Ilya Kovalchuk is not someone a team can easily replace, but the Devils will have to just that now that the 30-year-old All-Star is heading to Russia.
Kovalchuk shocked the hockey world when he announced his retirement from the NHL last week, leaving 12 years and $77 million on the table to take his family home. Due to league rules, Kovalchuk will not be allowed to return to the NHL until he is 35.
The announcement of Kovalchuk's decision couldn't have come at a worse time, as the league's top free agents have signed with new teams and the NHL draft is now two weeks in the rear-view mirror.
Despite the market drying up quickly, there are still players out there that could help the Devils right away. Here are five guys to keep an eye on as the offseason continues on in July.
Mason Raymond is a guy who I believe would fit perfectly into the Devils system.
At age 27, Raymond is one of the youngest quality free agents remaining on the market and would potentially be a nice replacement for Alexei Ponikarovsky if the Devils decide not to re-sign him.
Raymond had 10 goals and 22 points for Vancouver in a shortened season last year but had a respectable 39 points in 70 games during the 2011-12 campaign. His best season came in 2009-10, when he posted a career high in goals (25) and assists (28).
The thing I like about Raymond is his ability to be a two-way forward. He has a career plus-17 rating and has never had a plus/minus in the negative over the course of his six-year career.
Raymond also has 55 games of playoff experience under his belt, including a Stanley Cup Final appearance with Vancouver in 2011. With the Devils looking to get back to the playoffs, they could use a guy with playoff experience to help lead the way.
The Calgary Flames were reportedly close to signing Raymond during the first week of free agency, but Darren Dreger reported that the two sides had not begun any conversations. If Kovalchuk was still in New Jersey, I'd say Raymond signs in Calgary, but that opportunity to shine in New Jersey may open the door for better opportunities.
The former Canuck made $2.28 million last season, which means he will likely not demand the high AAV that players like David Clarkson got earlier this month. If the Devils can sign Raymond to a two-year deal worth $6 million, that's a good deal.
Kyle Wellwood is another third-line guy the Devils should take a look at.
Wellwood, 30, is a year removed from the best season of his career, tying a career high in goals with 18 and recording 47 points back in 2011-12. He also managed to score six goals in 39 games last year.
The thing that sells me on Wellwood is his discipline. Dating back to his first season in 2005-06, Wellwood has only recorded a total of 36 penalty minutes over the course of seven seasons.
To put that into perspective, David Clarkson had 14 PIM in one game last season against Ottawa, nearly half of what Wellwood has posted in his career.
New Jersey ranked eighth in the NHL this past season with an average of 10.8 PIM per game, so a guy like Wellwood would potentially fit nicely.
On Brian Compton's "Top 25 Remaining Unrestricted Free Agents" list, he said that Wellwood would need to be in a top-six role to reach his max production. The loss of Kovalchuk opens up that spot in the top six for Wellwood to succeed, and if he can provide 15 goals next season, I think he would be a smart signing.
Fans must remember that the Devils don't need to go out and get a star in order to succeed. Yes, they lost Kovalchuk, but they have also lost Clarkson, Ponikarovsky, Matt D'Agostini, Steve Sullivan and, potentially, Tom Kostopoulos.
Getting Wellwood at a price around his last contract of $1.6 million would do wonders for this team, especially if the Devils expect to rebuild their depth for next season.
If the Devils are in search of the big-name forward to replace Kovalchuk, Jaromir Jagr will likely be that guy.
The 41-year old had 16 goals and 19 assists in Dallas and Boston last season and also added 24 goals and 33 assists in 34 Czech League games during the lockout. In total, Jagr appeared in a total of 101 games between the work stoppage, regular season and playoffs.
There have been a number of teams, including the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadians, that have shown interest in Jagr, but the veteran forward has yet to sign a deal.
Rumors have been flying around Twitter that Jagr wants to come to New Jersey and play with Patrik Elias, but those have not turned into actual reports. It would be fascinating to see those two veterans playing on the same line with Travis Zajac, but no contract offers have been put out there.
A report out of Russia suggests that Jaromir Jagr is interested in signing with the #Devils to play alongside Elias. I guess we'll see soon.— Michael Pantaleone (@Mike_TOU) July 9, 2013
The most recent news surrounding Jagr was his bizarre Facebook video in which he allegedly said he sees his NHL future "in black" (you can watch the video here). Whether or not he meant bleak or he's going to a team with black in their colors (New Jersey?), it's unclear what Jagr has planned for his future.
I don't think it's wise to give Jagr a contract worth $4.5 million at his age, but if the Devils could sign him to a one-year deal closer to $2.5 million, it's worth a look.
Both Elias and Parise said that Jagr was still "amazing" at 40 in 2011-12, and he showed no signs of slowing down last year. If he's a cheap option, you take a look.
Devils' Patrik Elias and Zach Parise agree: Jaromir Jagr still amazing at 40: Bryce Salvador says left arm is okay http://t.co/7pw81s9X— Rich Chere (@Ledger_NJDevils) April 28, 2012
Oh, Scott Gomez, how you'll never go away.
In terms of Devils history, Gomez may be the most hated player to ever leave the organization, yet we keep hearing rumors that he's coming back.
Gomez spent seven years in New Jersey, winning two Stanley Cups in 2000 and 2003 and the Calder Trophy during the 1999-2000 season. He still ranks seventh on the Devils' all-time points list with 450.
However, Gomez took the money and ran by signing a $51.5 million contract with the hated New York Rangers. He turned out to be a bust in the big city and was traded to Montreal for now star defensemen Ryan McDonagh, a deal that is considered one of the worst ever by the Canadiens.
So why take a chance with Gomez?
Well, for one, he actually performed well when he was bought out and sent to San Jose last season. In 39 games with the Sharks, Gomez had two goals and 13 assists and actually played well enough to find himself on the third line during the playoffs.
Gomez also has ties to New Jersey and rumors flew around a few times that the Devils would give Gomez a shot after he was bought out by Montreal. However, nothing ever came of it.
Speaking of the formerly mighty Habs, is there a Scott Gomez buyout - and return to Jersey - in the works? http://t.co/6tu8FdoC— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) March 20, 2012
The Devils have depth at center with Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Ryan Carter and Andrei Loktionov, but New Jersey could always use extra guys considering what they lost this offseason.
A minimum contract to give a two-time Cup winner and former Calder trophy recipient a shot to come back to where it started? I say why not.
Plus, you can turn your Clarkson jersey back to a Gomez jersey.
The closest player to signing with New Jersey is Damien Brunner, but the deal is currently in a holding pattern.
Shortly after Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL, the Devils were reportedly close to signing a two-year deal worth $6 million. However, that rumor came four days ago and the Devils have yet to announce anything finalized.
— Swiss NHL (@SwissNHL) July 14, 2013
Rumors are rumors, and it was expected that fans would jump the gun with any new player once the Devils lost Kovalchuk. Tom Gulitti, the Devils beat writer for The Record, spoke with Brunner's agent and was told nothing was imminent on July 15.
Just talked to Damien Brunner's agent, Neil Sheehy. Wouldn't say which teams he's talked to. Says "nothing imminent" as far as signing.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) July 15, 2013
I fear that if the Devils finalize the deal this week, they will be overpaying a forward who really only has a half of a season of NHL experience under his belt. Yes, he tore up the Swiss League, averaging nearly 50 points a season, but you can't base your signings on a different league.
You can also argue that he was one of the Red Wings' best players in the playoffs, recording five goals in 14 games, but should the Devils throw money at a guy who hasn't even proven himself over a full NHL season? Ask the Rangers about Gomez.
I do believe Brunner has tremendous upside. He certainly has the skill to play in the NHL, but he is also 27 years old and hasn't proven anything other than last season.
There is no doubt that he will slide into the top six right away in New Jersey, and he will benefit from playing with Elias and Zajac, but I still say the Devils should proceed with caution.
A lot of people believed the Devils overpaid for Ryane Clowe, but I still think there is more risk with a Brunner signing if it is in fact all but finalized.
Follow Joe on Twitter @jkuchie