Kovalchuk issue plaguing Devils

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:00 PM ET

Well, the good news is the New Jersey Devils have 15 years to work things out with Ilya Kovalchuk.

The Devils are on the Left Coast for a five-game road trip which started Wednesday night in San Jose against the Sharks and for everybody's sake, you hope Kovalchuk remembered the time change.

For folks back in the East, it's almost worth staying up to see how the Kovalchuk saga unfolds over the next few days as the Devils, along with the Buffalo Sabres, have become the teams at the top of the early-season watch list.

Not that the Kovalchuk issue is the only one vexing the Devils and rookie head coach John MacLean.

There's the matter of being 25th in the league in goals against and last in the league in goals scored per game (1.67).

But Kovalchuk is certainly the issue that is still top of mind.

MacLean showed some major moxy scratching the $100-million US man after he supposedly was late for a meeting - some say by 10 minutes - Saturday.

"Really?" said a former member of the Atlanta Thrashers organization - quite sarcastically - when told that was the apparent reason Kovalchuk was told to take a game off, though he still got his $81,000 for wearing a suit.

Apparently Kovalchuk can time a one-timer but punctuality is not a strong suit in street shoes.

Apparently his watch doesn't work so well in New Jersey.

When Kovalchuk was with the Thrashers, he was late for a morning skate for a game against the Devils.

Bob Hartley was the coach of the Thrashers at the time and he locked the dressing room door when the morning meeting started.

Kovalchuk arrived and started knocking.

And kept knocking.

Hartley, according to a player who was there, let him keep knocking, for about five minutes.

At the end of the meeting, Hartley told the players Kovalchuk would not be playing that night and told captain Shawn McEachern to give Kovalchuk the news.

Former Thrasher Bobby Holik told Hockey Night in Canada radio he wasn't surprised Kovalchuk was late for a meeting, saying "that was not unusual for Ilya."

"No, not true," Kovalchuk told reporters in San Jose Wednesday.

Holik is one of many in hockey still wondering how the Devils targeted Kovalchuk as the guy to be the central figure for years to come.

"It's still something that doesn't make sense," Holik said. "The trade at the deadline didn't make sense, the Devils signing him didn't make sense. If you want to talk about the team first and everybody plays for the team, why do you sign (a) player who's not exactly known for that?

"If I want to take my team to the next level, that's not the player I'm going to go after."

Kovalchuk, according to the The Newark Star-Ledger, seemed surprised.

"Bobby Holik said that? Good," he said. "That's his opinion."

Well, it's the opinion of more than just Holik.

There was talk in Atlanta of some of the other team's top players going to coaches and asking not to play with Kovalchuk.

There already are rumblings out of New Jersey Zach Parise and Kovalchuk are not going to be a match - they started out on the same line with Kovalchuk on the right side - but the always elusive chemistry just isn't there, on or off the ice.

Another source close to the situation said Kovalchuk isn't happy with the shift to the right side, either, since it takes away his one-timer from the middle of the ice.

Meanwhile, around the league, there's a little sympathy for the Devils and by a little, well, we mean none.

"Kovalchuk? Really?" continues to be the reaction.

"Great scorer," said one NHL coach, "bad player."

Tick tock ... and that's not just Kovalchuk's watch.


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