Hey all, Will Agathis here (formerly known as Writer M during the ILWT auditions). I had many new ideas for series on ILWT if I became a writer. One of these, Red-Hot Takes, is, as it suggests, a recap and reaction to the biggest rumors and news in the land of New Jersey. Some of these events will seem unfounded, some likely; nonetheless, I will approach each one as though they were just reported by TSN. Without further ado, let's get rolling:
1. Adam Larsson going home to Sweden? Not so fast...
I'll keep this one short and sweet: Adam Larsson is a pending restricted free agent (RFA) who is set to hit the open market on July 1, 2014. Like many foreign Devils players who haven't played at their full potential, Larsson is considering going overseas. Additionally, like many other Devils, Larsson is intrigued at the opportunity to go home, in his case to Sweden and the SHL.
Conflicting reports have come up recently but if there is one conclusion that everyone can make, it is that Adam Larsson wants to play in New Jersey but realizes that he has been mistreated by the team and wants a regular spot on the big club. Everything after that, however, is dicey.
On the one hand, Larsson has mentioned his recent visits to Skellefteå AIK’s office. Best-case scenario, Larsson was checking in on his old club. A few days ago, hockey outlet NHL 24/7 perceived this to be the harbinger of Larsson’s return home. Earlier in the week, people started to write this news off as the end of Larsson’s NHL career.
On the other hand, Larsson spoke of his criteria for a new contract in New Jersey, namely, a one-way contract. His agent also noted that Larsson’s first goal is to re-up with the Devils. Similarly, Lou Lamoriello has publicly stated his intent to keep Larsson in Newark and remains confident that the Swedish defenseman will be a Devil in 2014-2015.
My opinion on the situation? No doubt, Larsson was mishandled in New Jersey. Some have gone so far as to say that the team ruined his career. I like to think that Larsson, not so unlike fellow Swede Victor Hedman, will become more acclimated to the NHL over time and will blossom into a nice first- or second-pairing right-handed blue liner. Perhaps the first step in this long-term process will be the Devils’ brass committing to the Swede and giving him time next to Andy Greene so he can fine-tune his game. The report of him trying to go back to Sweden, if true, is likely little more than a pipedream for Larsson in addition to a way to find some leverage in contract talks.
2. Devils fans want Jagr to bring "Cakes" to New Jersey
Having two of the five greatest Czech hockey players of all time has its perks, even if both of them are beginning to push their luck these days. One of the great benefits of this glut, as a result of the camaraderie shared between fellow Czech brethren, is the players’ desire to unite with their statesmen. For this reason, the Devils will always be connected to Czech players on the move, so long as Jagr and Elias (and even Zidlicky) are in the picture.
One of the most enticing Czech prospects, Jiri "Cakes" Sekac, has strong ties to Jaromir Jagr. Sekac, at the pre-ripe age of 16, took over Czech’s U18 hockey programs, putting up 87 points in 46 games as a member of HC Kladno’s U18 club. Not only is Jaromir Jagr’s hometown, but Jagr’s father, also named Jaromir Jagr, is the president of said club.
What’s so interesting about Sekac, aside from his age and the possibility that he heads to New Jersey? His KHL statistics, while not jump-off-the-page superb, are promising for a twenty-one year old in a league of elder Russians and prime-aged European stars. Based on an extensive study performed by SB Nation’s Puck Worlds (h/t to PA Devils), Sekac’s most recent season (11g, 17a, 28p in 47 games) would translate to a 31-point season in an 82 game season. Not bad for an undrafted 21-year old. And many teams share these sentiments.
According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, more than a dozen teams are pursuing "Cakes." Recent findings, if reliable, peg New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Ottawa as the three front-runners for Sekac. Not so ironically, the three teams closest to landing Sekac are teams that carry a valuable Czech skater: Philadelphia with Jakub Voracek, Ottawa with Ales Hemsky and Milan Michalek (who will both enter free agency according to recent reports), and New Jersey with Jagr, Elias, and Zidlicky.
My take on the news? "Cakes" wants to play with fellow statesmen. I foresee him losing all interest in Ottawa once news breaks out about Hemsky and Michalek. Of course, Lamoriello would be absolutely foolish to not do everything he could to get him in New Jersey. After all, "Cakes" would have to take a very money-friendly entry-level contract no matter where he winds up, meaning that he ultimately carries no risk. Philly, currently in the middle of a salary cap disaster, may not even have the money needed to acquire him if they want to fill out their roster. If Sekac does wind up in New Jersey, look for him to split time between the bottom-six of New Jersey and Albany as he tries to adjust to a game of cycling, forechecking and smart defense. However, don’t be surprised if he is asked to play in place of an injured top-six Devil. Hopefully there is more to this story.
3. The Ilya Kovalchuk saga will never end and I love every minute of it!
I’ve never seen a more polarizing player in the hearts of New Jersey fans than Ilya Kovalchuk. No matter what your opinion is on his return to Russia and his early retirement from the NHL, you have to admit that Kovalchuk is a great player and the Devils would greatly benefit by adding a player of Kovy’s caliber. Though I will try not to speak for the entire Devils community, a large portion of the fan base clung to every rumor and report (no matter how unreliable) about Kovalchuk’s eventual return. Add Dino Costa’s recent reporting to that pool of unreliable information. Yes, it seems that Kovalchuk can’t avoid the spotlight.
Whether or not you believe these reports, there are many interesting factors that may sway you one way or another. Costa claims to have heard this from a source that’s been in the hockey world for over 60 years. While he has been known to plagiarize here and there, Costa advertises that he rightfully predicted Jose Reyes going to Miami. Of course, everybody denounces the rumor, especially when factored in with Lou Lamoriello’s vehement opposition to the report. However, Lamoriello rarely acknowledges the verity of a rumor. Just a short month ago, Lamoriello denied the rumor that Jagr signed a new contract. A few hours later, the original report was made official.
Because there is so little information of substance after this initial report, I cannot make a very educated guess. As of now, my belief is that Kovalchuk will return to the NHL when he turns 35 and will sign with a Stanley Cup contender, possibly the Devils. But for now, I am completely unopposed to all of these reports. I openly acknowledge that the Devils would be a much better team with him and I always appreciated his on-ice gusto. Hopefully there is much more to this report.