Since our last edition of WRT, a lot has happened over the past few weeks. Between Mike Cammalleri’s potentially season-ending injury, speculation surrounding Ilya Kovalchuk’s playing future overseas, and the trade deadline fallout, discussion topics have been nothing short of plentiful. Devils Army Blog staff writers Alex Chauvancy, Brett Minieri, and Sam Britt weigh shed some insight on each of these issues, and how they’ll each shape the remaining duration of New Jersey’s season.
Left wing Mike Cammalleri has been sidelined with an upper-body injury since the all-star break. They’ve gone 6-7-2 in his absence, and recently became the lowest-scoring team in the league. Aside from the apparent void in skill, how much of a psychological effect do you think Cammalleri’s absence has on this team?
AC: I don’t think it’s been a psychological problem for the Devils. They’ve had trouble scoring the whole season. Obviously Cammalleri’s presence makes a big difference when he’s in the lineup, but I don’t believe the other players try to worry about it too much. If they get caught up in worrying about it, then they’d only make the situation worse. They just have to stay focused and play the best they can without him.
BM: You’d think a team staving for goals (particularly 5-on-5) would be dejected after losing their top offensive threat for multiple weeks. I’m not saying they don’t miss him (or couldn’t use him) but the Devils have played fairly consistent hockey during his absence. Now, “consistent” doesn’t mean great, it just means they’ve been pretty much what they were before his injury. They play hard, are the benefactors of great goaltending and have managed to put up some W’s and stay in the playoff race. One would think they’d be a better team when he returns but I think it’s actually helped the “psychologically” that they haven’t spiraled without him on the top line. He should provide a healthy boost of confidence upon his return.
SB: I think Cammalleri being has taken away the foundation of the offense. He was the guy everyone could lean on to put up the points. Blandisi and Boucher have valiantly tried to fill the void but they don’t provide the same steadiness and trust Cammalleri brings.
With all the recent news surrounding the uncertainty of Ilya Kovalchuk’s playing future overseas, there’s been a lot of speculation regarding a possible NHL return. Hypothetically, if Kovy were to surmount the legal obstacles or find some loophole to return to the NHL, how much do you think his turbulent history will factor for or against him?
AC: There’s no denying Kovalchuk’s talent. Even at 33 years old, he’s still putting up great numbers in the KHL. If he does decide to return to the NHL, I think there would be a fair amount of teams lining up to potentially sign him. Anytime you can possibly sign someone who is capable of scoring 30 goals, you’re going to take your chances, especially in an age where goal scoring comes at a premium. He may have a checkered pass, but players who have done worse than him have gotten second chances in the NHL. And given his talent level, I think there’ll be a few teams willing to take a chance on him.
BM: First, talent is, for better or worse, the great equalizer in all sports. We’ve seen it time and time again from the NFL to MLB, and the NHL is surely no different. While he may not be the Kovy of old if/when he becomes NHL eligible, if he’s sporting productive numbers, there will assuredly be suitors for his services. If he comes back (he needs the approval of all 30 NHL teams, though there are apparently a few loopholes for lawyers to slip through) he won’t even be eligible until next year when he’ll be pushing 34. What will he be looking for compensation wise? Term wise? If you’re a GM, what are you willing to give up for someone who may help you short-term but will also be a lightning rod of controversy in every area you skate into? Do you want that? As for the Devils, there’s simply no chance he ever puts on the red sweater again. BUT, if he comes back before he’s 35, the Devils do control his fate. I think this whole situation is far-fetched (a few people read into a KHL benching and it blew up Twitter for a day… but it ultimately may be nothing.) but as a Devils fan, if he did come back, I’d love to be able to deal him and finally get something for him. Wishful thinking, I’m sure.
SB: The past couple of years have done nothing but destroy the credibility and character of Ilya Kovalchuk. He showed blatant disregard for agreements when he left the Devils and now he is stuck getting benched in the KHL. As great of a player as Kovalchuk was (or might still be) he has shown that his character and loyalty are at least questionable. It would be very hard for him to be accepted back into the NHL. If Kovalchuk decides to come back somebody will take him, he still can be a successful hockey player, but it would mean they would turn a blind eye to the glaring character issues Kovalchuk has exhibited in his past. If Kovalchuk eventually signs with a team it will lead to a period where everyone will be watching to see if Kovalchuk would be a good character player. Until then, he is stuck riding the pine pony in the KHL.
In his first trade deadline as general manager of the New Jersey Devils, Ray Shero made four moves that included three trades and a waiver claim. How would you summarize the quality of these transactions of our first-year management boss?
AC: I think Shero did quite well on Monday’s deadline. Shero turned Lee Stempniak, who was a PTO, into a 2nd and 4th round pick. It’s clear that Eric Gelinas time in New Jersey had run it’s course. Getting a 3rd round pick for him in 2017 is a fair trade off. Matteau’s time in New Jersey was a mess from the start. In defense of Matteau, I believe the Devils totally mismanaged his development from the start. I think it’s good for him to get out of New Jersey and get a fresh start in Montreal. As for Devante Smith-Pelly, I have my doubts about him. We’ll see if he can put it together in New Jersey. Overall, though, it was a pretty good day for Shero. Stockpiled some picks and at least gives the Devils the opportunity to be successful in the future. Acquiring the picks is the easy part. It’s making something out of those picks that’s the hard part.
BM: I’ve been a big proponent of the Devils being sellers. They’ve had an admirable season (given their expectations) but in all probability, the task of sneaking into the playoffs was too daunting given their lack of scoring. So, it was time to focus on the long-term vision and that’s just what Shero did. Earlier in the day he made some smaller moves—the first of which was picking up depth defenseman David Warsofsky off waivers. This was something of a preemptive move, as he’d be trading, Eric Gelinas, who owned a partial time-share in John Haynes doghouse, an hour later. The return, a 3rd round pick. Gelinas fell out of favor under his 3rd coach and wasn’t trusted enough to be used on the PP where his greatest asset could be utilized. The writing was on the wall for Stefan Matteau, as he was even more in the doghouse than Gelinas was under Hynes. He never fit in and his development was stunted. This may be the fresh start he needs. In return, we get a guy in Devante Smith-Pelly, who had a few good seasons as an effective fourth liner for Anaheim. After he was dealt to Montreal, he found himself a tenant in Michael Therrien’s doghouse far too often. Perhaps he can find his grind again on NJ’s 4th line and be effective in his tenure here. The big deal of the day was Lee Stempniak to the Bruins for a 2nd and 4th round pick. Hopefully we can resign him in July, as he seemed to be a fit both on the ice and in the locker room. Ray Shero turned a couple of players that weren’t in his or Hynes’ plans (and Lee Stempniak) into three picks and a possible NHL regular forward in exchange for a guy who couldn’t make the most of his chances here. Could the picks have been a little higher? Sure. But the Devils now have a bounty of picks in the next 2 drafts (an extra second in 2017, an extra third this year and next year, and an extra fourth this year) in which to replenish a system in dire need of talent.
SB: Ray Shero did a good job in his first deadline as Devil’s GM. The Stempniak trade will certainly help our future with the 2nd and 4th round picks. Getting a 3rd for Gelinas was also impressive. Coming into the deadline I thought Gelinas was nearly worthless. A consistent scratch with bad defensive tendencies. The fact we got so much value for him was impressive. DSP for Matteau was also a good trade. Matteau needed a change of scenery and Shero was able to get another young player for him. Overall I would say it was a success.