That was the official word Saturday morning, when the NHL announced that it had given the thumbs-up to Kovalchuk’s second long-term contract with the Devils after rejecting an earlier deal in July.
“I was pretty happy,” Travis Zajac told newjerseydevils.com. “Obviously, I wanted to see him on this team. He’s a great player, and I think he’s going to make our team better. The way he competes and works hard, he fits into our style of play.”
The Devils open the regular season at Prudential Center on Friday, Oct. 8. Single-game tickets go on sale this Friday.
“I’m just glad it’s finally over,” Zach Parise
said of the summer-long Kovalchuk saga. “It kept getting dragged on. I was paying attention at first, but it got a little ridiculous. It was almost to the point of, ‘Tell me when it’s over.’ I’m glad we got him, glad it worked out.” Andy Greene
kept an eye on the headlines while keeping up with his offseason workouts.
“You start following it a little bit, then when they started having those deadlines, you start paying attention a little bit more,” Greene said “It was just a weird summer, but we’re happy with the way it turned out. At the same time, we’re not too focused on it. We’ve got a season to prepare for. You see things in the paper and on the internet, and you read them but don’t look into them too much.”
Now that Kovalchuk’s a Devil for life, his teammates believe he can build off the chemistry he developed over the final third of last season.
“That makes a big difference,” Zajac said. “Now he knows a lot of the guys, is comfortable with a lot of the guys. He meshes well with us, and now, from the start, we’ll be playing together and getting some chemistry going right from the beginning.”
With 10 goals, 17 assists in 27 contests as a Devil, Kovalchuk produced at a point per game clip. Greene feels a full training camp in New Jersey will pay even bigger dividends for the two-time 50-goal scorer.
“I think he’ll be even better,” Greene said. “He’ll be a little bit more comfortable. It’s tough for a guy like that when so much is expected of him. Obviously he wanted to deliver. This year, I’m sure he’ll be comfortable and ready to go. I’m sure he’ll have another great season like he always does.”
“It’s big,” said the centerman. “The beginning of the year is when you meet guys and get that chemistry going, that bond and what not. Now he’ll have a full year and a lot of years to do that. He’ll be here from the beginning of camp and it’ll be good for him. We’re looking forward to it as I’m sure he is.”
The Devils acquired Kovalchuk from Atlanta on Feb. 4.
“I think it’s tough when you come in halfway [through the season],” Zajac said. “Guys have played together all year, so it’s tough from that aspect. I think it’ll be good for him to come in [from the start], and he’s going to be a Devil for a long time. I’m pretty happy to see that.”
Kovalchuk has been a model of consistency over his eight NHL seasons, striking for 40-or-more goals in each of the last six campaigns. No one tops Kovalchuk’s 338 tallies since 2001-02.
“You get a dynamic player like that – a guy that consistently scores goals – he’s going to help the team out,” said Parise.
Greene’s summer included a golfing trip to Scotland with captain Jamie Langenbrunner. They played the Old Course at St. Andrew’s, as well as Carnoustie, Royal Troon and Turnberry.
“It was cool to be on certain holes,” Greene said. “There’s so much golf history over there that it’s fun to see. When they play, you know what they’re talking about now since you’ve been over there now to see the shots and be a part of it. It was awesome.”
It was probably also some tough competition. Langenbrunner’s known as one of the best golfers on the Devils.
“Not even something I would challenge him to,” said Greene. “It’s fun to play against him. He’s pretty consistent and pretty good.”
Zajac, who accompanied younger brother Darcy to Devils rookie camp in July, returned to Winnipeg for the rest of the summer where he skated with fellow Winnipeggers Jonathan Toews of the Stanley Cup-champion Blackhawks, and Derek Meech and Darren Helm of the Red Wings.
“Summer was good back in Winnipeg,” Zajac said. “I did my training there, skating there, relaxed a little, did some golfing, fishing. It was a good summer in Winnipeg.”