So, what’s next for the Devils without Kovalchuk?

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However New Jersey Devils fans feel about Ilya Kovalchuk’s departure, the fact is that he’s gone. This means New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello must answer the question: “What happens now?”

As long-time Devils forward Patrik Elias told the Newark Star-Ledger, the “retired” 30-year-old leaves a crater in the roster thanks to his absence.

“It’s going to be interesting over the next couple of months to watch Lou figure out what to do. I’ve never seen anything like this in my 18 years here,” Elias said. “No question it’s going to affect the team. You can question his defensive play, but offensively Kovy was a key guy. He was putting up the numbers.”

This post takes an abbreviated look at the impact of this loss and a variety of factors for Lamoriello to consider.

What New Jersey loses

As Elias states, Kovalchuk is a rare scorer. He scored 417 goals and exactly a point-per-game in 816 career contests. Even the most optimistic Devils fan would admit that there isn’t a sniper on his level on the roster.

Kovalchuk logged substantial minutes, too. His 24:44 minutes per game ranked 17th overall in the NHL in 2013 and was the highest average of any forward. (No other forward ranked in the top 30.)

Also of note: the Devils forfeit their 2014 first-rounder because of the league punishments involving the team’s first attempted contract with Kovalchuk. That lost pick could sting quite a bit, especially since Hockey Prospectus ranks the team’s farm system as the third-worst in the NHL, with an especially “barren” forward group.

Potential gains

There are some bright sides, however. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll ignore the money-saving elements that could make more of a difference off the ice.

Most obviously, the Devils clear Kovalchuk’s $6.667 million cap hit, which was set to expire in 2024-25. His age and an injury-plagued 2013 season imply that he might be passing his peak years.

Cap Geek estimates that New Jersey’s cap space is now around $10.6 million, and while they’re unlikely to spend to the ceiling, they can use that money to re-sign Adam Henrique and test the free agent market a bit.

With that in mind, here are a few guys Lamoriello might look at. (Note: restricted free agents could theoretically be an option, but there are enough complications that we’ll just direct you to this listing.)

Some UFA targets

Mikhail Grabovski
Jaromir Jagr
Vinny Prospal
Mason Raymond
Damien Brunner

There’s also the possibility of nabbing someone via a trade – the name Ales Hemsky sprouted up, for one – so at least the Devils gain options and flexibility.

Now, would any of these options completely replace Kovalchuk? That’s highly unlikely, but Lamoriello might just make the best of this tough situation.

 

Lightning give Vasilevskiy the hook after very rare Jurco goal

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By just about any measure, Monday’s been lousy to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

He was pulled with a few minutes remaining in the first period after Chicago Blackhawks built a 3-1 lead, scoring those three goals on just eight shots on net.

You could summarize Vasilevskiy’s awful start by those numbers, or by how rare the 3-1 goal was for the scorer.

Tomas Jurco failed to score a goal or an assist in 16 games with the Red Wings, then went pointless in nine more games with Chicago before finally scoring his first goal of the season on Monday.

Now, Jon Cooper didn’t pull Vasilevskiy because Jurco scored that tally. Still, it rubs a little extra salt in his wounds all things considered.

Coach Q thinks Anisimov will be back by playoffs for Blackhawks

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The bad news is that Artem Anisimov seems likely to miss all – or at least most – of the regular season for the Chicago Blackhawks with his lower-body injury.

The good? Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville believes that Anisimov will be ready once the playoffs swing into motion, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports.

Anisimov was hurt when he got tangled up with Canadiens forward Alex Radulov on March 14:

The Blackhawks have been filling Anisimov’s typical spot alongside Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin with Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz lately. There have been flashes of brilliance with Schmaltz, but Chicago would probably feel most confident with Anisimov back in his familiar place.

Chicago’s Central lead is pretty secure over the Minnesota Wild at the moment, which likely reduces motivation to rush Anisimov back before he’s truly ready. The Blackhawks close out their regular season on April 8, so there’s still time for him to heal up.

Ducks demote Enroth, so Gibson’s close to a return

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The Anaheim Ducks are flying high – er, waddling with some swagger? – right now thanks to Jonathan Bernier‘s somewhat shocking turnaround, but the pending return of John Gibson is promising.

(Especially since the Ducks will likely want him to shake off some rust before the playoffs begin.)

While it’s not clear if he’s exactly 100 percent healthy just yet, the Ducks sending Jhonas Enroth back to the AHL is a strong sign that Gibson is close.

Enroth actually never got a shot to start for the Ducks, as his last NHL appearance came on Nov. 30, closing off his ill-fated run with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Considering that Enroth was once a fairly hot commodity as at least a promising backup, it will be interesting to see how his 2017-18 season pans out. Will he get more or less of a chance than he received this season?

Bernier, meanwhile, is richly rewarding the Ducks for sticking with him.

He’s provided them with a Vezina-caliber March: 9-1-1, 1.71 GAA and .943 save percentage with one shutout. You almost wonder if there’s at least some potential for a goalie controversy if Gibson stumbles whenever he gets back into action … but hey, having two good goalies to choose from is better than none.

(Which was the scenario that must have scared the Ducks when Gibson got hurt in the first place.)

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning

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The Tampa Bay Lightning almost certainly haven’t faced the Chicago Blackhawks in a game this important since the two teams were vying for a Stanley Cup.

While the Blackhawks have already punched their ticket to the postseason and are merely trying to pad their lead in the Central Division, the Bolts are fighting for their playoff lives. At the moment, they rank three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final spot in the East. With a game in hand, they can make up a lot of ground tonight.

With all of that in mind, it should be an entertaining contest. You can check it out on NBCSN, watch online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.