Devils Could Still Be Dangerous Without Ilya Kovalchuk, But Need Him for Playoff Run

Devils Could Still Be Dangerous Without Ilya Kovalchuk, But Need Him for Playoff Run It's been a summer filled with drama for the Devils, whose courtship of free-agent forward Ilya Kovalchuk has dominated the offseason discussion throughout the hockey world.

Retaining the star sniper is vital for New Jersey, as it tries to return to its past glory after several surprisingly early exits from the postseason. The Devils have qualified for the playoffs for 13 straight years, winning the Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003. But since that last Cup, they haven't advanced past the second round, and have been eliminated in the first round four times in those six appearances, including each of the last three years. The Devils will be taking a bit of a new approach this year, as John MacLean takes over behind the bench with Jacques Lemaire retiring. 

2009-10 Record: 48-27-7, 103 points (1st Atlantic Division; 2nd Eastern Conference; lost in first round of playoffs to Philadelphia, 4-1)

Bruins record vs. Devils: Boston leads the all-time series 64-36-19-10, but the Bruins went 1-2-1 last year, with all four games being decided by one goal. The Devils won 2-1 at the Garden on Oct. 29 and took another 2-1 decision in a shootout in Boston on Nov. 27. New Jersey also won at home 3-2 on March 15, but the Bruins avoided the sweep when Patrice Bergeron scored at 4:41 of overtime for a 1-0 win in New Jersey on March 30.

When to watch: The Bruins play at New Jersey early in the year on Saturday, Oct. 16 and in the regular-season finale on Sunday, April 10, while the Devils come to Boston on Monday, Nov. 15 and Tuesday, March 22.

Familiar faces: Brian Rolston spent parts of five seasons in Boston after being acquired from Colorado in the Ray Bourque trade, but signed with Minnesota after the lockout and eventually ended up back where his NHL career started in New Jersey when he signed with the Devils as a free agent in 2008.

Key additions: F Jason Arnott (trade with Nashville); D Anton Volchenkov (free agent); D Henrik Tallinder (free agent); G Johan Hedberg (free agent)

Key losses: D Paul Martin (signed with Pittsburgh); F Rob Niedermayer (signed with Buffalo); D Martin Skoula (signed with Avangard Omsk, KHL); G Yann Danis (signed with Amur Khabarovsk, KHL); F Andrew Peters (signed with Florida); F Matt Halischuk (traded to Nashville); D Cory Murphy (signed with ZSC Lions, Switzerland); F Ilkka Pikkarainen (signed with Timra IK, Sweden); F Ben Walter (signed with Colorado); F Jay Pandolfo (bought out); D Mike Mottau (free agent); F Dean McAmmond (free agent)

Burning question: Will Kovalchuk still end up in New Jersey?

The summer soap opera surrounding Kovalchuk has still not wrapped up its storyline. After weeks of waiting, the Russian star finally agreed to a record 17-year, $102-million deal to stay in New Jersey, only to have the league reject the contract and an arbitrator uphold the ruling that the heavily front-loaded deal circumvented the salary cap. The Devils and Kovalchuk continue negotiations to rework the deal with terms acceptable to the league, but so far no new agreement has been reached and the possibility of Kovalchuk signing elsewhere in the NHL or back home with the KHL remains.

Even though the Devils failed to get out of the first round after acquiring him late last season, a full year (if not 16 more) of Kovalchuk would certainly help New Jersey remain a legitimate Cup contender, especially with MacLean likely to loosen the reins on the offense after taking over for the trap-happy Lemaire.

2010-11 outlook: Even without Kovalchuk (41-44-85 totals last year), the Devils possess some dangerous offensive weapons. Zach Parise (38-44-82) is a dominant sniper in his own right, while Travis Zajac (25-42-67), Jamie Langenbrunner (19-42-61), Patrick Elias (19-29-48), Rolston (20-17-37) and Jason Arnott (19-27-46 in 63 games with Nashville) add plenty of scoring depth, which should be greater utilized under MacLean. David Clarkson, who had 11-13-24 totals and 85 PIMs despite playing only 46 games as he suffered a broken foot blocking a Zdeno Chara slap shot, adds a nice blend of talent and toughness to the lineup. As always, that offense will be backed by a sound defensive system and the goaltending of future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur.

Did you know? The Devils have long been known for defense, but last year their blueliners took it to an extreme, as they combined for just 24 goals from defensemen. Only Minnesota and Dallas had fewer goals from defensemen, tying for a league-low 22. Andy Greene led New Jersey's defense with just six goals. There's not much help on the way either, as free-agent additions Anton Vochenkov and Henrik Tallinder are known more for their play in their own zone and each had just four goals last year.

Next: We'll head over to Long Island on Monday to see if the Islanders have made any progress in their rebuilding project.

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