At just 30 years of age, Kovalchuk opted to leave $77 million over 12 years on the table by retiring. Then, less than a week after ending his NHL career, he signed a four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Although there is no doubt Kovy's decision to shun New Jersey and the NHL for his home country of Russia will hurt the Devils greatly in the short term, his departure could be a blessing from the franchise down the road. After all, since Kovalchuk retired at such a young age, the Devils will only be charged $250,000 against the cap through the life of his contract. If Kovalchuk made the decision when he was 35 years or older, the entire average annual value (AAV) of his contract would have counted against the cap.
In addition to losing Kovy, the Devils also watched David Clarkson, the team's goal-scoring leader in 2013, leave the nest to sign a lucrative deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. That means New Jersey, a team that finished 28th in team offense last season, is going to need big offensive years from its returning players and offseason acquisitions Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder to stay afloat this season.
Adding uncertainty to New Jersey's 2013-14 campaign is the onset of realignment, which places the Devils in the Metropolitan Division along with its former Atlantic Division combatants (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York Rangers, New York Islanders). Washington, Carolina and Columbus will also play in the new division, which will receive three automatic bids to the playoffs. It'll take a minor miracle for the Devils to claim one of those spots and earning one of the East's remaining two wild card postseason spots could prove to be just as difficult.
FORWARDS - Devils head coach Peter DeBoer had a great deal of success in his first season in New Jersey, taking the club to the Stanley Cup Finals in the spring of 2012 before losing in six games to Los Angeles.
Last year, however, the Devils finished last in their division and that was due in large part to the team's trouble scoring goals. Without Kovalchuk, DeBoer and his staff are going to have to get creative with their line combinations to find some offense.
New Jersey finished 28th in the NHL with just 2.29 goals per game and that was with a combined 26 goals from Clarkson and Kovalchuk, who accounted for nearly a quarter (23.6 percent) of New Jersey's tallies in 2013.
In addition to newcomers Jagr, Ryder and Ryane Clowe, the Devils will call upon Patrik Elias to provide an offensive spark this season.
The 37-year-old Elias led New Jersey in points last season, notching 14 goals and 22 assists while playing in all 48 games. The Czech native signed a three- year, $16.5 million deal in the offseason and will be the club's obvious No. 1 centerman.
Elias' countryman Jagr has enjoyed a late-career renaissance since returning to the NHL for the 2011-12 season, but at 41 years of age, it's fair to ask what the future Hall of Fame winger will offer this season after signing with New Jersey for one year and $4 million.
Jagr had 16 goals and 19 assists in 45 combined regular-season games for Dallas and Boston last season, but then failed to score a goal while providing 10 assists for the Bruins over 22 playoff games. Jagr has battled nagging injuries over the past two seasons and a lower-body ailment caused him to miss a large chunk of New Jersey's training camp, putting his status for the season opener in doubt.