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30 in 30: Devils set to begin life without Kovalchuk

by Mike G. Morreale

What a whirlwind of an offseason it has been for New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello.

After all the player shuffling that took place in a span of 24 days beginning June 30, there was the ownership takeover earlier this month. It was enough to make anyone's head spin.

It began at the 2013 NHL Draft at Prudential Center, when Lamoriello acquired goalie Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks and drafted goalie Anthony Brodeur, the eldest son of Martin Brodeur, in the seventh round (No. 208).

Lamoriello re-signed veteran forward Patrik Elias to a three-year contract July 4, but one day later lost power forward and fan favorite David Clarkson via free agency to the Toronto Maple Leafs. That loss was offset by the signing of free-agent forwards Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder and Rostislav Olesz.

But the bombshell hit six days after Clarkson left, when right wing Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL after 10 seasons.

"After the work stoppage, [Kovalchuk] expressed how he wanted to stay in Russia and maybe that was a little bit of a red flag," Lamoriello told radio station Fan 590 in Toronto. "The discussion came up again after the season and that's when he told me what he wanted to do. I asked him if he wanted to be traded because he might have wanted to just go somewhere else. But he said, 'No, I want to play in Russia.' His conviction was strong and I had no choice … if a player doesn't want to play and he won't be any good to you, then it's the right time."

Kovalchuk left the remaining 12 years and $77 million of his contract on the table. To alleviate some of that offensive burden, Lamoriello signed veteran right wing Jaromir Jagr to a one-year contract July 23.

Jagr, 41, has proven he still has the work ethic and determination to be a big contributor in the League. He ranks 34th in NHL history in games played (1,391), 10th in goals (681), 12th in assists (1,007) and eighth in points (1,688). His career spans 19 seasons with six teams, five from the Eastern Conference.

Lamoriello is hoping Jagr will be able to fill a hole on right wing in the Devils lineup. Whether that means he's skating among the top six with Czech countryman Elias, or is given a bottom-six role alongside Andrei Loktionov, remains to be seen.

Whatever the case may be, Lamoriello said he's happy to have Jagr.

"I have watched Jaromir the last couple of years in [Philadelphia] and Boston and saw the commitment he had and how he handled every situation no matter who he played with," Lamoriello said. "All the feedback I received was how well he fit into the locker room and what a leader he was. So with our team, with some of the changes, I thought he might be a great addition."

The additions certainly give Devils coach Peter DeBoer a much bigger team than the one that failed to overcome injuries and finished 11th in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot. The Devils failed to reach the playoffs for the second time in three seasons even though they had a conference-best 8-1-3 start.

The big question is whether there's enough on the roster to overcome the deficiencies that plagued the team in 2012-13.

For instance, players who needed to step up when Brodeur and Kovalchuk were sidelined by injuries never answered the bell. The team was 3-10 in overtime, including 2-7 in the shootout, after going 12-4 in shootouts in 2011-12. The penalty-killing unit, tops in 2011-12 when it allowed 27 goals in 82 games, plummeted to 16th allowing 32 goals in 48 games.

Another area of concern is the work ethic when falling behind; the Devils were 5-18-6 when allowing the opening goal in 2012-13. When the Devils reached the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, it won 16 regular-season games after allowing the first goal, the sixth-best total in the League.

The Devils averaged 2.29 goals per game to rank 28th last season. When Kovalchuk missed 11 games with a shoulder injury, the team managed 19 goals, including one each from Elias, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique.

New Jersey will enter 2013-14 with the same defensive unit that yielded 2.54 goals per game to rank 13th in the League. That group includes captain Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, Marek Zidlicky, Anton Volchenkov, Mark Fayne and Peter Harrold.

DeBoer will have new assistant coach Mike Foligno to work with this season following the departure of Matt Shaw, who left to become coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League. DeBoer knew Foligno from coaching against him in the Ontario Hockey League, when the latter was with the Sudbury Wolves and DeBoer with the Kitchener Rangers.

Shaw ran the power play, but it remains to be seen if Foligno will be given that responsibility.

The offseason maneuvering wasn't solely limited to the roster. Joshua Harris and David Blitzer completed their purchase of the Devils from outgoing chairman and managing partner Jeffrey Vanderbeek on Aug. 15.

Harris said he will provide Lamoriello everything needed to deliver wins.

"Lou is a tremendous asset to this organization, and the Stanley Cup banners that hang here attest that he will continue to play a key role to the success in this organization moving forward," Harris said. "Tampering with success isn't a good recipe; Lou is in charge of hockey operations. I'll ask questions, probe and debate, but Lou is in charge of hockey."


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