Hockey Guy: Devils regretting Kovalchuk contract?

2010-10-24T09:42:00Z 2010-10-24T10:29:32Z Hockey Guy: Devils regretting Kovalchuk contract?JEFF GORDON stltoday.com
October 24, 2010 9:42 am  • 

Remember when Blues fans were clamoring for free agent sniper Ilya Kovalchuk?

Yeah, well, maybe it’s for the best the franchise opted not to go down that very expensive trail. Re-signing Kovalchuk proved to be quite the adventure for the Devils. The NHL rejected the team’s first deal with Ilya, noting that it violated the spirit of the collective bargaining agreement.

Eventually the Devils locked Kovalchuk in with a valid 15-year, $100 million contract, but the resulting salary cap issues forced the team to play shorthanded until some long-term injuries cleared some space.

And now comes the latest adventure: Kovalchuk was a “healthy scratch” Saturday night. Coach John MacLean shelved him for unstated reasons.

The Devils rallied around their coach . . . oh, wait, they didn't. Sans Kovalchuk, the dispirited New Jersey squad fell 6-1 to the visiting Sabres.

“It was a coach’s decision, coach’s scratch, whatever you want to call it,” MacLean told reporters afterward. “I’m not discussing it. It was my decision. I made it. He knows. I spoke to him and that’s where it’s going to stay.”

MacLean has been struggling to fit Kovalchuk into his lineup, since most of his top forwards are natural left wingers. Ilya’s work at right wing proved insufficient earlier this season.

Overall, Kovalchuk has two goals, three assists and a minus-3 ranking in seven games.

While the Blues won back-to-back home games this weekend, the Devils fell to 0-5 at home and 2-5-1 overall. What’s wrong with this team?

“I am having trouble finding answers for that myself,” MacLean said. “Ultimately it falls on my responsibility to have these guys prepared to play.”

AROUND THE RINKS: Peoria won its seven consecutive game, with goaltending prospect Jake Allen shutting out the Texas 2-0 down in the Lone Star State. Top forward prospect Phil McRae scored one of the Rivermen goals . . . Give a shout out to the Blues defensive corps, which played stout hockey against the explosive Penguins. Oft-maligned veterans Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman get high marks for their play. The bad news: Roman Polak suffered a wrist laceration. But Blues management was hopeful the injury wouldn't be a long-term deal . . . Hold off on the Stanley Cup celebration in Toronto. The Maple Leafs have lost three games in a row. Can't wait to see how coach Ron Wilson and general manager Brian Burke overreact to this downturn . . . The Blue Jackets lost 2,400 season ticket holders over the summer. Such is the challenge of selling hockey to non-traditional markets. Columbus needs to succeed to filll the arena -- and it needs to fill the arena to generate the revenue needed to succeed. Tough challenge . . .  John Tavares scored a hat trick Saturday, reminding us the Islanders remain dangerous this season despite suffering myriad injuries . . . .Senators GM Bryan Murray told the world he wants to make trades, but that's not easy in today's NHL. Meanwhile groin injuries to center Jason Spezza and goaltender Pascal Leclaire is making life difficult for Ottawa . . . The Oilers are awfully young. And the Sharks were only too glad to remind them of this while drubbing them 6-1 Saturday night. “You don’t want to let negativity creep in, but there has to be come urgency at some point,” Oilers center Sam Gagner told the Edmonton Sun. “We can’t let this go on any longer. There’s going to be things said about patience and growing pains and we’re a young team, but we want to win in here just as bad as anybody.”

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This is the new home for STLtoday.com sports columnist Jeff Gordon. Here you'll find his columns on the Cards, Rams, Blues and more, plus his daily "Tipsheet" blog about who's in and who's out in the world of sports.

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