Share This Page

Analysis: Kovalchuk doesn't make N.J. Atlantic favorites

Goal-scoring star winger Ilya Kovalchuk is headed to New Jersey, where Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello has upgraded a club that has struggled to score in recent weeks.

Kovalchuk, with 31 goals on the season, should boost an offense that has sagged with two or fewer goals in 10 of 14 games; and soon-to-return winger Patrik Elias (concussion) should provide an added spark.

Still, given what the Devils surrendered — defenseman John Oduya, forwards Niclas Bergfors and Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick — can the addition of Kovalchuk, likely to test free agency on July 1, really be considered a monumental move in the Eastern Conference?

Perhaps, but all bets are off given two factors: Kovalchuk's lack of playoff experience (four games in 2007), and the wild card that is his style meshing with Devils coach Jacques Lemaire's preferred neutral-zone trap system.

New Jersey is in a dogfight with the Penguins, who never entered the Kovalchuk hunt, for the Atlantic Division title, and Buffalo for a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Perhaps Kovalchuk is the difference-maker in those races; but the success of this deal will be determined by how far the Devils advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That will again depend on all-everything goalie Martin Brodeur — not Kovalchuk, who has never experienced the heat of a competitive playoff series. His Thrashers were bounced in four games by the Rangers three years ago.

The Penguins are two years removed from reaching the Cup Final after the acquisition of winger Marian Hossa (who in 2008, like Kovalchuk this season, had forced a move from Atlanta by rejecting several contract extension offers).

However, those Penguins added Hossa to a roster that included star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Also, they upgraded their team defense with defenseman Hal Gill and penalty-killing forward Pascal Dupuis.

The Devils are weaker defensively with the Kovalchuk move, and they lack a center to rival Penguins center Jordan Staal, nevermind Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

Don't fall into the trap of believing the new-look Devils are better off for a seven-game showdown with the champs. They're not.

DIGITS

3 — Members of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final Penguins on the Team USA men's hockey roster for the Vancouver Games (Brooks Orpik, Ryan Malone and injury-replacement Ryan Whitney)

26 — Percentage of his 199 NHL goals defenseman Sergei Gonchar has scored with the Penguins.

QUOTABLE

"No, I don't think anybody is saving themselves. It's just a long season, and with the (compressed) schedule and all the games and traveling... I don't think guys are sitting around and waiting for the right moment." — Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, on a popular notion that the playoff-tested Penguins have paced themselves to this point in the season.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.