ILWT Audition 2012: Like It or Not, This Is Ilya Kovalchuk's Team Now

Earlier this month, I put out the call looking for new writers for In Lou We Trust to write about the New Jersey Devils. I've opened up the audition to the community at large in order to get some new perspectives and additional voices on the front page with regularity. Since then, I've received eleven entries. Regardless of how they're received, I thank the writers of each and every one of them - you know who you are - for stepping up and submitting an entry.

Throughout the next two weeks, I will post each one under an anonymous name so you can discuss and critique the post without regard to who actually wrote it. I can ensure you that I did not change any of the content outside of formatting it in to the SBN platform. To that end, please note that I don't necessarily agree with what the posts actually say. I'm just letting them stand on their own. Please be constructive in any criticism and do offer your thoughts about whether you liked (or disliked) the post in addition to discussing it's content. Don't be mean, but be fair.

This eighth entry comes from Writer H MutantLeagueMVP, who made their submission on July 19. This submission focuses on a certain big-name, big-money Russian winger on the roster. You know him as Ilya Kovalchuk. What follows after the jump is an explanation by Writer H MutantLeagueMVP why the 2011-12 campaign proved that this is Kovalchuk's team now. There's even some optimism about the team from this offseason.

When Ilya Kovalchuk put ink to paper on that 17 year, $102,000,000 15 year, $100,000,000 contract two summers ago, every journalist, pundit, blogger and beyond immediately made the connection between this contract and a marriage, and rightfully so. This signing tied Kovalchuk and the Devils together until he is 42, which in hockey terms is a reasonable facsimile of "until death do us part." I probably don't need to remind any black and red bleeder of how the events that transpired that following season fell under the "for better or for worse" category. I also probably don't need to remind any Devils fans out there about the event that likely ruined your Fourth of July (as if some of us needed a reason to drink more). But beyond losing Zach Parise to Minnesota, the events of that day reaffirmed the implications of summer 2010: This team is bound to Ilya Kovalchuk, for better or for worse. And whether or not you like it, he is now the centerpiece of this team.

It may not seem like sacrilege now, but there was a time where I would have had my front door kicked in by a pitchfork-and-torch wielding army for saying that I have always been pro-Ilya. My desk still has an indent in the shape of my lower jaw from the day I casually checked hockey news and saw that the Devils had, seemingly out of nowhere, pulled the trigger on a trade. When many claimed he would not fit in with the Devils, I defended him. When he took the blame for our pathetic whimper out of the 2010 playoffs as a #2 seed, I pointed out that the Devils could only be as strong as their weakest link, and it certainly wasn't Kovalchuk. When major sports media outlets prematurely reported that he had signed in Los Angeles, I was angry. When he signed in New Jersey, I was ecstatic, then mad at Bettman and Daly, and then I was happy again. Even through the disaster that was the last quarter of 2010, I was happy that Kovalchuk was a Devil, and was among the few that thought the team would have been even worse without him.

Well, now it's 2012, and I think I can safely admit all of that now without being run out of New Jersey. Ilya has won over the vast majority of Devils Nation at this point. Most recently, he put the Devils on his injured back, and carried them to within two wins of arguably their unlikeliest of Stanley Cup victories, all while tying for the playoff lead in goals, and coming in second in assists and points. This effort seems to have been swept under the carpet in the wake of losing Zach, and to an extent, I can understand. I was confused at first as to why I was somewhat OK with Parise's departure, beyond knowing the contents of some of the small pieces of paper that Craig Leipold will be signing for the next 13 years. My normal reaction to these types of things is to quickly look for the closest source of whiskey while frantically flipping through a dictionary to add to my collection of four letter words to scream into my drink, and yet, I have been oddly tempered throughout losing our captain, our assistant coaches, our financial stability, and reading every prediction of how absolutely atrocious the Devils will be next season.

I think the Devils are in a good position heading into next season (I will not even harbor the idea that there won't be one, so don't even bring it up). They finished last season with balanced scoring. Losing Parise and Alexei Ponikarovsky (and maybe Sykora) hurts that, but not as much as if we were a top heavy team in terms of scoring. I think Scott Stevens and Matt Shaw make excellent additions to the coaching staff. Stevens was a great leader, and having him around will only help that "no name" defense of ours become even more underrated. If Matt Shaw brings even half of the powerplay effectiveness he brought the Sharks, I'll be happy with that powerplay. I won't claim to be a business expert, but I do know how the media treats the Devils. Mark Fayne could owe the city of Newark $40 for a parking violation and it will somehow get horrendously overblown into a "sky is falling, move them to Quebec" story. I'm not saying that the debt isn't a concern; I'm just suggesting that some of the panic is speculative at best, given how much of those workings are behind closed doors. If there are ways to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix, there are ways to keep the Devils in New Jersey. And finally, I'll admit I actually enjoy watching people predict the Devils doing poorly. It happens every year, and every year, those words are eaten at a Joey Chestnut-esque pace. It's something I not only look forward to, but have happily gotten used to.

I know us Devil fans are waiting for Lou to strike soon, but the reality is that we don't have to. The scoring may not be as deep as last season, but I believe the offensive output is enough to get us through to at the very least, the trade deadline. We can expect a move now, but the reality is that this team is nowhere near as bad as some think/want it to be, and doesn't have to make a move until the right one comes along. So again, I find myself well tempered on some of the offseason speculation surrounding the Devils and other rumors. The Devils should look at Alex Semin? Meh. They should bring back Sykora? Meh. They should kick the tires on a Bobby Nash or Rick Ryan? Meh. These can happen or not happen, but either way, this team is going to be fine. The Devils' greatest trick was convincing the NHL that they didn't exist, and just when they buy it, we come out of nowhere to steal a Prince of Wales trophy.

Ilya Kovalchuk's "comeback" performance last season embodied what the Devils consistently do, year in and year out. They quietly succeed while the rest of the league largely ignores them or even goes out of their way to find ways to discredit them, and they do it through hard work, and determination. They prove the critics and naysayers wrong. "A 6.67 cap hit is absurd for a lazy player. His defense is terrible. He's ...oh, he picked up a fifth best 83 points, 19 more in the playoffs, played an active role as a leader and on a NHL record penalty killing unit, put a whole storied franchise on his back, and led them to a Stanley Cup Finals with a back injury?...uh...well...he's still bad." Of course he is.

Like it or not, Ilya has become the face of the Devils, and it began well before Zach Parise ever left. Like it or not, he will be wearing the red and black (likely, and in my opinion deservedly, with a "C" stitched on the front) for the next thirteen years, for better or for worse. At least the number thirteen has historically been a good omen, right? It should be, at least for a team that continually convinces the rest of the hockey world that they don't exist.

Editor's Note: Now that you read Writer H MutantLeagueMVP's post explaining why Ilya Kovalchuk is the face of the Devils, I want to know what you think. Do you agree with Writer H MutantLeagueMVP that Kovalchuk is the face of this franchise? If so, why? If not, why not and who is the face of the franchise? What did you think of how Writer H MutantLeagueMVP wrote this post? Based on how it was written and what was it about, is this the kind of post you would want to see regularly at In Lou We Trust? Please leave your answers and other comments about this post in the comments. Thanks go to Writer H MutantLeagueMVP for the submission and thank you for reading.

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