As we all know by now, Ilya Kovalchuk will be back in Jersey today. I’m sure this comes as a relief to every New Jersey Devils fan on the planet.
Seriously though, he had 83 million reasons to come back. There was no chance he wouldn’t. Now, I’ve heard a lot of people on the virtual ledge over the whole drama. What if he didn’t come back? What will this do to the team going forward?
Well, I’m here to invite you back into the window, wrap you in a warm blanket emblazoned with a big #17, and explain why it is neither a big deal nor a sign of bad things to come.
First off, let’s ask ourselves how much of Kovalchuk’s statements were 100% serious. And how much was saving face in the Russian media. It is his home country, and he is a figure at home the likes of our most glorified athletes here in America. I chalk up a lot of his statements that put people on ledges like “I’d like to finish the season with Saint Petersburg” as saving face, nothing more. Relax. It was just good PR at home.
As for the All Star game issue, I think it was genuine. He felt he owed it to the fans. Some people questioned his integrity. I actually respect the guy for wanting to stay for the All Star game. Let’s face it, those games are for the fans. Most players probably hate them.
Since he’s probably in better shape than most of the NHL since he’s been playing, is missing a few days of camp that big a deal? As long as he’s healthy, who cares? I don’t. It was a matter of a day or two.
Then there’s been some question as to this drama’s effect on Kovy as it relates to the team. Peter Deboer and Lou Lamoriello both defused the situation as soon as camp opened. Most players seemed not to mind, save maybe Elias. And even he relented when posed with a scenario where Kovy had the team’s permission to stay for the All Star game.
My guess? They already know what I’m going to tell you. Aside from the aforementioned $83 million, they know that it was indeed a minor issue. Nothing to get freaked about. Sure, the team could’ve made it more clear, and way sooner. But I think Lou says no comment or “status quo” out of habit, even if he does actually have something to say.
So now that we’ve covered that end of it, let me give you two reasons it is not a bad omen. The first is something we should have all realized, because it’s going to be the case of a long time to come. He’s the man now. Period. No question. His team.
With Parise gone, there is no shadow. No question over who the Devils’ best player is, or whose team this is. I’m sure he figured this out around the fourth of July. But I don’t think that fueled the incident in Russia. Quite the opposite. I truly believe that we haven’t seen nothing yet. I expect him to absolutely go off this year. And a big season and post season success will keep him hungry and working to retain the status of “the man”.
The second reason? He’s been playing all year. I imagine he is in good shape, has his legs, etc. In a shortened season, that’s going to count for a lot. While guys are getting their legs back, Kovalchuk may skate circles around them. Plus, have you watched a KHL game? They hit in that league as much as NHL players do in an All Star game. That means all the benefit of playing, and a lot less of the wear and tear. This bodes well for him, and the Devils, in my opinion.
But that’s just my two cents. I could be totally wrong, though I don’t think I am at the present time.
So come in off that ledge. It’s cold out there. It is New Jersey in January after all. And while you may not be so sure about that blanket, I think it’ll be more enjoyable than you ever imagined.
Jon Michaels – Speaking of the Devils Contributor