After the summer over "Kovy" leading up to the big 15 year, 100 Million dollar deal, we expected Kovalchuk to have at least 40 goals and challenge 100 points this season as the Devils line of Parise, Zajac, and Kovy became the most dangerous line in all of hockey.
A month and a half feels like a long time doesn't it?
Ilya Kovalchuk, besides the team itself, has clearly been the biggest disappointment of all the New Jersey Devils so far this season. Tallying only 10 points so far in 23 games (4 goals), posting a -11 rating (not NJ Devils hockey), and becoming youtube's favorite "quick laugh" with his shootout blunder against Buffalo this year, the Devils are clearly struggling with their identity between offensive minded and conservative.
However, over the course of this 15 year contract, one thing has to get done before we can expect Ilya to put up the big numbers that he did in Atlanta. Critics point to NJ's system as the reason for Ilya's woes, but what he really needs is a big time, playmaking center (like a Backstrom with Ovechkin).
Today, Ilya plays along side Zubrus/Zajac and Vasyunov. These players will never be the type of player that Kovalchuk can play with. Kovalchuk's style is involves getting lost behind the play, having his linemates set him up, and unleashing that big one timer/shot to change the course of hockey games. While with Altanta, Ilya played with the following superstar players: Marc Savard, Marian Hossa, Dany Heatley. These players were instrumental in playing along side Ilya, setting him up, and lightening his load by unleashing their skills as well. Notice that Ilya's numbers were the best when he played along side these players (especially with Savard from 2002-2006, Heatley from 2001-2005, and Hossa from 2007-2008). see statistics below.
So what does Lou do from here?
Though I still think that the Devils have a real shot at making the playoffs this year (never give up hope right?), he really needs to look into acquiring another big name talent (the Devils have a lot of cap space coming off the books over the next 3-5 years with their older players most likely leaving), calling one up from the minors, or the draft. There is a reason why Ilya was signed for 15 years and not one year! The Devils organization is experiencing some growing pains right now. As the NHL transitions to a younger game, the Devils are transitioning from a trap team to an offensive minded club. I realize that the Devils are last in the league in scoring but, like all things in sports, the right players must fit the scheme. The Devils need to change the team to fit their style, but to fit Ilya's needs they must acquire a big time playmaker.
Regular season: Ilya Kovalchuk statistics
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