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Despite the money they dropped on Kovalchuk, the Devils are having a terrible season

Colin Buchinski
Contributor

 

We’ve reached the halfway point in the National Hockey League. It’s been a season that’s featured many ups and downs, a lot of surprises and many disappointments. 

The story of 2010 in the NHL was Russian-sniper Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract negotiations between the league and the New Jersey Devils. On July 19, 2010, the Devils announced the signing of Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $102 million contract. The deal would see Kovalchuk playing hockey well into his forties, earning the league minimum for many of the final years of the contract. 

The NHL quickly rejected the deal, stating it circumvented the league’s salary cap. Shortly after, the league and the Devils came to a compromise and a new deal was signed. The league would then change sections of the CBA in order to prevent cap circumvention in the future. The Devils were also forced to forfeit one first-round pick of their choice in the next four drafts.

Last season, Kovalchuk rejected a 12-year, $101 million offer from the team who drafted him, the Atlanta Thrashers. It became very clear that Kovalchuk was heavily interested in both earning a large paycheque and playing for a contender. The Thrashers were forced to trade him to the Devils at the trade deadline. In return, they received defenceman Johnny Oduya, prospect forward Patrice Cormier, and a 2010 first round pick. It was a slap in the face to Atlanta and their fans.

Fast-forward to this year and, as of press time, New Jersey has the worst record in the NHL’s current season. The team has played very poorly and Martin Brodeur is not the elite goaltender he once was.  Kovalchuk holds the league’s worst plus/minus rating with -30 and has only posted 10 goals thus far. The Thrashers, on the other hand, are enjoying perhaps their best season in franchise history. They have been very competitive this year and are poised to make the playoffs for only the second time ever. 

At this point, Kovalchuk has to be questioning his off-season decision and the Devils have had karma bite them right in the ass. They’re one of the worst teams I’ve seen in years. As a Habs fan, we used to fear playing the Devils; now, they’re the free space on the bingo card, and rightfully so.

The Devils and Thrashers are two of the biggest surprises in the NHL this year. One team is thriving and the other one is a sinking ship. 

Other headlines from the first half:

In Dallas, life after franchise player Mike Modano has begun. After a very disappointing season in 2009-10, the Stars decided to part ways with the greatest player they ever had. With Modano aging and not what he once was, it was time to move on. 

This season, the Stars have been playing some fantastic hockey. At the midway point, they find themselves leading their division and finally pegged as a contender. Brad Richards has been everything for this team. With 47 points in the first half, he is definitely earning his paycheque. Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro, James Neal, and others have also brought a lot to the table in what has been a dream season so far.

In Montreal, Carey Price has been everything you can ask for in a goaltender and more. He has posted 20 wins, good enough to lead the league in that category. He has also posted a .920 SV% and four shutouts. The Canadiens currently find themselves eighth in the Eastern Conference and without the stellar play of Price would probably be nowhere near this position. Defencemen Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov are both on the long-term injury reserve for Montreal. However, Price has shown the ability to single-handedly steal hockey games. If he can continue this type of play, the Canadiens will make the playoffs and once again have the potential to make some noise.

Two others teams that have been a story all year long are the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. If you haven’t seen it, HBO 24/7 ran a special on HBO that featured the Penguins and Capitals and their road to the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic. 

At the time, Washington was struggling significantly and had lost nine games in a row. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, was riding high. Sidney Crosby registered a 25-game point streak for the Penguins, a truly fantastic accomplishment in today’s NHL. HBO’s special followed the two teams around day and night, at practice, in the dressing room, basically everywhere. It gave you an inside look at two professional sports teams, while clearly depicting the life of a pro athlete and the great amount of effort and emotion that accompany sport.  

The Capitals ended up winning this year’s winter classic, which was a great game and a great showcase for the game of hockey in the U.S.A. The two teams may very well meet again in the playoffs.

In Calgary, the Flames have a new interim GM in Jay Feaster. Earlier this year, Darryl Sutter was finally forced to step down after his team’s woeful performance to start the year. The Flames sit 14th in the Western Conference as of press time and things are looking mighty bleak. Trading franchise superstar Jarome Iginla and beginning a long rebuild looks to be where the team is headed. They will likely miss the playoffs this season, but for Flames fans, lucky for them, so will the archrival Edmonton Oilers.

As we reach the half point in the NHL season, many stories have been told and there are still many more questions to be answered. Thus far, the best teams in the NHL are the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings, and the Philadelphia Flyers. 

It is a safe bet to assume that at least one of these teams will appear in this year’s Stanley Cup Final. Who will win? I’m sticking with my original prediction of the Canucks. The Sedins will finally bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada. The Canucks are scary good. With Roberto Luongo in net, they are always a threat to win. This is their year.

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