for the playoffs. They’re a pretty experienced team, playoff-wise too, once we get further along in the season, I think they’re going to start playing better. Obviously they’ve had a tough start, but I think they’ll come around.”

When Bryce Salvador went down at the end of the first period and misses part of the second, the d-pairings get changed up a little bit, how much does that affect you?

“I think (on this team) anyone can play with anyone; everybody can play both sides too. I don’t think that’s a problem, I think it’s more of just knowing who you are out (on the ice) with and their type of game, but we still play the same system and play a team-game, a defensive-game.”

Martin Brodeur:

Talking about Andy Greene…

“I don’t think there’s a doubt in anybody’s mind that he belongs in the NHL.”

Can you believe that at one point this season you had to answer questions about not winning at home and now you’ve won eight of ten here at the Rock?

“It’s always tough, because as reporters, and even coaches and players, you take an 82-game season and you shrink it down to little streaks. But when you look at the grand scheme of things, it’s a lot different; you don’t see these bumps as much. But when you’re going through them, we had a hard time in the first three games (here). We got over it and now we’re doing well and we have to try to keep that up. It’s like a goalie that has a couple of tough games, next thing you know, its tough but when you really look at it; when you get older you realize that the big picture is what’s important. I know its important the day you have to play, but right now we’re happy about the way everybody is contributing for us to be successful at home. It is important, you play to be the top team — that gives you the home-ice advantage — so if you’re not comfortable playing there, it doesn’t make sense, so it’s important to play well at home.”

Did their first goal hit (Mark) Fraser’s stick?

“Yeah, I think it hit his stick, his pants and went down on me; it was kind of weird. I lost it for a good second, and I was looking like ‘Where is it?’ and the next thing I saw was it going by me, so it was an unfortunate break.”

Were you thinking shutout before that?

Smiling “No, no, it was too early, with four minutes left maybe.”

Cam Ward:

Did you feel any rust going in or was it the first shot and then you’re in the game?

“I felt a little bit uncomfortable at times in the first period, but as the game went along I thought I settled down and played better in the second and third; by the end of the game I felt like my old self again.”

Did this game start to take on the feel that it had when you guys faced each other in the playoffs last spring?

“Yeah, you know it’s just another game against the Devils — it’s always a hard-fought game; I thought our guys really competed well. We were pressing quite a bit in the second and third periods there and we just couldn’t find a way to get that third goal. They do such a good job at clogging up the slot — the middle of the ice in front of Marty. We worked hard, but once again we fell a little bit short.”

Jacques Lemaire:

How worried were you about blowing the lead when it was 3-2?

“Well at that time I wasn’t thinking about the game itself, the win or the loss, I was thinking about the way we were playing. If you notice we started to turn the puck over at their blue line, three, four times in a row and at different times.”

Who would you say saved the win for you?

“Saved the win? I know Marty made big saves at certain times, I think it’s again, the guys that played against their top line; I felt we did a pretty decent job against them.”

Devils Post-Game Quotes [10.17.09]

Here are the transcripts of postgame after Saturday’s 2-0 Devils win over the Hurricanes:

Zach Parise:

It looked like a playoff-style game, do you agree?

“Yeah, it seems like anytime we play these guys, it’s going to go down to the wire. Both teams didn’t really give a lot of room; it was tough (out there). It wasn’t an easy game.”

Talk about the line changes…

“We knew beforehand, so it wasn’t a surprise for us. We need to get some more scoring and more of a consistent attack. We’ll see what happens. There are some good players in here and we should be capable of playing with anyone so – its tough when you lose Elias who’s one of your best forwards – you have to mix and match and find something that works.”

The PP struggled again tonight…

“Yeah we’re working on it. We were fortunate to get away with it tonight, but we’ll figure it out.”

Martin Brodeur:

Talk about getting shutout no. 102…

“You never know when there’s going to be the next one, (so) it’s hard to really look forward to it. Hopefully we get shutouts, because that means we’re getting wins, and then everybody’s happy.”

You seemed like you were in a zone tonight, fair assesment?

“When we play these guys it’s always a tough game. We knew that we couldn’t give them much; we had to stay disciplined and stay out of the box. They did the same too. It was really a little bit of a chess match. I think it was a pretty good game to watch – to play it was a lot of fun, because every little mistake could have been the difference, we got a lucky bounce on our goal and that was enough to win the game.”

What’s it like playing against Ward?

“He’s a good goalie. Every time I play against him or watch him play, I’m really impressed. Tommy Barassso has done a great job with him, he’s playing a lot like him – how aggressive he is. He made some big saves to keep his team in the game. Again, anytime you play against one of the top goalies you always want to play well because you know your team isn’t going to get much, so you can’t give up a lot.”

Did you notice Ward has been more aggressive with his stick?

“Well, Tommy B was like that; it’s a credit to Cam that he’s playing that way – I think it’s a way of playing the game, to be active with your stick. It’s something that I do a lot but really impressive in the way that he’s playing.”

When did you know you needed a shutout tonight?

“When we scored that goal, I said, ‘I think this is going to be it for me – this is all the production I’m going to get.’ In my head it wasn’t about a shutout it was I cant give up anything and we’ve got to get it done.”

Did you sense in the first period it would be a goaltending duel?

“I felt good. I’m not sure about Cam, but I felt strong in there. At least I got some shots early on – last night I didn’t get many shots until late in the second period. It’s hard to get going when that happens. I should be used to it playing for Jacques so many years (smirk) but it was nice because I was able to get some work tonight and I felt good.”

Paul Martin:

New defense partner for you tonight…

“It worked well tonight and we’ll see what the coaches want to do. It’s not up to us.”

Was it difficult after playing alongside Oduya for so long?

“Sal is more of a stay at home d-man. He has different tendencies (than Oduya). I guess they (the coaches) weren’t getting from us what they wanted so far, so they tried something different.”

You played with Salvador last year a bit, does that make it easier?

“We’re supposed to play the same way (individually) every game, so it really shouldn’t matter who you’re playing with, you just get used to it.”

Rob Niedermayer:

Talk about the scoring play and the goal…

“Zach made a good play and I knew a couple of guys were going to the net so I just tried to throw it there and we got the bounce. Sometimes you need to get the lucky bounce, like we did.”

Did you feel you were owed one of those lucky bounces?

“Well, you have to work for your chances, your goals. I thought tonight we did and we came out and worked hard all three periods – that’s what we have to do.”

Jacques Lemaire:

What did you think of tonight’s performance?

“Much better — everyone worked hard, everyone played disciplined, we were good with the puck, and we had good scoring chances. I can’t find a player that didn’t do his job.”

How about Marty?

“Marty was just great. That’s how we know the type of game he could play. You could tell right at the start there that first cross-ice pass that turned out to be a one-timer he made a good save, and after that it was downhill for him.”

Any line combos you haven’t tried yet – is it because you haven’t thought of them yet?

“(Smiling) Yes, I did change the lines, I feel much better with the ones that we have right now. I think our team is more solid. It’s too bad that I had to break up a line that had so much success last year, but I talked to the guys and they want to go on with this and they feel it’s going to help the team. You could tell the job that Travis did tonight with the kids – that was really good…really good. He makes the kids even better, this is what we need. Nieder, started on the checking line and then I moved him up with Zach and Jamie and I thought he fit really well there. He moves the puck well, he’s getting his share of chances and I’m really happy with the way they all played.”

Why did you make that move?

“I wanted to give a little more responsibility to Zubie (on the checking line with Pandolfo and Rolston) playing against the other team’s top line and I knew before the game that Nieder would fit well with those two. It turned out really good.”

You used Bergfors a lot… (He played 17:47 and led the team with 8 shots on goal)

“Yes. He played a good number of minutes. You know I just feel he’s solid. You look at him when he gets the puck and he controls it…makes good plays. I liked, if you talk to Lou or any of the coaching staff, I liked the kid right from day one. I said ‘This kid can play’, you can see he missed a few chances, but he’s there. We’ll work on his shot. But him and Matt they never stop; they just keep working. Matt had the stick in the face on his nose and he wanted to come back as quick as possible — he wants to play. It’s great to have kids like that.”

You still have an issue with too many men on the ice…

“Whew. I think we’re practicing our PK. That’s the only thing I can see. The guys want to kill penalties so our average gets better. Again – the player though the player he was replacing was already on the bench.”