What happens when you lose the most prolific player in the league?
As the New Jersey Devils are proving, you stumble out of the gate. Lou Lamoriello went out and fetched talented players including Michael Ryder and Damien Brunner in the off-season, but it seems that his team still can’t get over the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk.
New Jersey made a daring move by trading for Kovalchuk in 2010. Once the regular season ended, the Devils offered him one of the largest contracts in NHL history, worth $102 million. After disagreements between the franchise and the league, Kovalchuk was officially able to call New Jersey home for the following 10 years and $100 million — or so the Devils thought.
The Russian native shocked the team by choosing to leave for the KHL in his home country (which also subsequently offered him more money) this summer. Coming after a shortened NHL season and an uncertain future, one could hardly blame him for leaving. However, the situation left Lamoriello and his squad in quite a hole.
Now, the Devils are 0-1-1 despite having brought in a couple of veteran stars, a stellar backup goalie for the future and resigning youngsters including Adam Henrique.
In their opening game on the road against Pittsburgh, the Devils looked like they were starting right where they left off at the end of last season. The entire team flatlined, allowing the Penguins to steamroll over them with three goals by the end of the game. The final was 3-0 Pittsburgh, and it wasn’t until game 2 of the regular season – their home opener against the New York Islanders – that the Devils were finally able to get a goal.
While the team looked more urgent and ready to play in their second game, the Islanders gave them a run for their money and took them to overtime. The Devils eventually lost 4-3 in a shootout, leaving fans scratching their heads as to what’s happening to their team.
To the Islanders’ credit, they’re a much different team than they were in 2012-13. It’s also worth noting that newcomer Cory Schneider was given the nod to start against a star-studded Penguins team, which rocked him in his debut with the Devils. However, there are some facts that simply can’t be overlooked.
The iconic Martin Brodeur was incredibly limited in the preseason, and it showed in his start against the Islanders. Michael Grabner burned Brodeur twice, who seemed to spend much of the game removing the rust. It’s hard to ignore the goalie, 41, could very well be in his last season — and it shows.
In the offseason, the Devils lost David Clarkson, who was one of the only offenseman who could get himself going while the team rode out a losing streak late last year. It’s questionable whether the Devils are missing Clarkson’s goal-scoring capabilities, but it’s definite that they’re missing his presence on the ice and in the locker room.
New Jersey will be on the road for the next five games against the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators – a Canadian road trip. While it may be premature to hit the panic button this early in the season, it’s hard to ignore the gaps in the roster and the jitters the Devils have exhibited.
Let’s hope they’re just jitters.