Kovalchuk was going to be traded since the Thrashers would have a hard time signing him, but everyone figured he would go to a big-market team that has a better chance of signing him like the Kings or the Ducks, for example.
Lou Lamoriello rarely ever makes a blockbuster trade like that. The last time he did it was in 1997, when he acquired Doug Gilmour.
It was a move that had to be done for several reasons.
For one thing, the Devils needed a scorer that can complement Zach Parise and Travis Zajac if they want to win the Stanley Cup.
Second of all, this franchise could use a game-changer
Finally, a reason must be made for fans to watch this team who often put them to sleep thanks to their defense-first approach.
Jacques Lemaire can still focus on defense, but at least he will have an impact player that can help his team win these 1-0 or 2-1 games.
Kovalchuk made his Devils debut tonight. He did not score a goal in the team's 4-3 victory over the Maple Leafs, but he made an impact in this game.
It's rare to score a goal when a player plays his first game for his new team, so let's not minimize the other contributions he made.
He should have scored his first goal of the game in the first period, when the Devils took a 1-0 lead, but Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson denied him couple of times. Kovalchuk set up Dainius Zubrus to finally get the puck through the goalie.
In the third period, he helped tie the game at three by setting up a pass to couple of Devils players. After several chances, Zajac finally put the puck in that got the crowd in a frenzy.
Kovalchuk's shift lasted 21 minutes overall, and it was good enough for him to be the third star of the game.
His ability to make others better stands out more. We can talk about his goal-scoring, but most times the puck will not go in, so that's where creating an offense is important, as he displayed tonight.
When it comes to the playoffs, that will be useful.
It will be interesting how he does in a restricted system, but, with the talent he has, this should not be a problem. Marian Gaborik managed to be a good player when he played for Lemaire in Minnesota, so Kovalchuk can do the same.
It's hard to believe the former Thrashers star will be playing in Newark after the season unless he actually likes it here.
Kovalchuk sounds like he wants to play in a market where people can notice his talent. It wouldn't be surprising if he joins Gaborik in New York Rangers blue next season.
The Rangers love overpaying everyone, so he knows he will get his money there.
With that said, Lamoriello is about winning at all costs. It's been a long time since the team made a playoff run.
Losing in the first round does not make it a successful year. For this team, it's about winning the Cup and nothing else.
This is not a small-market franchise that hopes to get by. We are talking about a franchise that acts like the Yankees.
It's a privilege to see the Devils think big here. Under the John McMullen era, the Devils would act like the Minnesota Twins and do nothing that would help them make a playoff run.
It's different now, and it's a great thing.