NEWARK, N.J. -- Not that
At 6'2" and 230 pounds, Kovalchuk brings more size than just about everybody on their roster -- save enforcer-type
New Jersey coach
Conversely, he can make those around him better. In his first game as a Devil Friday night, Kovalchuk picked up his first Devil assist, whipping a backhand pass into the slot for
But perhaps even more important than what Kovalchuk did is what the Toronto Maple Leafs were forced to do, and certainly what the Rangers will have to do Saturday. "Just his presence, they have to watch him all the time. I have a good view of it," says goalie
All of a sudden, the Devils become one of a handful of NHL teams (Pittsburgh, Washington, Detroit, to name a few) that present the pick-your-poison dilemma. With
Now, does Kovalchuk have to adapt to the Devils buttoned-up style? To a certain degree, this has to be expected. On the topic, Lemaire says he'll ask just one thing: "When he gets in our end, he will have to stop. That's all. The rest, he can do anything he wants." Now, that's probably first day excitement talking a little bit, but for Kovalchuk to click into the Devils' system, he will have to find a modest interest in puck battles and in backchecking, and this is where Kovalchuk could really benefit from a stint in New Jersey. He took pride in saying he was +1 in Atlanta this season (before mentioning he is -84 in his career), and maybe this is a chance to help round out his game.
"This is the first time in my career that I've got a chance to play for a first class organization that's won three Stanley Cups," he said. "You just look around the locker room, guys like
Here, Kovalchuk isn't the savior, the player that gets this team into the playoffs; New Jersey is headed there with or without him, as it has every year since 1996. No, Kovalchuk goes to a team that already has All-Stars, an identity and a proven system where he can find his place for the next few months. Hopes beyond that rest only with New Jersey's most ardent optimists, for Kovalchuk is -- at least for now -- a rental player.
"Their deal is different from ours," said Leafs coach
But it seems unfathomable that Lamoriello would offer what the Thrashers had on the table. First of all, that would be about twice what Brodeur makes ($5.2 million per season). And while it doesn't seem like the Devils have a problem with paying somebody more than Brodeur (
As rentals go, though, Kovalchuk is a two-story penthouse overlooking the Hudson. To get that, even just for a few months, is a blessing. And the move is an aggressive challenge to the East, if not the rest of the league. After the Olympic break, when New Jersey expects to return injured pieces back into their lineup -- defenseman