Ilya Kovalchuk Scramble Has Potential High Price To the NJ Devils

Hamilton BolducContributor IAugust 15, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - JULY 20:  Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils speaks with the media after announcing his contract renewal at the Prudential Center on July 20, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As the Devils scramble to not be left out in the cold, it would be advisable to consider the long-term ramifications of a sizeable financial commitment to superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk.

With the current roster on the books for $56.275 million, the Devils would have needed to dump salary had the NHL even accepted Kovalchuk’s initial contract.

Now the Devils will have to take a larger cap hit, significantly more than six million a year, and potentially have to move multiple players just to make it work; though it appears Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello is prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Kovalchuk in the fold.

Lamoriello is widely considered to be a legendary general manager, but his recent track record has been spotty, including a handful of questionable transactions that have bogged down their cap flexibility.

Sizeable contracts for Dainius Zubrus, Henrik Tallinder, Brian Rolston, and Patrik Elias account for nearly 30 percent of the cap despite each of them ending up on the injured list. Not to mention that they've underachieved at a high level.

These contracts wouldn’t be so horrendous if it weren't going to directly interfere with their ability to lock up captain Jamie Langenbrunner, superstar winger Zach Parise, or defenseman Andy Greene.

If Kovalchuk receives a contract averaging around eight million annually, the Devils would be put in the unenviable position of having to deal away a quality player to get Ilya on the ice. Any team considering making a deal with the Devils can almost certainly get a draft pick back with the contract they would have to take on.

If any of you feel like you've heard of something like this before, you have. This happens all the time in the NBA, and when these contract dumps happen, many lament how poor cap management led to a talent fleecing with each transaction to get under the cap.

So which teams could entertain a Devils offer?

Several teams are under the cap by a healthy margin, but few have needs that match up with the players the Devils could move.

Here are some contracts the Devils would be happy to move along and others that may be casualties of the cap.


1. Trade Patrik Elias

Unfortunately, this should have happened a while ago when Elias had significantly higher value. Years of underachieving and nagging injuries have all but sapped any level of return in a deal. Consider that if another team were to take Elias, he would be 10 percent of their cap number and not produce at a level to rationalize the deal without also receiving some draft picks or a prospect.

But Elias could be seen as a value to a younger team that wants a veteran presence.

How about the Florida Panthers?

The Devils could send Elias and a third round pick to Panthers for Marty Reasoner, a fourth or fifth round pick, and possibly a mid-tier prospect.


2. Brian Rolston Needs to Be Moved AlongSomehow

Rolston, 37, is getting up there in age and could make sense on either a sure-fire contender or on a team in need of defensive leadership. Teams like the L.A. Kings, New York Islanders, or Washington Capitals could use his experience to get to the next level.

Okay, so that was the optimistic take on Rolston. Not even the most brainwashed Devils fan could say that with a straight face.

There is a good chance the Devils could be forced to demote Rolston to free up cap space. With two years left on his contract and his scoring touch all but gone, Rolston will be difficult for any team to justify paying a touch over five million (or almost 10 percent of their cap space).


3. Trade One of the Young Stars

Maybe the Devils move along David Clarkson, Travis Zajac, or even Zach Parise. With Lamoriello committed to getting his guy, it could make sense to remold this team around Kovalchuk’s skill set. This could mean that trading away Parise could return several inexpensive prospects and complementary players to place around Kovy.

Judging from last year’s initial test run with Kovalchuk, it seems like the best way to win with him involves making him the center of their offensive game plan and allowing him to play over 20 minutes a game. This can’t happen with Parise playing the same position on the top line! So something has to give, and it appears it may have to be the equally talented Parise.

Of course, if the Devils were unable to retain Kovalchuk’s services, it could have its own set of complications. These complications could be compounded when the Devils are not able to re-sign their current talent when their contracts are up. In Parise’s case, it will be very interesting to see what he wants since Kovalchuk’s salary will serve as a benchmark he would like to exceed.

One thing is certain: The Devils need to win now, because this may be their last chance before this team looks radically different.