The New Jersey Devils managed to stay in the news for much of the summer, whether they liked it or not, but the end result is that they got their man and now have a lineup that should be capable of matching up offensively with some of the league's best.
While there is plenty of reason to debate whether or not Ilya Kovalchuk is worth his contract (and ensuing league punishment), but there's no denying that he's a finisher, having tallied more than 40 goals for six consecutive seasons.
Increasing Kovalchuk's value this year, however, is that he's with a Devils team that seems like a safe haven for his plus-minus. In 27 games with the Devils last year, Kovalchuk had 27 points and was plus-9, so now that plus-minus isn't an area of concern, his production at a shallow position puts him in first-round fantasy territory.
Another reason to like Kovalchuk is the Devils' intention to play him on the same line with Zach Parise, one of the most consistent and durable forwards in the league.
Parise has missed three games in his five NHL seasons and his last two have been exceptional -- his 176 points and plus-54 rating puts him in rare company; Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Henrik Sedin are the only others to have at least 175 points and a plus-50 rating over the last two years.
Fortunate enough to ride the coattails of these two snipers, Travis Zajac, may no longer be underrated after this season. He's had back-to-back seasons with at least 60 points and a plus-20 rating, so there's a lot to like about his consistency already. Playing with two of the best scoring wingers in the game could elevate him to another level.
Coming off an injury-marred campaign, 34-year-old Patrik Elias remains a productive player, though maybe not quite at the level he was a few years ago, when he was a point-per-game player. In addition to being a solid scorer, Elias has enhanced his value with a double-digit plus-minus in 10 of the last 12 seasons.
Elias may be rejuvenated by the return of Jason Arnott, who played some impressive hockey with Elias (and Petr Sykora) a decade ago. Arnott has missed 36 games over the last two years and last year's total of 46 points was his lowest since 2001-2002, but he's a 12-time 20-goal scorer who was last a minus player in 1997-1998.
Captain Jamie Langenbrunner is coming off the two highest-scoring seasons of his career, but may be due for a decline this year if he's not skating with Parise and Zajac.
What helps set the Devils apart is that they have such tremendous depth (at least until they shed salary in order to fit under the salary cap) and part of that depth is that they have a rather capable third line.
Dainiuz Zubrus and Brian Rolston have both been productive at times in their respective careers, though neither has enjoyed much offensive success in New Jersey.
While Zubrus and Rolston have had better days, one to watch on the way up is David Clarkson, the 26-year-old winger who has potential to put up 20 goals and 150 penalty minutes.
On the blueline, the Devils have one useful offensive performer, Andy Greene, who responded to the first regular of his career by scoring 37 points last season while playing 23:32 per game.
Since he's the best puck-mover on the Devils' defense, Greene is also the one most likely to see significant power play time.
The backbone to the Devils, as he has been for so many years, remains Martin Brodeur. The 38-year-old may be due for a decrease in workload since the Devils signed Johan Hedberg as a free agent, but Brodeur is an eight-time 40-game winner and with a strong team in front of him, there's an awfully good chance for him to reach that plateau for the ninth time.
|Zach Parise||Travis Zajac||Ilya Kovalchuk|
|Patrik Elias||Jason Arnott||Jamie Langenbrunner|
|Brian Rolston||Dainius Zubrus||David Clarkson|
|Vladimir Zharkov||Jacob Josefson||Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond|
|Mattias Tedenby||Rod Pelley||Nick Palmieri|
|Henrik Tallinder||Andy Greene|
|Colin White||Anton Volchenkov|
|Bryce Salvador||Mark Fraser|
|Anssi Salmela||Matt Corrente|