PHT Morning Skate: Wendel Clark thinks highly of Clarkson

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Nick Leddy brought the Stanley Cup to Minneapolis yesterday. The Minnesota-native was drafted by the Wild, but traded to Chicago in 2010. (Star Tribune)

Wendel Clark thinks newly signed Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Clarkson is a more talented player than he was. (NHL.com)

25-year-old defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti is reportedly heading to the KHL after spending the 2013 campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes. (Hurricanes.nhl.com)

Andrew Ference gave Matt Brown the Boston Bruins’ Army Ranger jacket, which was given to the top player after each playoff victory. Brown is a former hockey player, but he was paralyzed during a game in 2010. “Everything the jacket represented, he’s just that to a T, so I knew it would be special to him and I knew it would be special to me,” Ference said. (Boston Globe)

19-year-old forward Riley Barber was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and he’s already looking like a potential steal. (CSN Washington)

Steve Politi sees Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision to leave the New Jersey Devils as an “absolute disaster.” At least for now. (Star-Ledger)

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.

 

What they’re saying about Kovalchuk bolting for the KHL

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Few – aside from New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, perhaps – saw Ilya Kovalchuk’s “retirement” decision coming. It’s not surprising that people reacted in dramatic ways, though.

Let’s take a look at what observers had to say about Kovalchuk leaving the Devils and NHL behind for the KHL.

It would be foolish not to start with former player and NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick, who fired up six critical Tweets up following the announcement. Here are (arguably) the two most memorable quips:

(There’s a strong chance “Again, I’m right in my analysis,” will have some legs as a Twitter meme.)

The Hockey News’ Adam Porteau makes a timely Alex Ovechkin reference.

Former NHL.com writer Dave Lozo spoils a Sean Connery movie from 1990.

The National Post’s Bruce Arthur reminds us that playing in a foreign land isn’t necessarily easy, even if you’ve been in North America for years.

This won’t provide Devils fans much/any solace, but the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman notes another silver lining for the franchise.

Indeed, TSN’s Bob McKenzie ranks among the many who believe that both Kovalchuk and the Devils were mutually on board with the move. Or at least there were benefits for both sides.

Metta World Peace – aka the NBA player formerly known as Ron Artest – provided one of the best lines on Thursday:

Meanwhile, many Devils fans (and hockey fans in general) probably relate to In Lou We Trust’s simple headline: “What?”

At least, that’s likely the PG version of their reactions …

Parise is ‘shocked’ Kovalchuk left New Jersey

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In a run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, the New Jersey Devils boasted a one-two punch of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, a combination that was especially frightening on an Adam Oates-designed power play. One summer later, all three of those figures are gone.

Kovalchuk’s former running mate and assistant coach seemed as surprised as anyone else upon hearing about the 30-year-old’s decision to retire from the NHL on Thursday.

Parise, 28, told Next Sports Star’s Josh Rimer that he was under the impression that the Russian winger enjoyed playing in New Jersey.

“I was pretty shocked when I found out. It always seemed to me that he really liked playing in New Jersey,” Parise said. “It’s too bad, the Devils are losing a great player.”

Oates essentially said to the Washington Post that Kovalchuk is taking his talents back to Russia.

“He’s a superstar, it’s kind of like when LeBron left Cleveland. It reversed two franchises that fast, it’s a different sport, so it’s not quite accurate,” Oates said. “Lou Lamoriello is the type of man, he’s dealt with adversity before. He’ll get through it no question, but still it’s arguably their best player they’re missing right now.”

He also thinks Kovalchuk’s departure is a lose for the league as a whole.

“It’s sad. He’s a marquee name in our league and a great player,” Oates said. “I obviously had a chance to coach him for a couple years, really liked him. It’s sad for the league, it’s one of our good players.”

Now he might just be the KHL’s best.

Two silver linings for Devils in Kovalchuk retirement

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It’s not going to be easy for the New Jersey Devils to replace Ilya Kovalchuk in the wake of his shocking retirement.

One of the game’s top snipers, Kovalchuk finished his NHL career with 417 goals in 816 games for New Jersey and Atlanta.

But if you’re a Devils fan, here are two potential silver linings:

1. Kovalchuk is 30 years old. Lately, injuries were starting to become an issue. In 2013, he only scored 11 goals in 37 games. Wear and tear is a real factor in the NHL; for the most part, it’s a young man’s league. (Not everyone is Teemu Selanne or Nicklas Lidstrom.) Kovalchuk still has a few good years left in him, for sure. But his days of scoring 50 goals were probably over.

2. The cap recapture penalty that’s estimated at $250,000 annually through 2024-25 would’ve been much harsher if Kovalchuk had waited a few more years to walk away. For example, if he’d have left after the 2017-18 season (when $79 million of the $100 million contract had been paid out, per CapGeek), the penalty would’ve been an annual charge of around $3.7 million for seven seasons.