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Kovy: All Talk, No Action

Before game five Devils’ forward Ilya Kovalchuk made a promise to the fans. He guaranteed them a win on home ice to keep the series going. When asked if he was sad this was possibly his last time in a New Jersey Devils’ sweater he stated, “No. Because we’re going to win (Thursday).”  The Devils were down in the series 3-1 and facing a must-win game, especially daunting for the team that sat second overall in the Eastern Conference. Flyers’ Captain Mike Richards and Alternate Captain Chris Pronger were told of Kovy’s bold statements. Richards was sincere stating “He’s entitled to say whatever he wants. He’s an incredible player with incredible skill. The only thing I’m going to guarantee is that’ we’re coming in to play hard and want to have our best game of the series.” Pronger, on the other hand, was not impressed, “He could say whatever he wants. Talk is cheap.” The stage was set for a fierce battle and fans everywhere were left wondering if Kovy was going to deliver like many other sports greats when it comes to ‘calling a shot/game’ or if he would forever be remembered as the guy who talked a big game but couldn’t deliver when need be.

Unfortunately for Kovalchuk and the Devils they were the first team eliminated last night in an embarrassing shut out on home ice. The Flyers had lost two important men from their lineup after the last game and were forced to recall a few players from their AHL affiliate the Adirondack Phantoms. David Laliberte and Ville Leino filled the places of Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne who are both undergoing surgery after suffering injuries in game four.

What does this mean for the Devils? A first round elimination of a team that had purposefully re-situated themselves at the trade deadline for a cup run is embarrassing. So who is to blame? And even more so, what is with the Devils being eliminated in the first round the last three years? Are they they new Eastern Conference Sharks? Here’s my list of three things that went wrong for the Devils.

Jacques Lemaire
Jacques Lemaire is the biggest advocate of defensive hockey playing. While this might be smart for a penalty kill, huge stars are often stifled with his coaching style. Marian Gaborik and Jacques Lemaire both parted from the Wild and Gaborik went on to have a 40+ goal season. While many will point to his 2007-2008 season with the same number of goals, three fewer assists and one more game it doesn’t tell the whole story. Insiders with the Wild knew that last season Gaborik was extremely unhappy and unwilling to play unless he felt 100%. While many outside the locker room didn’t know it, the players weren’t talking to each other, slamming lockers and not acting as a team. Jacques’ inability to bring his team together and reel in a superstar tore that team apart. Jacques needs to re-evaluate his team’s strengths and figure out a way to win, despite officiating woes. You have the winningest goaltender of all time, big shot forwards, and an effective defense, there should be no struggle.

Martin Skoula
It came as no surprise to anyone who watched the Wild the past few years when the New Jersey Devils picked Martin Skoula up after he left the Penguins to the Leafs and then got flopped over to the Devils. Lemaire had always been a huge advocate for Skoula. While many sports writers felt that he was good for Lemaire, good for the Devils or just decent overall, I sat there and laughed. Martin Skoula used to play for the Avalanche, and we got rid of him when he stopped playing well for us. It’s not that he is an awful player, it’s that he can make the most costly mistake at the most inopportune moment. Trading for Skoula was a mistake, they should have gone with someone who was younger and could grow within the organization.

Ilya Kovalchuk
The Devils traded away Niclas Bergfors (a talented rookie), Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier, plus a first round draft pick to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ilya Kovalchuk. The Thrashers and Kovy were unable to reach a contract agreement as he wanted $11.2 million a year, more than any other player in the NHL. When the Thrashers worked hard to accommodate he still would not agree. He turned down an offer of a 12-year deal worth more than $101 million. He was also offered a seven-year deal at $10 million per season. Even back then fans of the sport felt that he was cursing himself in terms of the Cup (we’ll discuss this in depth in a future article.)

Kovalchuk: Unrestricted Free Agent
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Kovalchuk is overrated. He’s a lot of flash but not a lot of substance. While he can produce goals it appears he cannot produce clutch goals. Failing to live up to a guarantee is just another reason I refer to Kovalchuk as Diet Ovi or the being the Big K (generic soda) to Ovechkin’s Coca-Cola or Malkin’s Pepsi-Cola. They’re the real deal, lots of talent, lots of grit, make players around them better. Kovy is a fake knock off version that tries to be the real deal, but always leaves a funny taste in your mouth and regretting going with the lesser version.

What does this mean for Kovy in terms of next year? Will he sign with the Devils long term? Can they afford to keep him on? What team in this post-salary cap world is going to want to sign a player who is requesting $11.2 million dollars a year? The KHL stated when the original deal with the Devils and Thrashers was going down that they intend to pursue him with full zest. It is expected that Jagr will be back to the NHL this season and they are looking for a ‘superstar’ to sell out crowds. Well, here’s hoping! Adios Kovy, don’t let the door hit you on your pompous butt on the way out.

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