Those of you that drop by here fairly regularly may have heard me comment a few times in the past with regard to the Devils acquiring—and then re-signing—Ilya Kovalchuk a couple of years ago. It has always struck me that he was not a “Devils” kind of player. He came to his new team with a deserved reputation as a coach-killer, a guy who went his own way and basically refused to commit to his defensive responsibilities.
(That all said, I loved watching Kovalchuk as a Thrasher over the years. On those not-very-good teams, he stood out with his high-end talent, great shot and nose for the net. He was a delight to see in action, if you didn’t care about the outcome from a team perspective. It could be argued, of course, that he was simply doing what he did best, and it wasn’t his fault the rest of the team did not do their jobs better in Atlanta...)
In any event, as talented a player as he was/is, I thought it was the wrong thing to do to pay a guy that much money on a long-term deal. I don’t like any of these 10-year deals. Virtually no athlete is going to be worth, in 7 years, say, what he might be worth at his prime. (Even in baseball, where there is no “cap”, I think it’s madness for teams to pay players like Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols the kind of money they received this past winter. I mean, even if we accept that sports is what it is, and that it’s a given that athletes make absurd amounts of money....then if you're going to get crazy, over-pay them for four years, tops. Why do teams want a guy on the payroll 10 years from now—and still be paying him 20 million a year when he clearly won’t be worth it?)
So, I figured, and said so often here, that Lamoriello was wrong, and would regret his error in signing Kovalchuk the way he did. After the last two springs, when the Devils were not really serious Cup hopefuls, I felt pretty smug about my comments. And I thought they weren’t going to be much this season. I mean, c’mon. Brodeur was 50 (or seemingly close to it), right? I couldn’t name three of their defensemen. Elias was almost as old as Brodeur. They had another new coach (Lou goes through a lot of them…). I just couldn’t see anything going right for this team in the near future.
Eight months later, it sure looks like my "predictions" were wrong—very wrong.
Now, for me to completely acknowledge the error of my ways, the Devils will have to conclude their mission—beat the Kings and win a Stanley Cup. But regardless, I should at least concede that Lamoriello, a Hall-of-Fame NHL executive, may just know a bit more than me about how he should build his hockey team.
So here we are: Brodeur is still not bad. Some young forwards have blossomed nicely. Parise is outstanding. Their defense is better than anyone thought it would be. Under DeBoer, the Devils don’t trap the way they used to, though they remain hard to play against. And Kovalchuk is a better, more mature and more well-rounded player now than he ever was before.
Is that age? Playing with a good team? Is it DeBoer?
I don’t know and don’t much care. But who would have thought Kovalchuk, playing through injuries, had any leadership qualities about him at all. Nonetheless, he seems to have some, eh?
I wonder, too, if his Russian national team winning gold at the recent World Championships has given him an extra bit of incentive—not that guys need much extra incentive when they are playing for a Stanley Cup. But it’s a big deal, a very big deal, for European teams to win a World Championship in hockey. That Russia did it so convincingly this year without him must have stung a bit, though he would likely never admit that.
But he has something in front of him, in our part of the world, that is just as big, or bigger—a Stanley Cup. This is the closest he’s ever gotten. He, his coach, his teammates—and Lamoriello—deserve credit.
So I’ll say it: while the deal won’t make sense for me in five years, I was wrong.
I said it.