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?

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Should He Stay or Should He Go…

It’s been almost two weeks since the New Jersey Devils 2009-10 season came to a crashing halt at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Three days after their elimination, coach Jacques Lemaire announced his retirement forcing the team to search for it’s sixth head coach in six seasons since the lockout ended. Three consecutive first round exits, haven’t made it past the second round since winning the 2003 Stanley Cup.

After having time to digest all of this I’ve come up with some suggestions on how to improve the team and hopefully help them (at least) make it out of the opening round of the playoffs. All salaries I used are courtesy of nhlnumbers.com.

Coach: Hire Mike Keenan. The ex-Ranger coach, (more recently ex-Calgary) would seem like an odd choice at first glance, but he knows how to win and he could work well together with another crafty mind like GM Lou Lamoriello. His first task will be convincing Brodeur to play less games, oh and his career total of 672 wins is good for 4th all-time.

Trade: Jamie Langenbrunner, Mark Fraser (and/or) Andy Greene to Toronto for Tomas Kaberle. Perhaps Lamoriello can convince Leafs GM Brian Burke that he can use a Langenbrunner to lead his young team in 2010-11 as he led Burke’s Team USA to a silver medal. Kaberle has one year left on his current deal at $4.25 mil, so to make it fair salary-wise Lamoriello may have to surrender both Greene and Fraser; Langenbrunner is due $2.8 mil and will also be going into the last year of his contract. Perhaps Kaberle will waive his no-trade clause to skate with fellow Czech Patrik Elias.

Trade: Before the draft call your old trading partner Don Waddell from Atlanta and offer him RFA David Clarkson ($875,000) for soon-to-be UFA Colby Armstrong ($2.4 mil). Maybe he still wasn’t 100% from the leg injury, but Clarkson was invisible versus the Flyers; Armstrong will be a player that plays hard every shift and in front of the opposing goalie he will be a pain in the @$$, something Clarkson has failed to do in each of the last two postseasons. See if Waddell has any interest or room for Jay Pandolfo also, who could help stabilize a young squad.

Free Agency: Let Paul Martin, Mike Mottau, Rob Niedermayer, Rod Pelley and Martin Skoula walk away. Changes have to be made and most of these players were very serviceable, the ultimate results just weren’t there.

Do whatever you have to do to re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk. Quick name another first overall pick that has played for the Devils. Stumped, well as far as I know there is only one other– Bobby Carpenter — and he wasn’t nearly as dynamic as Kovalchuk is. Hopefully Ilya sticks around, but who am I kidding, there’s no way he’ll stay in New Jersey right?

Sign Free Agents : Tomas Plekanec, Marek Svatos and either Andy Sutton or Anton Volchenkov. Plekanec is the center that the Devils have been lacking since Scott Gomez took the money and ran to Manhattan, leaving Travis Zajac as the team’s only legitimate scoring center. Svatos is a talented, scrappy, underachieving winger from Colorado who could fit in on a solid third/fourth line. Either Sutton or Volchenkov won’t come cheap, but they are both worth the money that will be spent on them. They both block shots well, get in shooting lanes and aren’t afraid to get into scrums to protect the front of their crease — a huge lacking element in NJ the last three playoff failures. Both players also have the same downside too — they are both injury prone, so teams may end up being hesitant to throw major cash around.

There’s a saying ‘scared money makes no money’ so I say the Devils need to revamp the current edition to make it look something like this:

Line A: Ilya Kovalchuk-Tomas Plekanec-Patrik Elias
Line B: Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Dainius Zubrus
Line C: Brian Rolston-Colby Armstrong-Marek Svatos
Line D: Pierre-Luc Leblond-Tim Sestito/Dean McAmmond-Vladimir Zharkov

D-pair 1: Tomas Kaberle-Anton Volchenkov/Andy Sutton
D-pair 2: Matthew Corrente-Bryce Salvador
D-pair 3: Colin White-Anssi Salmela/Tyler Eckford

Goalies: Martin Brodeur, Yann Danis

I know I’ve made some crazy suggestions here, and I have no doubt that I’ll probably be 0.00% right, but hopefully some changes are made so I’m not sitting home watching less-superior teams battle for a chance to get steamrolled next season. Let me know how insane this all sounded, Thanx.

Dan

Devils Even Series With 5-3 Win Over Flyers

Here is my recap of the Devils 5-3 Game 2 win against Philadelphia on Friday night:

Devils Even Series With 5-3 Win Over Flyers

Devils 5 Philadelphia 3

If a team expects to make a long postseason run with dreams of winning a Stanley Cup, they need to get goals from their stars — and the unexpected hero needs to score every now and then. Sure it was huge for New Jersey that Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk scored their first goals of the series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night at Prudential Center, but the first question Devils coach Jacques Lemaire was asked after his squad’s 5-3 Game 2 win wasn’t about either one of them.

Q: You got your big goal-scorer going tonight, Colin White. “It’s funny that you talk about this,” said Lemaire with a grin, “but in the playoffs you need that type of goals from different people, different players that you don’t expect. He’s one of them.”

New Jersey had five different goal-scorers in the win as they evened the series at one game apiece and now they head to Philadelphia for the next two games. “We have to go in there and just play; focus on the job,” said Patrik Elias, who had a great game with three assists. “They’ll be feeding off of their crowd, it will be loud — we just have to stay in control and play our game.”

Parise started the scoring 2:45 into the game when he converted a perfect pass from Elias on a shorthanded breakaway, beating Flyers goalie Brian Boucher with a rising backhand shot. “It was a great pass,” said Parise. “He saw me with a step on (Chris) Pronger and he was able to get it through (Matt) Carle; great play. He sent me in alone on a breakaway.” The 1-0 Devils lead lasted until 9:33 when ex-Devil Arron Asham beat Martin Brodeur after a cross-ice pass from Claude Giroux.

It was Giroux almost six minutes later that gave Philly its first lead of the night when he deflected Carle’s shot from the circle through Brodeur’s legs on the power play. The Flyers carried the 2-1 lead into the second period despite being out-shot (11-7) for the third time in four periods of the series. White evened the game again 3:44 into the middle period when his long shot found its way through a maze of players and past Boucher for his first goal in 101 playoff games.

Another defenseman, this time Andy Greene, scored at 13:25 to restore the one-goal lead for the Devils, when he redirected Elias’ centering pass into the net on a power play. “Patrik is playing really well, especially tonight there — moves the puck, controls the puck,” said Lemaire. “When you’re looking at the players he’s playing against, he did a tremendous job.” Philadelphia battled back and tied it at 3-3 with a power play goal when Pronger deflected Kimmo Timonen’s past Brodeur with 1:12 left in the period.

The Flyers controlled the play for most of the third period and could’ve taken a lead if not for Brodeur’s save on Ian Laperierre’s one-timer from the slot with 8:40 remaining. “He gave us a chance to win by making that huge save in the slot,” said Lemaire. “Otherwise they would’ve taken the lead.”

The game seemed destined for overtime until Dainius Zubrus used his big body (6’5”, 225 lbs.) to force his way to the front of the net with the puck. “Zubie made a really good power move to the net and that’s what he brings to our line, what he brings to this team,” said Parise. “He was able to chip it over the goalie’s shoulder there.” The replays show Parise and Zubrus simultaneously hitting the puck with their sticks, but both players admitted afterwards they didn’t care who scored the goal — just that the goal was scored.

Kovalchuk finished off a three-point performance (and a night that saw him take three minor penalties) when he deposited a shot from center-ice into the empty Flyers net with 32.9 seconds left, sealing the Game 2 win for his team; his first playoff win in six career games. “I’m sure he’s really excited to get it out of the way and he showed what type of player he is — he was all over the ice, he was aggressive, such a big guy,” said Brodeur.

Lemaire shared the same sentiments about Kovalchuk, saying, “I like Kovy, he might do some weird things according you guys; to me, he just lacks some experience in the playoffs, that’s all that he’s missing.” But coach Lemaire didn’t like the fact that one of his stars was getting tangled with a part-time player (Darroll Powe) on the opposition. “There’s certain things he needs to watch — you can’t get tangled with a guy that plays ten minutes and have to sit out for two. Not when you’re one of the top players, so you have to stay away from that.”

Game Notes: Rookie defenseman Matthew Corrente made his postseason debut for New Jersey and played forward on the fourth line; he had one shot on goal in 5:14. Pronger led all skaters in ice-time with 27:26 and Travis Zajac led the Devils with 22:41. Parise led all players with six shots on goal and Jeff Carter led the Flyers with five, but was a -3; Only six skaters in the game did not record a shot on goal (Blair Betts and Oskars Bartulis for Philly/ Pierre-Luc Leblond, Bryce Salvador, Mike Mottau and Martin Skoula for New Jersey). Boucher finished with 28 saves and Brodeur made 26 saves in his 99th career playoff win. Game 3 is Sunday night at 6pm in Philadelphia at the Wachovia Center.

Game 2 Hero: Patrik Elias

Game 2 Goat: Jeff Carter

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 3 assists (3)

#2 – Dainius Zubrus (NJ) – gw goal (1)

#3 – Zach Parise (NJ) – sh goal (1), assist (2)

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