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With Kovy back, Devils look toward season

Saturday, 09.4.2010 / 3:32 AM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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With Kovy back, Devils look toward season
Kovalchuk will have his eyes on the prize in 2010-11... and beyond.
As the final credits rolled on the Ilya Kovalchuk contract saga, Devils players were ready to close the book on the summer’s longest-running hockey drama. reported early Saturday morning that Kovalchuk's new deal had officially been registered with the NHL.

“I think it’s a great day for the organization – like I said when we had the press conference about a month and a half ago,” Martin Brodeur told after's report that the deal had been approved. “I’m excited about the result. I know it was probably hard for the fans and even my teammates. Now we’ll be able to move on and get on with training camp.”

The League rejected the first Devils-Kovalchuk pact back in July on the grounds that it circumvented the salary cap. After an NHLPA grievance, an arbitrator sided with the League and voided the deal.

The second deal, signed on Aug. 27, was given the NHL's OK after an agreement was worked out with the Players' Association to adopt regulations to govern long-term contracts of five or more years.

It was a long time coming. Kovalchuk, 27, became a free agent on July 1. He was officially a Devil on July 20, then a free agent again on Aug. 9, and was courted along the way by Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

“It’s definitely something that I haven’t seen before,” Brodeur said. “Before, contracts were pretty cut and dry, but now with the salary cap age, there are a lot of different maneuvers that need to be made to slot guys in. I think it makes it interesting, and I think they had to do different things that the League didn’t like. Not that they went against the rules, but they definitely went above and beyond other contracts that were settled in the past. They just wanted to make sure everything was fine. The League, like the Devils, have their own business and they want to make sure they protect it as much as they can. It’s unfortunate when you’re on our side to see a guy like that that we might have lost to the Russian league or a different team because he became a free agent once again.”

Friday’s reports brought a feeling of much-needed resolution.

DYNAMIC DUO: Kovalchuk and Brodeur
“I’m glad to see it’s finally over,” said Devils’ captain Jamie Langenbrunner. “I think it was frustrating for everybody watching from the outside. I didn’t know what was going to happen and it’s great to have Kovy back on the team.”

Acquired from Atlanta on Feb. 4, Kovalchuk spent 27 games with the Devils last year and finished with 41 goals for his sixth straight campaign with 40 or more. Jersey's Team went 48-27-7 and captured its second straight Atlantic Division title.

New Jersey gets to see Kovalchuk light the lamp plenty more times in years to come, while hopefully raising a Stanley Cup or two. (Or more?)

“He gives you the opportunity to win every night,” said Brodeur. “Offensively, he does so many things, he’s so dangerous. In an 82-game schedule, sometimes it’s not going to go your way all the time, and a guy that’s got so much talent, so much skill and size will change the outcome of a game more often than not. Now he’s going to be a Devil for the rest of his career, and I think he’ll play the way he wants to play, and he’ll play the way the coaches want him to play.”

Having Kovalchuk to start the season is a huge plus. Veterans report to camp on Sept. 17, and the Devils open the regular season at home against Dallas on Oct. 8. Single-game tickets go on sale Sept. 10 at 11 a.m.

“It’s a lot different situation than he came in last year,” Brodeur said. “It was an unknown where he was going to be the following year, and so they just used him as much as they could in any kind of situation. Doesn’t happen to often to have a quality player like him.”

Though Kovalchuk’s future is now clear, salary cap considerations will force some changes to the Devils’ roster.

“Now we have a whole new uncertainty,” Langenbrunner said. “I think that’s the most important part: we have it done in time to hopefully get our team somewhat set here before training camp starts. Obviously, we’re all aware that something else is going to have to happen, so it’s good to have a little bit of time here to take care of it.”

Brodeur knows those decisions will be tough ones.

“Trades are made, moves are made for the better of the team, and sometimes it could mean one of your good friends,” he said. “I think it’s unfortunate that somebody’s going to have to leave probably, but I’ve been through a lot of different things, could be coaches, could be players – you never know. It’s too bad, but it’s just part of the game. You always hate losing players, but new players will be added on and we’re going to try to make a pitch for winning the Stanley Cup now. Having Kovy on our side helps us tremendously to accomplish that.”

Langenbrunner agreed that player movement is part of the business of hockey.

“I think we’re all aware that that’s a possibility,” he said. “I think all of us are anxious to take care of itself now so we know. It definitely will be nice when that part is over.”

But Brodeur believes the fans will be the big winners now that Kovalchuk’s back in the fold.

“Definitely, to be able to keep him, it’s going to be just a big benefit, to not just the organization but to the players that are going to play with him,” he said. “I think everybody’s going to get better around him. For our fans it’s going to be a show every night. They’re going to come to the Prudential Center and every time he plays the puck people are going to be on the edge of their seats. So it’s definitely nice. I’m happy – I have a few more years left and I’ll have one of the most exciting players in front of me for all those years.”