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What’s Next for the New Jersey Devils?

Star forward Ilya Kovalchuk left the New Jersey Devils last week for the Russian hockey league KHL, leaving approximately $77 million of a 15-year, $100 million contract on the table. How will it affect the Devils, and how are they recovering from the shock? Kovalchuk, who had 11 goals and 20 assists last year, was the best player on the team.

“This goes back to the lockout, and prior to coming back, his thought process of staying in Russia was there,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “As you know, he was here a little late [getting back after the lockout was lifted]. Then there was no conversation whatsoever throughout the year about it. Then it resurfaced and his desire was to retire from the NHL, and the only way he could do that was to sign his voluntary retirement papers, which he did.”

“This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia,” Kovalchuk said of his departure. “Though I decided to return this past season, Lou was aware of my desire to go back home and have my family there with me. The most difficult thing for me is to leave the New Jersey Devils, a great organization that I have a lot of respect for, and our fans that have been great to me.”

“I can’t worry about timing right now. It is what it is, and you just go forward,” said Devils GM Lamoriello. “Right now, we just have to take a step back to go forward, and we’ll just re-evaluate what our options are and do the best we can, but we’ll be ready come September.”

There’s no doubt that the Devils are going to be a worse team without Kovalchuk. Still, despite his departure, the Devils remain 40-to-1 longshots to win the Stanley Cup, the same number they sported before he left.

“There’s no ‘What can you do?'” said Devils coach Peter DeBoar. “We’re going to have to find a way. That’s going to be the mantra. The league is not going to stand still. I think I’ve used that phrase before. No one is going to feel sorry for you, the New Jersey Devils. When the puck drops in October, we’ve got to be ready to compete with the guys we’ve got, and we’ve got a good group of people here. Sure it’s different. You take out a Parise, you take out a Kovalchuk, those are players that single-handedly can do some things that only a handful of players in the world can do. So we’re going to have to be a different team and have to play more of a team game.”

Even the Devils’ hall of fame goalie Martin Brodeur expressed concerns about his team’s future performance.

“I think it’s going to be a wait and see. It’s going to be a challenge to make the playoffs,” Brodeur said. “Without Kovy, not having the 30 goals that Clarkie (David Clarkson) scored and the departure of Zach (Zach Parise), now it becomes tougher for us. Especially with Detroit coming in and Columbus just fell short last year.”

Though Kovalchuk’s departure devastates the Devils, they weren’t favored to win in the first place, and as is reflected in the odds staying the same, not much was expected of this team even if he’d stayed.

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