Will New Jersey Devils Win Without Ilya Kovalchuk?

Joe YerdonContributor ISeptember 6, 2013

Kovalchuk "retired" from the NHL to join SKA in the KHL.
Kovalchuk "retired" from the NHL to join SKA in the KHL.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Now that Ilya Kovalchuk is off to the KHL and, as Igor Eronko of Sports.ru reports, is off to a point-free start, the New Jersey Devils hope that their time without their former superstar doesn’t start off as slowly.

Kovalchuk’s sudden decision to nullify his contract and take his game, and his family, to Russia stunned the hockey world. The Devils thought they were set to have him there for the next decade and then some. Now they’re left in a lurch trying to figure out where they’ll get his 30-goal, 80-point capability from.

Look at what this team has lost in just the past two summers. Zach Parise, David Clarkson and now Kovalchuk. That’s a lot of offense to replace, but much like how the Devils have always done, they’re going to do it come hell or high water. These Devils will win games.

It all starts with what they were able to do in free agency, and if anything, the Devils resemble hockey’s version of “The Expendables.”

The biggest name they landed was future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr. He comes to them at the age of 41 and off a season that saw him split his time with Dallas and Boston. If they can manage his time well and he stays healthy, he can be more than productive.

Two seasons ago with Philly, Jagr was magical, scoring 19 goals and 54 points. That kind of production that season would’ve made him good enough for fourth on the 2011-12 Devils, and two of the guys who would’ve been ahead of him are elsewhere.

With Clarkson gone to Toronto, they needed a physical player up front who can score the occasional garbage goal. Insert former San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers forward Ryane Clowe. The big deal he inked gives them a guy capable of scoring 25 in a season while not losing any of that famous New Jersey grit.

Michael Ryder’s arrival from Montreal provides them with a sniper who just two seasons ago potted 35 goals for the Dallas Stars. Even last season he still scored 16 in 46 games.

With how the Devils play team defense and the goaltending they’ll get from both Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider, the kind of offense Jagr, Clowe, and Ryder will provide should stand up.

If faith in them is lacking, what they’ve already got in Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique should help out as always. There are even a couple of prospects on the rise who could steal a job during training camp.

2012 first-round pick Stefan Matteau and 2011 fourth-round pick Reid Boucher have made noise of their own in junior hockey, and they’ll get a shot to prove to coach Pete DeBoer they’re ready to step in now. Boucher in particular has put up crazy numbers, including 62 goals and 95 points for Sarnia last season.

It’s easy to write off the Devils after losing Kovalchuk and the rest of the guys who made up their offense. Even online bookmakers like Bovada are doing that.

That said, if there’s anything we’ve learned from the past, it’s that the Devils always find a way to bounce back. They’ve been written off before and proved people wrong. If ever there was a time to do it again, it’s now, and they might just have the guys to pull it off.