-- As soon as Zach Parise
talked to his source in Los Angeles and got confirmation that yes, Ilya Kovalchuk
was there visiting the Kings' offices and practice facilities last week, he figured the Russian sniper was a goner, headed west for the glitz of LaLa land, Hollywood.
"To be honest, I did," Parise told NHL.com on Tuesday. "I knew he went there and I thought we were out of the running, so I guess I was just as shocked as everyone that we got to keep him."
Shocked and ecstatic all at once is the apt way to describe Parise's emotions when he learned Kovalchuk was signing a 17-year contract to become "a Devil for life."
Parise is about to start working on a new contract that should give him a significant raise from the reported average annual salary of $3.125 million he has been making since 2007-08. Seeing the commitment the Devils, specifically GM Lou Lamoriello and owner Jeff Vanderbeek, made to Kovalchuk has Parise excited to sign a contract that will keep him in Jersey for a long time.
"The commitment to getting things going in the right direction from the management and the owners definitely makes a player want to be a part of getting this thing going in the right direction," said Parise, who can become a restricted free agent next summer. "You see the way we played the last few seasons is unacceptable. We've had great regular seasons, but it doesn't mean anything. You really see Mr. Vanderbeek and Mr. Lamoriello's commitment to get this thing going in the right direction."
That Kovalchuk decided he wanted to return to the Devils made Tuesday's news conference that much sweeter. Parise flew in from Minnesota to be at Prudential Center for the event. Jamie Langenbrunner
came from Lake Tahoe, Calif. Martin Brodeur
and Patrik Elias
also were there.
Signing Kovalchuk has re-energized the Devils' core and has them itching to get to training camp.
"You always have guys coming in and leaving, but obviously a guy of this magnitude, it hasn't happened in the past, so this is exciting," Elias said. "We'll see what the end roster will be in October, but so far I think we can be excited about these changes and look forward to a new season."
Elias mentioned the end roster because things are still in flux for the Devils.
Kovalchuk's reported $6 million cap hit puts them over the $59.4 million salary cap for the 2010-11 season. Teams can remain 10 percent over the cap until the regular season starts, but Lamoriello will have to make some more moves.
It would be shocking if any of the players in attendance Tuesday were in danger of being moved. Anybody that is probably doesn't want to leave now that Kovalchuk is locked in for the long haul.
"You know, he wanted to come here," Devils coach John MacLean
said of Kovalchuk. "He's a high-end talent that wanted to come here, wanted to be part of the team, wanted to be part of the organization. That's a credit to him. He took the time to make sure he made the decision that is best, so we're excited about it."
Especially guys like Elias and Parise, who for several years have been somewhat overlooked offensive stars because of the Devils' defensive system.
The philosophy appears to be changing with the new guard.
MacLean, the Devils' franchise leader in goals with 347, is certainly not going to tell Kovalchuk to rein in his offense or creativity, and the same holds true for talented scorers like Parise, Elias, Langenbrunner, Dainius Zubrus
, Jason Arnott
, Brian Rolston
and David Clarkson
The Devils, who finished 19th in goals per game (2.63) under Jacques Lemaire
last season, could move into the top 10 this coming season for the first time since 2000-01, when they led the League with 3.60 goals per game.
Their best finish since was 14th, and they haven't been better than 15th since the work stoppage ended in 2005.
"When you get a guy that is consistently scoring 40 a year or 50 and maybe 100 points, he's going to make you better. The more scoring threats you have, it's great," Parise said. "The power play in particular, if you have different options it's tougher to cover. When you add a scoring option like him, it's going to help everybody."
MacLean is excited to start allocating ice time with the idea that some players, maybe Elias or Parise, will have to shift forward positions to make it all work.
"I'm understanding of the fact that we have some top players and they're all going to need to play and it's my job to find them the ice time," MacLean said. "I'm looking forward to it. It could be that you don't have anybody to find ice time for, so I look at it as a good problem. We'll find ice for everybody."
Langenbrunner, for one, is curious to see how MacLean will handle it. There are at least nine forwards who could play in the top six when you factor in Kovalchuk, Parise, Elias, Zajac, Zubrus, Langenbrunner, Arnott, Rolston and Clarkson.
"The way we changed things around in the lineup, guys tried to get a good feel for each other last year and (Kovalchuk) got the opportunity to play with a lot of different guys, so it will be interesting to see what coach does and how he's going to put the lines together," Langenbrunner said. "We have a lot of good pieces that, if put in the right places, can be successful."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl