Well, it's August 19th, we are in the dog days of summer and there is minimal hockey news out there. Tom Gulitti hasn't had a new post in almost a week and that post was about Brian Burke/Tomas Kaberle. Rich Chere hasn't posted anything new since Sunday and that story was about Charlie Finley and the California Golden Seals. Despite the bizarre happenings of Ilya Kovalchuk's re-signing, contract rejection and failed arbitration hearing it certainly has been an exciting summer for Devils fans. Whether you love the changes in direction the team has had or think they made some bad mistakes it is nice to have some hockey issues to talk about. This summer, much more than most, provided me with some new lessons and I wanted to share what I have learned this offseason with the community. After the jump you will find out what I learned!
Please note the below are all my opinions, are free to be debated and as you should be able to deduce some are tongue in cheek.
1. CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) Education: I will never hear the numbers 11 or 26 again without thinking of the ridicoulous CBA that the NHLPA (National Hockey League Players Association) negotiated. Because of the Kovalchuk contract rejection I learned way more than I had imagined I ever would about the CBA.
The education was worth it though as it forced me to understand different concepts in the CBA that I had never looked at before. I still don't fully agree with what the 'magical' arbitrator ruled on the case, but it is what it is. Hopefully there will never be a situation like that again involving a Devils player as the crack legal team over at the NHLPA doesn't really inspire much confidence. No truth to the rumor that the NHLPA has retained Lionel Hutz as counsel for the next CBA negotiations.
2. With or without Kovalchuk the Devils are a better team than they were at the end of last season. The addition of Henrik Tallinder, Jason Arnott, Anton Volchenkov and Johan Hedberg added depth to the defense and goaltending, with a second line center that the team lacked last year. The Devils potential second line of Rolston-Arnott-Elias will be a great compliment to ZZPops. Kovalchuk-Arnott-Elias would be even better. Volchenkov gives the Devils a shutdown defenseman they haven't had for years and Tallinder can play big minutes (20:00+ average) as he did with Buffalo last season. Hedberg gives the Devils a reliable backup so there will be no need to push Martin Brodeur through games (especially back to back) because the Devils 'need' a win. There is still a need for an additional defenseman that can move the puck, but that can be addressed in season via trade or via the minor league system or with a low risk free agent pick up.
3. The Penalty Killing Unit has been upgraded. An area where the Devils haven't been that proficient in the last few years has been on the penalty kill. I think the additions of Tallinder and Volchenkov to the defense along with Colin White (maybe Mike Mottau?) playing less and against a lower level of competition will help bolster the PKU. Volchenkov (3:31) and Tallinder (3:03) spent a lot of their time on the penalty kill for teams that finished 2nd and 8th respectively in penalty kill percentage. An additional benefit will be freeing up Andy Greene to spend more time on the power play and be in the offensive zone for 5 on 5 faceoffs as his average shorthanded ice time of 1:47 should be less this year. (more on this to come in a future post)
4. The 'Youth Movement' might be forced upon us. Last year we heard a lot from Devils management about using younger players to fill out the roster. It didn't exactly work out like that last year but the upcoming season might be different. Because of the cap restraints the team currently has there will certainly be an attempt to infuse youth on the 3rd and 4th lines. I expect the Devils to go to camp with the intent on giving some jobs to players like Jacob Josefson, Adam Henrique, or Alexander Urbom. That said, if they don't earn their jobs and perform the way Lou Lamoriello hopes, you could see the Devils look for free agent bargains like Jason Williams, Owen Nolan or even (in a specialized role) Marc-Andre Bergeron.
5. The Devils partial season ticket plans are pretty good. While the savings isn't huge, by purchasing one of the plans the Devils have available on their website (All Star Plan, Half Season Weekend Plan, etc.) you guarantee your seats for all the games you purchase, can acquire some premium games (2 Ranger games in the all star plan!) and most importanly you help support the team. My personal experience with their sales representatives has always been favorable and I certainly appreciated their patience as I tried to get the best deal possible! (Please note that I was not paid for the above endorsement.)
6. Jay Pandolfo will be missed. One of the things that I hate about this offseason so far was Pando leaving the team the way that he did. Was he overpaid his last few years as a Devil? Probably, but at the time he signed that contract he was well worth the money. I wasn't a fan of the way he was treated in the playoffs by the coaching staff (being told by text he wasn't playing, using a separate locker room.) and felt it was a poor way for the organization to treat a player who had helped them win two Stanley Cups. He was playing well last year before hurting his shoulder and he probably rushed back earlier than he should have which may have contributed to his ineffectiveness towards the end of the year. I am hopeful Lou Lamoriello was serious in saying that Pando had a place in the organization once he retires from hockey, but in the interim I hope he catches on with another team (reuniting with John Madden in Minnesota perhaps?) so his career can go out on a better note than it did last year.
7. Twitter is where it is at. If you don't have a Twitter account, sign up for one. You don't have to tweet you can just follow people and find the most up to date hockey news. Personally I follow all the main TSN guys (Darren Dreger, Bob McKenzie) the ESPN guys (Pierre LeBrun, Scott Burnside) with some other folks sprinkled in like Dmitry Chesnokov. For comedy's sake I even follow Ecklund. You will get all the updated hockey news instantly and it's much easier and quicker to check Twitter than various hockey websites, especially on big days like draft day, opening of free agency and the trade deadline. Don't forget to follow @InLouWeTrust, @JKFischer, @NonAmericanHero, @MJVentolo and @TStivali for Devils news!
8. Kovalchuk's got jokes. During his press conference (you know, the one the league told the Devils not to have) he busted Pierre Luc-Lotourneau LeBlond's chops saying he needs to protect people better and he also referred to Jeff Vanderbeek as the 'guy who signs the checks'. Well played Kovy, well played.
9. Kevin Sellathamby has an unhealthy obsession with all things Vesa Toskala. Our own ILWT writer Kevin Sellanthamby (who must be followed on Twitter @NonAmericanHero, he is one of the funniest people I follow) will take every opportunity to poke fun at Toskala, either in an article here or a tweet here, here, or here. If they were in kindergarten you would think Kevin had a crush on him.
Ok, that is it for now I will be back with either a new prospect profile (suggestions welcome) or maybe a retroactive prospect profile (David Clarkson or Vladimir Zharkov perhaps?) on Saturday. Hopefully a Kovy signing is imminent so we all can look forward to training camp and the start of the season (only 51 days away).