Devils hopelessly misguided in Kovalchuk deal

What is Lou Lamoriello thinking?

When the New Jersey Devils general manager acquired sniper Ilya Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers on February 4, he made the following statement during a conference call about the blockbuster deal: “He [Kovalchuk] can do things that a lot of people can’t do, and put him into our lineup, he will become a part. He will be no different than any of our other players. He’ll be a part of who we are and help the team win.”

While most analysts agree that New Jersey wins the deal in the short-term–Kovalchuk adds dynamic offence while Atlanta gets solid second-tier material in rookie forward Nicklas Bergfors and D-man Johnny Oduya–Lamoriello is in for a nasty surprise if he honestly believes that Kovalchuk “will be no different than any of our other players.”

This, of course, mirrors the attitude New Jersey has parlayed into three Stanley Cup (1995, 2000, 2003). Everyone is expected to stick to the system. The team currently boasts the NHL’s lowest goals-against (125) with its defence-first attitude under coach Jacques Lemaire.

But Kovalchuk, in so many ways, couldn’t be a worse fit for this club.

The two-time 52-goal scorer is accustomed to being treated like a superstar. He’s known for taking extra-long shifts. In his seven previous NHL seasons, he has never finished with a positive plus-minus rating.

Does that sound like a guy who’s going to fit into Lemaire’s master plan? Certainly, he’s more mature than he used to be, but he hasn’t changed that much.

At age 26, Kovalchuk is a great, explosive player. But he isn’t going to bring the “Sure coach, whatever you say” attitude that made Sergei Brylin the most successful long-term fit among Russians in New Jersey.

And Kovalchuk reportedly turned down more than $100-million in a 12-year offer from Atlanta. It’s dubious in the extreme that the notoriously cost-conscious Lamoriello is going to step up at the end of the year and say: “Ilya, we’d be happy to pay you $3 million or $4 million more per year than veteran team leaders like Patrik Elias or Martin Brodeur.”

What does it all mean? Kovalchuk will get his share of goals with New Jersey, but will also likely end up at loggerheads with Lemaire. In the off-season, when he’s unrestricted, expect to see him either get his monster payday from a rich NHL club that needs to make a statement (like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or the Rangers) or jump to the KHL, where even greater wealth awaits.

Playing in Russia wouldn’t just be about the money for Kovalchuk. He’s intensely patriotic, and suiting up in the KHL would enable him to represent Russia at the IIHF World Championship each spring. He’s done that three years in a row–in fact, he has played for Russia in some major international competition every year since 2000 (the World U18).

Lou? Enjoy Ilya while you’ve got him. Because this is anything but a marriage made to last. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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