Brent’s ex-team was the subject of one of the most controversial contract disputes this past off-season when they tried to sign Ilya Kovalchuk into his grey hair years. The deal was eventually re-jigged and okay’d after initially being rejected by the league, but I’m guessing the organization is starting to feel a bit like Eve after biting the forbidden fruit considering they’ve been ejected from the league’s eden of upper-echelon teams to start the year.
The Devils struggles are something that have been mentioned in this space before by Robert Cleave. I also tackled the subject for The Score in October. The issues obviously extend beyond Kovalchuk’s less than value contract, so here’s a short, bullet list:
– Cap problems resulting in the insertion of youngsters. Beyond Kovalchuk’s $6.66M (seriously, that’s the cap hit) deal extending into infiinty, the Devils are suffering from some very Darryl Sutter-esque style missteps by Lucky Lou. Brian Rolston at $5M and Jason Arnott at $4.5M spring to mind. Both were capable players for the Devils in the past and obviously guys Lamoriello has a soft spot for. Problem is they’re both on the bad side of 33 and aren’t good bets to provide the type of value their contracts demand. Dump those deals and spend the money on better value guys this summer and the club probably isn’t filling holes with the likes of Tim Sestito, Alexander Urbom, Jacob Josefson and Matthew Corrente this season
– Injuries. Some big names have spent a lot of time on the shelf for new coach John MacLean, including the aforementioned Rolston, Martin Brodeur, Anton Volchenkov, Colin White and, most significantly, Zach Parise. The latter guy has developed into one of the best heavy hitters in the league and is by far the club’s best player. He drives the bus at ES, so there’s no doubt his absence hurts.
– Can’t draw penalties. The Devils have had the fewest PP opportunities in the entire with just 61 through 21 games. The only other team with under 70 thus far is the Florida Panthers (the Flames have drawn 89). As a result, Kovalchuk has been effectively neutered, because the only time he’s truly dangerous (without being a complete laibility defesensively) is the man advantage. The worst possible fate for a club paying a big whack of dough to Ilya Kovalchuk is to spend the least amount of time a man up in the league.
– Bad luck. This is the biggest issue afflicting the Devils right now. On top of everything else, their percentages have just cratered this year. Brodeur was fairly terrible before succumbing to injury, coasting along at a .904 ES SV% clip. The team as a whole has been hovering around 5.5% ES SH% so far, a scoring rate so putrid one wonders if someone is poking pins in a distinctly Devil shaped voodoo doll.
At some point the bounces are going to turn because, despite all their issues, there’s simply no way New Jersey is bottom-of-the-league bad. Their terrible first quarter will probably make the playoffs an impossible dream this season, but don’t besurprise to see theeir record improve dramatically at some point. For now, the Flames just have to hope that the Devils curse persists for just one more night.