With all the off season drama surrounding the Ilya Kovalchuk signing- and then "un-signing"- several lesser moves fell under the radar.
Clearly, the NHL's voiding of the 17 year contract signed by Kovalchuk was an example that the league wanted to set an example. Why else would the NHL not look to do the same to the Flyers Chris Pronger? Something smells here, and it isn't just the brackish water of the Passaic river.
But putting aside the Kovalchuk soap opera, the Devils made significant improvements this summer that should pay dividens when the season opens.
The hiring of John MacLean as the Head Coach, replacing Jacques Lemaire, should inject life into the team. MacLean's links with the team go all the way back to 1983, when he was selected him 6th overall in the NHL Entry Draft. This season will be his first as an NHL Head Coach after spending seven years as an Assistant with the Devils and one as Head coach of the their AHL affiliate in Lowell.
MacLean is the all time franchise leader in goals, power play goals, power play points, and hat tricks. If anyone knows how to play the Devils style of hockey, it's him. In addition to spending his first fifteen seasons playing in New Jersey, he was an Alternate Captain on the Stanley Cup winning team in 94-95. MacLean knows how to win.
Another familiar face that we'll see this seasn in C Jason Arnott, who the Devils acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators on June 19. Arnott, who scored one of the biggest goals in NHL history in the second overtime of the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals to give the Devils the Cup, was brought back to New Jersey to provide depth and veteran leadership. He will fit nicely in the void left by Rob Niedermayer's departure for Buffalo.
The Devils also wasted no time in strengthening their defense, which is the hallmark of the franchise.
Blueliner Paul Martin, who registered a +10 with 11 pts in 22 games after having injury issues, signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Fellow Defenseman Mike Mottau, a +4 with 18 pts in 79 games, became a free agent on July 1 and decided to test the market.
The Devils responded by signing Anton Volchenkov from the Ottawa Senators and Henrik Tallinder (+13, 20 pts in 82 games) from the Buffalo Sabres.
New Jersey also re-signed D Mark Fraser on July 28.
Not content with simply improving the coaching staff and defense, GM Lou Lamoriello also signed free agent G Johan Hedberg (21-16, 4 shutouts) from the Atlanta Thrashers. Hedberg will give MacLean a solid veteran option if he needs to give the aging but still dominant Martin Brodeur an occasional breather.
Combine these moves with the Kovalchuk signing (which should get redone over the coming weeks) and the Devils have addressed every facet of their game that needed improvement. It should be an exciting season in Newark.
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