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Leafs win again, but this is not your older brother’s Devils: where will Kovalchuk play the rest of his career?

The Meadowlands has often been a less than satisfying place for the Leafs to play.  Even when we were good (1999-2004) the Devils were even better, and took the measure of the Leafs whenever they played in the playoffs.

Of course, that was when Scott Stevens patrolled the blueline, and a young Scott Niedermayer was, well, like Jake Gardiner but even better and more experienced. They had that stifling checking system, guys that were tough and hard to play against (Madden, Holik, et al) and…they had Martin Brodeur.

Well, the Martin Brodeur we saw Wednesday night was 39, coming off an injury and three weeks away from active competition. 

It might as well have been five years.

The Leafs scored on their 5 of only 16 shots in the first two periods.  (Gustavsson was better than that, allowing but three on 17 shots, if you want to spin a mess into some kind of positive…)

Somewhere, Leaf players from the early 2000s were surely watching and thinking ”My God, if Brodeur was like this when we played these guys in the playoffs…we’d have gone to the Conference finals a lot more often…”.  Having said that, Marty  stoned Kessel, I think it was, about 6 minutes into the final period, though that was more desperation than skill- but it was still spectacular.

In any event, though it was hardly a masterpiece of great hockey, why not focus on a win—and the positives:

  • Lupul must surely have his swagger back.  Here’s a guy that Burke had, traded and now has again.  He wanted him back.  And so far, a healthy (that’s key here) Lupul is repaying that faith big time.
  • Kessel picked up his almost nightly (it’s a bit over the top to say customary but it feels that way) two points.  And he could easily have had more.
  • Komisarek was a plus 3 with about 20 minutes of ice time.
  • Gardiner continued to make plays that make us wonder if he will ever show “rookie” nerves.
  • Schenn fought, which makes me wonder if he is trying to get himself going.
  • One of our constant themes in recent years has been a lack of secondary scoring.  Well, that continues to be a strength in the early going this season, including against the Devils as Crabb and Grabbo netted key markers.

Not to put a damper on things, but there is some context here.  The Devils (and yes, they proved me partly wrong last season with their remarkable second half under Lemaire) are not exactly the Devils we used to know.  Not even close.

Who would you take off their roster right now?

Young Larsson, OK.  Volchenkov?  Sure.  But at that price? 

Elias, Sykora?  Magnificent, elite players through the years, especially Elias, but perhaps on the other side of the mountain.

Parise?  Of course.  But beyond that, who?  And this is the point, they’re just another team—and not a terribly promising one at that.

Given they will be paying Ilya Kovalchuk a massive amount on that extraordinary (and awful, which regular readers know I’ve hated from the get-go) contract, how can they possibly build the kind of team they need to?

I’ve always loved watching Kovalchuk- when it comes to pure entertainment.  I had hoped he would stay with the Thrashers and help them turn the corner.  But after the trade (and his re-signing with) to New Jersey, I still can’t see the “fit”, given the way Lamoriello likes his teams to play.  And we should make no mistake, it is always Lou’s team.

When you watch Kovalchuk now, you see him making the same mistakes he has been making since his early seasons with the Thrashers.  All veterans make mistakes but I wonder if he has really matured as a player.  I know many Russian players are playing with heavy hearts this season after the terrible tragedy several weeks ago.  So we should be measured in our comments, for sure.  But my concern with Kovalchuk goes way back, and I don’t see things getting better with him in the Devils line-up—and Parise likely playing elsewhere next season.

Who will ever want Kovalchuk, for that amount, for that many years?  It may take years for New Jersey to unwind from that one signing.

As for the Leafs, right now, they are winning more often than not—not a common occurrence in recent years.

In Toronto, it seems a luxury to only complain about special teams, or The Monster not being brilliant all the time, rather than the team just being plain lousy—and losing—most nights.

And surely that’s a good thing.


  1. Long suffering Leaf fanNovember 3, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    Good points Mike! As for which Devil's I wouldn't mind playing for the Leafs besides Zack Parise and Adam Larsson, David Clarkson would look great on our third line... Eh? And I wouldn't mind having a crafty and dependable center like Travis Zajac. Great to see Joey Crabb back from the minors and contributing in his first game. With the PK being on the smelly side, how long do you think it will be before Darryl Boyce is recalled? Not only does poor Luke looks uneasy and confuse on the ice, he now seem to be entering the frustrating stage which never a good sign. Here's hoping he just settles down and plays his game. Question about yesterday's post, beside Howe, Bower and Shack, is the other Leaf Kent Douglas?

    On by the way Mike, when I was surfing through youtube I came across an 8 min video called "Hot ice 1939 Toronto vs New York" something interesting you might enjoy.

  2. Long Suffering...I agree about Clarkson and I've liked Zajac, for sure, for some time. But they're not what they were. Whereas Detroit just keeps building "the right way", Lou fell in love with one guy (Kovalchuk) and I think that will hurt the organization for years to come. That said, Lamoriello has done a tremendous job with the franchise for over 20 years. I just wouldn't want to coach for him...

    Boyce sure could get a shot. He was a great story last year. Another example of a guy who never gave up his dream.

    I'm as baffled as everyone else about Schenn. Maybe it's a short-term blip and he'll be logging big minutes by the end of the season. But this is just odd, after his ice time and development last season.

    I will check out that You Tube clip!

    And yes, that was indeed Kent Douglas on the ice in that great old photo along with Bower and Howe.

  3. Not your older brother’s Devils? Last night’s game was like watching Gilligan’s Island while focusing on the main event -- a discussion about the Greek economic crisis. Not exactly riveting but, a way to pass the time, I guess. Oh but wait, watching your older brother’s or uncle’s Devils (time marches on) could be like watching paint dry while fingernails slowly meander over a chalk board. Well, to a Leafs fan, maybe not to a hockey purist. Some part of you had to sit back and admire. But now! The New Jersey Kovalchuck’s? How is that going to work? Poor Lou. This could not have been his idea. Could it? Maybe this is the Devil’s karma, the hockey universe unfolding as it should? As far as the penalty kill goes, might as well switch channels, Unsolved Mysteries is on. (At least it is based on reality.) Young Buds, Kadri, Colborne, and Frattin budding on the Marlies while the Leafs win again? … Wake me, I must be dreaming.

  4. Thanks Bobby C. Very well said, as usual. The "old" Devils sure were dull- but successful and awful to have to play against.

    Maybe last night was what we should expect for an early-season game. If we want to see great hockey, we may have to wait until springtime...

    As you say, a way to pass the time. At least the Leafs are winning more while we pass the time....and it's a diversion from the real problems around the globe.

  5. Thanks Michael. VLM remains the brightest light in the Barilkosphere. It is fun lampooning the Devils, but the truth is I have long been a secret admirer of Lamoriello teams. It pained me to watch the lack of depth, and especially Martin Brodeur struggle last night. I hope he has at least one more good year in the tank and goes out as the elite goaltender that he is.

  6. "In Toronto, it seems a luxury to only complain about special teams, or The Monster not being brilliant all the time, rather than the team just being plain lousy—and losing—most nights.
    And surely that’s a good thing."

    It sure is! As Ron Wilson said post-game "Now we're getting picky about how we win".

    That made me laugh!

    We've got lots areas in which to improve, no question, but apart from sitting Schenn for Franson or Aulie - which has to happen soon, doesn't it? - and the PK making better decisions on clearing, I'm starting to believe!

    As for the Devils - I agree with you. I'll never understand the Kovalchuk decision - or is it a case of needing the right coach? To my eyes, the team looked pretty dispirited last night.

  7. Thanks for that, Bobby C. As for New Jersey and Lamoriello, no question a first-rate success story since Lou took over in '88.

    Not sure what Brodeur has left- maybe a lot- but we will all remember him as an all-time great.

  8. Gerund O'...Agreed, great comment from Wilson. I'm confused by the Schenn thing. I guess that will unfold. And I do wonder if there is a change, if it will be the more defensively-minded Aulie rather than another "offensive" guy in Franson. We'll see.

    The Devils changed coaches last season and turned things around. But it's tough if you have to locate a coach that can work with Kovalchuk...

  9. It would be interesting to see Franson play on his "right" side. Maybe he really has been having a bit of trouble adjusting. But I agree - Aulie is the natural replacement.