The New Jersey Devils have not had stability in the captaincy role since Scott Stevens was injured during the 2003-2004 season. The time has come to name that man who will lead the team for a long time to come. That man needs to be Ilya Kovalchuk.
After Stevens went down with a head injury midway through the year, Scott Niedermayer was named the captain for the last part of the season. That was the correct move as he was most seasoned guy on that team. As we know, however, the lockout came the following season and he left for the Anaheim Ducks to play with his brother for the 2005-2006 year.
After a year with no captain, Patrik Elias was named the leader in 2006-2007 under new head coach Claude Julien. This came after he contracted Hepatitis before the 2005-2006 campaign and dazzled the league midway through the season following recovery. The Devils fell victim of a late season swoon and fired Julien with just days left in the regular season. After the year, Brent Sutter was brought in to be the man behind the bench and stripped Elias of his captaincy.
The squad went without a captain until Jamie Langenbrunner came back from injury in early December of ‘07. Langenbrunner was the captain until the 2010-2011 season. The winger’s attitude soured during that campaign and frustration by the fans with his play reached an all-time high. He was shipped to the Dallas Stars in January of 2011 for a conditional third-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
That offseason, the Devils re-signed Zach Parise to a one-year deal worth $6 million. He was named the captain of the club before Opening Night this past year. Parise, of course, signed with the Minnesota Wild during this offseason, once again leaving a hole in the captaincy role.
Like captains for the Devils, head coaches have been rather unstable as well. After a great season under Pete DeBoer (who needs to be here for a long time in my opinion), the Devils need to make Kovalchuk their next captain and have him lead the organization into the future.
I will say this; I don’t think there is any wrong choice for captain. Bryce Salvador would be a fine choice as the elder statesman of the blueline. I’d be ok with Travis Zajac having the role with his hard work ethic and lead-by-example mentality. Elias would be a fine choice as well as as he has matured even more over the last few years.
When the Devils signed Kovalchuk, they made a commitment to him. Many Devils fans thought that there may not be enough room long-term to have both Parise and Kovy on board. Indeed, that time has arrived.
The Devils have accommodated Kovalchuk in most every way necessary. They got rid of 2010-2011 head coach John MacLean, who benched Kovy before an October contest. After the November 2010 shootout flub against the Buffalo Sabres, they let the $100 million man shoot first to take the pressure off of him.
Kovalchuk, though, has also made sacrifices for the sake of the team. Since Jacques Lemaire took over in the middle of 2010-2011, he made an extreme effort to improve his defensive game. That was taken to the next level this past season when he spent a fair amount of time on the penalty kill. He has also made the move to right wing rather seamlessly. DeBoer (MacLean too) moved him from his natural left wing spot to the opposite side to try and create the best possible lineup.
You want to talk about captain qualities? How about Kovy playing all but one game of the playoffs and being the team’s leading scorer, at nearly a point per game. Oh yea, he was playing nearly the whole postseason with a lingering back issue that DeBoer said “wasn’t close to 100 percent”.
This is the type of a leader that every fan wants leading their hockey club. Many free agents have left the New Jersey area to pursue big markets or to chase dollars.
I mentioned Niedermayer before. Brian Rafalski returned to his native Michigan to play for the Detroit Red Wings. Scott Gomez went for the big time money with the New York Rangers. Brian Gionta got a quality offer from the Montreal Canadiens and decided to move on. Paul Martin stayed in the division but went to the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kovalchuk is the one guy who could have gone to nearly every team in the league two offseasons ago and he CHOSE to be a Devil. Sometimes he may frustrate us with his neutral zone turnovers or his failure to keep pucks in at the point when they are on the power play, but he’s our guy and he should be the one to lead this club for the next 13 seasons.
Thanks for reading. All feedback is appreciated.
Tags: Anaheim Ducks Brent Sutter Brian Gionta Brian Rafalski Bryce Salvador Buffalo Sabres Claude Julien Dallas Stars Detroit Red Wings Jacques Lemaire Jamie Langenbrunner John Maclean Minnesota Wild Montreal Canadiens New Jersey Devils New York Rangers NHL Patrik Elias Paul Martin Pete DeBoer Pittsburgh Penguins Scott Gomez Scott Niedermayer Scott Stevens Travis Zajac Zach Parise