In his column on SI.com this morning Allan Muir joined the NJDBA (the New Jersey Devils Bashers Association), chortling joyfully how the Devils and Lou Lamoriello got what was coming to them for making the Kovalchuk deal – a $3M fine and the loss of two draft choices.
Muir now joins his fellow bashers: Gary Bettman, who made the announcement on the eve of the team’s first Stanley Cup win that the team might move to Nashville the following season; Mike Millbury and Barry Melrose, whose stint on ESPN Hockey Tonight was spent bemoaning the dull defensive-oriented play of the team while it was marching towards the Cup, including a 4-0 sweep of a powerful Detroit team in the Finals; Larry Brooks of the New York Post, who gets a daily shot at the team in his perch at the newspaper while he cheers for the New York Rangers; and a long list of Toronto hockey media people who nominate a new goalie-of-the-year to replace Martin Brodeur, the Devils perennial All-Star.
With the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk, Lou Lamoriello and Jeff Vanderbeek have changed not just the direction of the franchise but also the entire personality of future Devil teams.
Gone are the small offensive-minded defensemen like Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya
and in their place stand two tough defenders, Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, both cut in the cloth of Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko, who have been sorely missed. Along with Colin White and Bryce Salvador, these new defensive stalwarts will make Brodeur’s crease a lot more dangerous to crash.
The summertime addition of center Jason Arnott to the offense adds scoring weight that has been missing up front. The possibility of an Arnott-Elias-Kovalchuk line, coupled with a Parise-Zajak-Langenbrunner combination has Devils fans giddy with anticipation. Devils fans insist they are too New Jersey to get giddy but – who knows?
Johan Hedberg will give the team strong relief for Marty Brodeur, even though Marty would prefer to play all 82 games.
John MacLean is the final added element to the team’s personality change. As the Devil’s all-time leading scorer he is expected to devise a more offensive minded plan of attack while not abandoning the defensive game that has made the franchise so successful. “If we can get back to playing Devils hockey, a hard-working team night in and night out, I think we will be successful.” With Larry Robinson coaching the defense and Adam Oates working behind the bench, he will have expert analysts to rely on.
The rationale for making this deal as outlined in the press conference announcing Ilya’s signing was simple. The Devils have won their Division nine times in the last sixteen years and added three Stanley Cups. With these kinds of finishes every year, they are never in contention far any top elite draft picks that come out of the minor ranks every year. The Kovalchuk signing is similar to getting the Number One overall pick in the year you choose. How much would you spend to draft a guaranteed 40 goal scorer? As Lamoriello pares his roster to get his payroll under the cap he can replenish his draft pick cupboard and stock up for the future. Can anyone say Sam Pollock?
Late in his column Muir sums up saying: “But make no mistake. This penalty makes life miserable for the Devils and puts considerable pressure on Kovalchuk to put on a cape and fly to work.” Then he finishes with: ”So the Devils will just have to lick their wounds and limp away. And hope against hope that somehow Kovalchuk will turn out to be worth all this hell.”
Let’s examine that. Whom in the Devils camp would this make miserable?
Johnny Mac? Given Kovalchuk to coach in his first season as an NHL head coach? Not likely.
Kovalchuk’s line mates? Given Kovy to pass to on their left wing? Don’t think so.
The front office? As they watch the increase in season ticket sales and the added press coverage? No misery there.
Maybe just the members of the NJDBA? Most likely.
Kovalchuk is a Devil for 15 years and the bashers just have to live with that.