Devils bolster offence

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

Well, the Ilya Kovalchuk move to New Jersey will be interesting if for no other reason than seeing how the talented scorer will enjoy life playing for Devils coach Jacques Lemaire.

That might be all he needs to convince him to go to the KHL next summer.

For now, the Devils got a serious upgrade in their quick-strike capability, one of the shortcomings that kept them from perhaps being considered capable of competing with, say, the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference.

The Devils went into Thursday night’s game with 146 goals, the second-fewest among the eight teams holding down playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

After Zach Parise’s 25 goals, there was a considerable dropoff to the 16 scored by both Brian Rolston and Travis Zajac. The addition of Kovalchuk gives them the potential to have a bonafide marksman on two lines and the potential to boost a power play that was already 10th in the league.

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello plucked Kovalchuk out of the Atlanta quagmire, another GM benefiting from the Thrashers inability to keep their franchise talents happy. For various reasons, Kovalchuk finds himself pointing out of town and following in the tracks of Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa.

The Devils scored themselves the best rental player available in a while, along with defenceman Anssi Salmela, and in surrendering defenceman Johnny Oduya, rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, controversial prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick, they didn’t give up anything that seriously diminishes their current status. They’ve been making do without injured defenceman Paul Martin, who will be back from a broken arm to boost what they lost in Oduya’s departure.

The early reviews among NHL insiders favoured the Devils, but not without at least a little twinge of sympathy for Thrashers GM Don Waddell.

“I’m not in the pity game or into feeling sorry for anybody, but it’s too bad the Thrashers wind up finding themselves in this same situation again,” said one team executive, “especially in a market where you are trying to win fans.”

As is typically the case in most deals involving high-profile players in this situation - Kovalchuk is due to become and unrestricted free agent this summer after rejecting a 12-year, $101 million offer from the Thrashers - the reality of the yield falls far short of the speculation.

“I don’t like the deal for one reason: the Thrashers didn’t get back a player who, in my opinion, even has the potential to be a front line player for them,” said one Western Conference scout. “Oduya is a decent player, a top four (defenceman) on most teams. Bergfors is a guy who can play on your second line, not better than that, and has to be in your top six because I don’t think he can grind it out on the third or fourth lines. I like Cormier and I’ve been impressed with him when I’ve seen him, but I don’t see him having the skill to be a front line guy.

“The Thrashers got a first-round pick, but it’s probably going to be around the 25th pick. It’s not out of the question you could get a first-line player there, but it’s far from a guarantee.”

The Los Angeles Kings were among the contenders for Kovalchuk, but, in the end, apparently decided it is one year too soon to make a bold move in the rental player market. Goaltender Jonathan Quick is in his first year in the starter’s role and emerging defencemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson will benefit from another year’s experience.

Kovalchuk’s stay in Newark will be a matter of months, but this is a great deal for the Devils. They don’t give up anything they can’t replace and get a bonafide superstar to boost their glaring weakness.

You wonder why Lamoriello is one of the best?


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