Who will be sacrificed?

With the Devils $3 million over the salary cap thanks to the Ilya Kovalchuk deal, every player,...

With the Devils $3 million over the salary cap thanks to the Ilya Kovalchuk deal, every player, young and old, are watching their backs. (JIM McISAAC/Getty Images)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:13 PM ET

NEWARK, N.J. -- Uncertainty is a necessary evil of every training camp for most players, but usually it is reserved for the young and the old who skate on the margins of usefulness.

That is not the case here at the Prudential Center, where the New Jersey Devils opened their training camp with on-ice sessions Saturday.

After the drawn-out saga of signing of star winger Ilya Kovlachuk finally wrung itself out with his 15-year, $100-million deal approved after a first, abortive attempt, the Devils find themselves $3 million over the salary cap. At this camp, even players who could consider themselves part of the club's nucleus must be looking over their shoulders, wondering if they will be sacrificed for cap relief.

Or looking at a long-time teammate and friend and wondering if he will go...or both of them.

"Right now it's camp time," said centre Travis Zajac, who worked between Kovalchuk and Zach Parise in the Devils' first session Saturday morning, an intriguing combination put together by rookie head coach John MacLean.

"We're worried about getting ourselves prepared. Any guy in the room is going to tell you that. We want to get on the ice and feel good about ourselves and build chemistry with the guys here."

For as long as those guys are here, it's supposed, because somebody is going. Veteran forward Patrik Elias summed up the players' feeling to the Star-Ledger on the eve of camp.

"Will some guys blame Kovy? That's a tough question," he said. "It's a business. Sometimes it's cruel. At one point in your career you have to realize it's a business and you're just a product. But it's hard to accept that."

The meter is still running on the Kovalchuk deal, of course.

So far, the Devils have given up forwards Niclas Bergfors and Patrice Cormier, defenceman Johnny Oduya and a first-round draft pick in last summer's draft (all part of the original deal with the Atlanta Thrashers). Then, as a result of the penalty from the NHL for circumventing the salary cap with the first Kovalchuk deal, the Devils forfeited $3 million in cash, a third-round draft pick in the next draft and a first-round pick in one of the next four years.

It remains to be seen who will depart from the Devils roster in order for the club to get under the salary cap and what they will get in return, but dumping salary to get under the cap is not going to yield a positive return for the Devils other than the needed cap space.

In the meantime, the Devils, who used to produce hockey as mind-numbing as the scenery along the southern stretches of the New Jersey Turnpike, actually have the potential to be somewhat, well, exciting. And not just while we wait for the other skate to drop.

The players liked what they saw from MacLean's playbook on the first day of camp. The emphasis was on the defence getting the puck moved quickly to the forwards.

"Our game used to be too simple. We used to just jam it up the wall," said Parise. "Now there's more puck control and bringing it up with speed. We're getting it with more speed and in better spots."

It remains to be seen how long the Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk experiment will last, but it certainly shapes up to have the potential to be one of the best lines in the league. Kovalchuk hasn't played the right side before and found out about the shift only when he arrived for the first day of camp.

"To play with those two guys, I'd play in goal," he said, "because they are two great players."

Nice of Kovalchuk to offer, but they've got a guy named Brodeur who can take care of that part of the game.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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