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.
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
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.