The sudden and shocking decision by Ilya Kovalchuk to retire from the New Jersey Devils and return to Russia has left the fan base of the team reeling. Kovalchuk is one of the best players in the world and a gifted offensive player who is irreplaceable. The biggest issue I have with this situation is the timing.
If Kovalchuk would have told the team last week that he intended to retire, then this would be a much more manageable situation for the Devils to find a potential free agent to at least help replace some of the lost offensive production. Now, the Devils have missed the window on many of the top free agents, and the trade market is going to be tricky because the players the Devils will part with have higher salary cap figures. Those types of players are harder to move especially with many teams feeling a salary cap pinch right now.
Potential Free Agent Replacements
The following players are currently available:
- Dustin Penner
- Mikhail Grabovski
- Damien Brunner
- Brenden Morrow
- Nik Antropov
First, Dustin Penner, he is 31 years old and coming off a couple of bad years in a row. He made $3.25 million in his last contract (www.si.com). Penner averages 17 goals per season but he has only 11 goals combined in the last 3 years due to injuries, primarily. If he could regain the form he had a few years ago, then he could have a significant impact for any team which obtains his services. I also like his postseason experience having won a championship with the Los Angeles Kings, as all Devils fans unfortunately remember all too well. I believe that he could fit within the Devils system well because he is also a physical type forward and he has very good passing ability. Both of those skills can be useful in a power play unit as well, which the Devils now have an another obvious hole with the loss of Kovalchuk.
Second, Mikhail Grabovski, he is 29 years old and is, in my opinion, a legitimate NHL goal scorer with 94 career goals (www.si.com). He is also hungry from being bought out of his contract by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He had 4 years and an annual cap hit of $5.5 million left on his contract (www.si.com). I like his age and his knowledge of the Eastern Conference as potentially good attributes for the Devils. He did, as also reported widely in the media, handle the Toronto breakup in an unprofessional way with some choice names for the coaches in Toronto. That could rub Lou Lamoriello in the wrong way. They do need scoring and they may be able to do what happened with Danny Briere recently, who was also a compliance buyout victim, in using that money to off set the money on his next contract. They may be able to obtain Grabovski for a reasonable price, and his scoring punch is sorely needed.
Next, Damien Brunner, who I think is a long shot, because he has limited experience. I am not sure if he solves the problem with the scoring deficit currently facing the Devils. New Jersey would have to make 3 moves to address the issue of losing one star player. They could potentially add him, but I do not think he provides them enough scoring, he would be a role player at this point.
Brenden Morrow, 34 years old, and again is one of those players that if they could regain the form from a few years ago, then the Devils would have something potentially very special. Morrow had 33 goals in 2010-11, and is capable of being a 30 goal scorer in the NHL (www.si.com). Now, in fair balance, I am a fan of Morrow, and I have written previously that the Devils should consider acquiring him. I like his make up and experience. I think he could easily fit a top six forward slot for the Devils and improve the offense right away.
Finally, Nik Antropov, 33 years old and is coming off some mediocre seasons. He has some injuries in his past, and I think he could be a nice addition to the team as a role player. He cannot be counted on to score but he can help with assists, and creating plays for other teammates.
My college buddy gave me the idea of trading Anton Volchenkov and another player to the Buffalo Sabres for Thomas Vanek. Vanek has a salary cap number of about $6 million and is two years removed from a 73 point season (www.si.com). I am not sure who the other player in the deal would be, personally I would give them Jacob Josefson, but I know the Devils just resigned him to a contract. I also know that the Sabres are undergoing a major roster shakeup coming from the poor performance in the 2013 condensed season. I think this trade is realistic, and not many other trades for an offensive player that is not past his prime are feasible at this point.
I know that this news today is tough for Devils fans, but I have faith in the outstanding front office of the team. They will make the appropriate roster decisions to bring a competitive roster to the ice when the puck drops for the 2013-14 season.