Skip to content

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

Jul 11, 2013, 10:32 PM EDT

Lou Lamoriello,Ilya Kovalchuk,  Jeff Vanderbeek i AP

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.


  1. blackheart78 - Jul 11, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    Take it from a Flyers fan, Lou always figures out a way for the Devils to compete. Look at the Cory Schneider deal for example. Did anyone expect that? Nope.

    • stakex - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:16 PM

      Lou might have done some really good things over the years, but this is an unprecedented situation he is facing. The only thing the Devils had that was making them somewhat of a threat going into next season was Kovalchuk. As we saw last year, when he wasn’t in the lineup the Devils were not competitive. That was a problem the Devils still hadn’t fixed even before he left… and now their offense is in REALLY bad shape.

      Its easy to say “Oh, Lou can fix it”, but how exactly? All the top tier free agents are gone. Grabovski is an option, but he would barely have fixed the Devils offensive issues even if Kovalchuk was still on the roster. So even if he were to end up with the Devils it would be like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg… and a couple other so-so free agents wouldn’t make much of a difference. The hole to fill just to make the team competitive is too large to fill with the already depleted free agent pool.

      The Devils also don’t have much to trade with since they don’t have a 1st round pick next season, and a lackluster farm team. Going to be hard to get a top player with no prospects and no 1st round pick.

      Bottom line is the Devils are in real trouble. Unless they get amazing play from unlikely sources, its unlikely this is going to be a good season for the team.

      • ryanrockzzz - Jul 12, 2013 at 7:59 AM

        I don’t know if one player can/should make all of the difference on any team. Obviously, losing a player of his caliber hurts, but I agree with the above poster. The Devils still have time to figure this out. I can almost bet the house they won’t stand pat, and will add another scoring threat, possibly even two.

        If the argument is they won’t contend for the cup, I can see that side of it, although I dont know how much closer they would be just having kept Kovalchuk around.

        For me, the bottom line is it’s a tough loss to lose your best player. But the good thing about a team sport is you can rebound, just depends on what Lou can do from here on out.

      • jpelle82 - Jul 12, 2013 at 9:29 AM

        it would be one thing if this happened before the draft or before 7/5. problem is either kovalchuk didnt let them know until the last minute or lou just ignored it. stefan matteau, their best prospect quit hockey in a hissy fit and then they traded away the 9th pick which couldve been used on a guy who maybe couldve stepped in and played some meaningful minutes. they couldve worked with clarkson, gone after bobby ryan, a myriad of scenarios couldve played out differently. the loss of parise last year, apparent loss of matteau, clarkson, now kovalchuk and then no one of note in the system and no 1st round pick next year and you have a pretty messed up situation. i dont think an extra 7 million in cap room can fix it this late.

      • stakex - Jul 12, 2013 at 8:54 PM

        But again ryanrockzzz, as jpelle82 helps explain… it really is too late. The top free agents are gone, and the Devils don’t have much to work with in the trade market. Its nothing against Lou Lamoriello, its just a fact that it really is too late into the offseason/free agency for them to make the serious moves they need to.

        And you’re right, even with Kovalchuk they weren’t a serious cup contender anyway or even a lock to the make the playoffs. That just helps underscore how much they are going to miss him, and how bit the hole in their roster really is.

    • rsmaggiemae - Jul 12, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      I am a Wild fan and I dont understand why he did not retire before the draft and before the free agency????
      We in Minnesota hope they dont go after Vanek, as that is who we are working on to get here next season… as Vanek lives here in the off season. In fact will get to see him on August 3rd when they scrimmage for Defend the Blue Line for wounded soldiers
      Dont know what NJ fans are going to do?

  2. girouxed - Jul 11, 2013 at 10:48 PM

    He was nearing the end of his greatness. Do svidaniya comrade.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:25 AM

      Really? Where the hell are you going to find anyone who can replace his 11 goals last season?

      • hockey412 - Jul 12, 2013 at 8:14 AM

        I know a guy name Parise that they could have signed two years ago had it not been for this cluster**** of a contract. He probably would have done alright there, too.

        So you sign this guy to a ridiculous contract, throw millions of dollars and a ton of faith at him, get penalized by the league for doing so, lose your captain (er, actually you cripple your ability to even make a decent offer), and he walks.


      • jpelle82 - Jul 12, 2013 at 9:38 AM

        the league should give them back their pick as a consolation, now that the contract is gone maybe a monetary punishment instead? 2 years without a 1st rounder (traded out this year and next year’s forfeited) is a death sentence with their current farm team and lack of prospects and money. i think losing brodeur is on the horizon and they did prepare for that but it wont mean jack if they cant put the puck in the net for a couple years. the only bright side would be when they have some high draft picks coming to them since they wont be competing for a while (like washington/pittsburgh did leading up to the ovechkin, malkin, crosby type draft years).

  3. thedavesiknowiknow - Jul 11, 2013 at 10:48 PM

    Thomas Vanek.

    • bullwinkle88 - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:11 PM

      And I hope Darcy makes him pay! Starting point would be their 1st pick in 2015.

    • stakex - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:30 PM

      What would the Devils be able to offer for him though? Buffalo probably wants three players (a combination of prospects and roster players), and a 1st round pick next year to trade Vanek.

      The big problem is the Devils don’t have a 1st round pick next year, and I doubt a rebuilding team wants a 1st round pick they can’t use for two years. Not to mention the Devils are short on the other resource a rebuilding team wants… top prospects.

      This is a trade I’m sure Devils fans would love, and Vanek would at least start filling the hole in the Devils offense, but its just not likely to happen. The resources to make such a trade just aren’t there.

      • esracerx46 - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:40 PM

        Rights to Kovy as trade bait? Lol

      • thedavesiknowiknow - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:31 AM

        Just playing armchair g.m. I would think a pick and a prospect for an expiring contract would be fair. True though- it can’t be ignored that Darcy Regier would be doing the dealing. Rumor has it he asked for Shattenkirk for Miller.

  4. mobil4life - Jul 11, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    Thomas Vanek is available.

    • blackheart78 - Jul 11, 2013 at 10:55 PM

      Vanek Thomas

  5. kaptaanamerica - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:02 PM

    Lou already has a back up plan.he knew Kovy was leaving for awhile.we’ll all see Lou’s plan executed with precision over the next few weeks.if luo isn’t a first ballot hhof induction on retirement they should burn it down.

    • capitals13 - Jul 12, 2013 at 11:42 AM

      Lou is already in the Hockey Hall of Fame…

      • dirt2013 - Jul 12, 2013 at 4:02 PM

        So you are saying the above poster is correct then -)

      • kaptaanamerica - Jul 13, 2013 at 10:28 AM

        They won’t be burning it down then 😀

  6. barkar942 - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:05 PM

    Elias, Jagr and Prospal. That could be an interesting trio.

    • vanindeed - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:15 AM

      In an old timers skate around maybe

  7. nj666 - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:08 PM

    I’d rather the team tough it out wait till next years free agency and pick up the best UFA available. Although I wouldn’t mind Jagr for a year.

    • stakex - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:18 PM

      Jagr wants to play for a winner, and he wouldn’t turn the Devils into a winner… so its highly unlikely he will land in NJ.

      • nj666 - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:59 PM

        Just because they’re playing without kovalchump doesn’t mean they’re automatically done for this season.

      • chanceoffleury1 - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:39 AM

        Jagr wants to play for whomever will give him the most money. He signed with Dallas last year who was fairly mediocre. They were a bubble team at best. This upcoming years Dallas team will be better than what Jagr settled with last summer. If NJ throws enough money at him then I’m sure he’d sign there.

      • stakex - Jul 12, 2013 at 1:12 AM

        Even if Jagr does chase the money and not a Cup, that still probably leaves the Devils out of the conversation. They have significant cap space to play with, but Jagr just doesn’t help them enough to use that space on him…. especially if they have to pay him more then anyone else would have.

        And yes, Kovalchuk being out of the lineup does automatically doom the team this year. We saw how they played without him last year, so there is no secret here.

  8. 950003cups - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    This sucks!

  9. esracerx46 - Jul 11, 2013 at 11:37 PM

    Haven’t heard this talked about much but was touched briefly in this article regarding New Jersey’s finances. We all know they are in some hot water right now and ownership possibly switching hands. With that said, is their any chance the Devils asked Kovy to “retire” for a year or 2 until their finances are back in order? If I were the Devils and money wasn’t an issue I’d be pissed. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. I had thought their was a transfer agreement between the NHL and KHL that was recently put in place. The quietness on the Devils side makes me think this might not have been Kovy’s soul decision. Either way, I doubt we’ve seen the last of him in the NHL.

    • nj666 - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:03 AM

      theres no agreement between the two leagues, its fishy in a sense that the KHL and kovaldouche were in talks up to this point. The devils finances weren’t an issue in this decision, but the fact that it doesn’t hurt is playing into their decision to screw over his ability to compete.

      • dirt2013 - Jul 12, 2013 at 4:28 PM

        That was a bad contract for the Devils as soon as it was signed.While it will hurt short term in the long run they will be better for this.

  10. somekat - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    Rough that after losing this guy for nothing, they are going to lose what is probably going to be a top 7 pick (directly because he left) in next years draft. Not to mention they had no money to give Parise last year. That is 1 franchise player, and 1 potential franchise player walking out the door with nothing in return.

    Even for Lou, that’s a tough pill to swallow and just pick it back up, especially when you were a mid of the pack team to begin with

  11. phillyphever - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:10 AM

    Kind of makes us wonder why the hell didn’t they forfet their first round pick back in 2012 when they had the chance? I mean honestly, was it worth it to pick 29th overall?

    • chanceoffleury1 - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:47 AM

      I’ve always wondered this too. I just didn’t understand giving up what would almost surely be a higher pick in 2014 (since you already knew they weren’t giving it up in 2013 due to the draft’s location). But at the end of the day I have learned to try not to question Lou’s decisions. He’s always two steps ahead of me and I end up looking like an idiot for even questioning his logic. But that one has still got me stumped. They must have reaaaaaally wanted Stefan Matteau.

  12. bensawesomeness - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:15 AM

    wings fan here, watched Brunner last year, he’s worth a risk for 2-3 years, especially if you’re desperate

    he’s really, really got a huge upside

    • lionstigersandwingsohmy - Jul 12, 2013 at 10:13 AM

      I said about the same thing on another thread. I was hoping his salary expectations came down and the wings found a way to sign him, but my guess is that he gets a decent offer from the devils. His defense needs work, but his offense is his selling point. Plus defensive play can be improved, Hull did it in Detroit towards the end of his career.

    • kcbruinsfan - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      Biggest concern w/ Brunner is cost. With a limited body of work he is looking for money in the $5 million plus range. Think that is a litle pricey for a 27/28 y/o rookie with a limited body of work and some defensive liabilities. Great wheels and a solid scoring threat. Could work nicely for the right price, just not what he thinks he is worth.

      • hockeydon10 - Jul 12, 2013 at 1:27 PM

        Last report I saw said he was looking for $3-3.5M and a longer contract. Then again, he’s also holding out in order to let the Wings figure out a way to get him on the roster, not the usual hold out for the correct amount of dollars.

      • bensawesomeness - Jul 13, 2013 at 6:24 PM

        If i’m a NJD fan, or a front office member, i’d do anything i could to take chances. At this point, you’ve almost lost the ability not to take a chance or two. NJ just made a move for a new goalie, lost a few guys here and there, this is not a franchise that’s used to losing, much like the Wings.

        They just lost a huge contract in Kovy, i’d say overpay for Brunner for 2-3 years and see how it goes. Best case scenario you bag a top-3 forward, worst case you have a trade chip

      • idonthavethebloodyoucrave - Jul 13, 2013 at 11:23 PM

        Hey Awesome Benny boy, the Detroit Red Wings have won the most Stanley Cups and have been to the big show 6 20 years..

        Facts are hard.

  13. greej1938l - Jul 12, 2013 at 12:32 AM

    Kovy will be back…guarantee it, I just dont know when

  14. pone27 - Jul 12, 2013 at 7:31 AM

    Brunner is the guy you go after. Fits the same shooting style of Kovy. Maybe not the same skill level, but yet can be said about that. Brunner has huge upside.

  15. lateralous - Jul 12, 2013 at 7:37 AM

    As a Devils fan, it sucks that we just lost a 1st line forward for nothing, but they’re hardly going to fall off the cliff like some of you are suggesting. They certainly fell back to the fringe playoff team with this loss but they are still starting next year with a deeper offense than last year. The significant improvement in goaltending and getting at least average seasons out of Henrique and Zajac will more than bridge the gap.

    Losing 2011-12 Kovy is a huge deal. Replacing a guy who scored 4 even strength goals in 25 minutes a night in 2013 is not. I will also not miss him floating around for all two minutes on the still feeble power play.

    …and yes, unless they are planning an appeal, not forfeiting the 2012 draft pick was asinine for many reasons

  16. pmonte3122 - Jul 12, 2013 at 8:00 AM

    Thomasssss Vanek

  17. jacketsfan7 - Jul 12, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    Vanek and/or Jagr

  18. pensman29 - Jul 12, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    He better just sign all those ufa

  19. blackhawks2010 - Jul 12, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    Comrade Kovalchuk was a loser,plain and simple. Go to KHL where the level of talent is equivalent to AHL.

  20. isphet71 - Jul 12, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    Damien Brunner is the best name for a devils player since Miroslav Satan. Just sayin.

  21. ducksk - Jul 13, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    Hey, if he and others want to leave, their choice. Contracts? Try to stop them with it. Never ever trust a Ruskie…..Gen. George Patton said it and I still concur. I dig the best players in the world playing in the NHL, but c’mon man. Buyer beware. If owners and GM’s want to throw the dice on these guys, it’s their $.

    • jimeejohnson - Jul 13, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      “Never trust a woman who wears her pants too tight.
      She might love you tomorrow,
      but she won’t love you tomorrow night.”

  22. jimeejohnson - Jul 13, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    Biggest question for New Jersey: what exit?

  23. jhmiddleton81 - Jul 15, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    In my opinion for the Devils to make the playoffs they’re going to need to sign Grabovski, Raymond, and Brunner. The thing is, I actually think it is plausible that you can get all 3 of those guys for 8 million or so. If they added those 3 plus Clowe and Ryder I think they could surprise teams and be a 6,7, or 8 seed in the east. But thats only if they are willing to spend to the cap or close to it

Top 10 NHL Player Searches
  1. P. Kane (1949)
  2. P. Kessel (1621)
  3. M. Richards (1388)
  4. N. Backstrom (1203)
  5. M. Giordano (1174)