It might be a bit early to wonder about this, but will going to the Devils wind up costing Ilya Kovalchuk money in the off-season?
Kovalchuk has just two goals in the playoffs, including a powerplay goal in last night’s loss to Philadelphia. Daniel Carcillo, the Flyers fighter, has the same number of goals.
So far, Kovalchuk has just one career playoff victory.
The Devils just have not been a better team with Kovalchuk. It’s not fair to put all of the Devils’ struggles on Kovalchuk’s shoulders, but it is fair to say he hasn’t been able to elevate the team or take over any playoff games. And isn’t that what a player of Kovalchuk’s caliber is supposed to do?
Every NHL (and KHL) GM with cap space is watching Kovalchuk and is wondering just how much money he’s actually worth to a team. Kovalchuk is an amazing player, but if he disappears in the playoffs, is he really worth all of that cap space?
Ironically, if Kovalchuk hadn’t been traded out of Atlanta and was out of the playoffs, GMs probably wouldn’t even think about Kovalchuk’s post-season value. It was only by getting traded to a competitive team that Kovalchuk’s limitations were suddenly visible.
Although it’s not fair to put Kovalchuk’s struggles entirely on his own shoulders. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire told Kovalchuk to stay out of the penalty box after the Devils’ game two victory. Since then, Kovalchuk hasn’t played with much of an edge, kind of like a guy scared of going to the penalty box.
It’s hard to thrive in the playoffs when you’re worried about something getting called against you. It usually means you’re thinking about officiating and not about scoring or making plays.
Of course, the series isn’t over. There’s still time for Kovalchuk to show just how much he’s worth to an NHL team. And the Devils are probably hoping Kovalchuk will realize just how much money is at stake for the upcoming free agent. A strong finish to the Devils season could translate to millions more for Kovalchuk. A quick exit might cost him millions in his next contract.
Kovalchuk might be kicking himself for getting traded to what at one time looked like a Cup contender.