How long we talkin' here?!: Lou Lamoriello is notorious for his half answers and dodgy "day to day" injury tactics. That was no different for Kovy, who apparently has a shoulder injury but no one will say what exactly is wrong within said shoulder. Also, according to Lou, Kovy could miss two weeks or less than two weeks or possibly three weeks or maybe even four weeks. The Devils even waited seven hours after announcing the timeline to actually place Kovy on injured reserve, guaranteeing he'd miss at least seven full days. The Devils didn't even want you to definitvely know he'd miss that much time! The problem with all of this double-talk and ridiculous injury gamesmanship is that it gets old real fast. How fast? Well, keep in mind that Martin Brodeur was day to day with a minor back issue until he was on IR for a month with a pinched nerve that almost required surgery. Of course, there's also the Henrik Tallinder case and his "minor" lower-body injury that has now kept him out since March 7. And there's Dainius Zubrus, whose "minor" upper-body injury turned into wrist surgery that was only supposed to keep him out four to six weeks. Oh, wait, it's been six weeks already? And Zubrus isn't even practicing? You don't say.
The point I'm trying to make here is we have no idea when Kovy will be back. He's an unbelievably tough hockey player so I wouldn't doubt if he came back early and tried to play through the pain, but that doesn't mean he'll be anywhere near as useful as he was before the injury. Just look at what a shoulder injury did to Marian Gaborik during last year's playoffs. Shoulders are tricky, tricky things. Speaking of which, who wants to bet they never would've called it a shoulder injury if Kovy didn't go off the ice practically using his other arm as an impromptu sling?
Ice, Ice baby: 25:14. That's how much time Kovalchuk spends on the ice per game on average, which is good for 12th overall in the entire league. The next closest forward? Steven Stamkos with 22:06, good for 61st. Yeah. Kovy spends a lot of time on the ice -- from even strength to the power play (which we'll get into) to killing penalties, he's pretty much Mr. Everything for New Jersey. How do you replace that sort of ice time with a forward unit already down two top-nine forwards in Zubrus and Alexei Ponikarovsky? Well, first of all, if the Devils hadn't already traded for Matt D'Agostini, you can bet Lou would've been on the phone looking for an offensive-minded right wing within about 15 minutes of the end of Saturday's game. The answer to the question, though, is pretty simple: You don't replace his ice time. You can't. There's no "one person" that replace his ice team and the lack of depth on the wing means the Devils can't reliably spread out those minutes to several different players. It means each member of the second line of Patrik Elias-Travis Zajac-David Clarkson is likely going to end up playing at least 90 seconds to two minutes extra a night. Also, it means probably a lot of Adam Henrique at left wing on the first line, where Pete DeBoer is so very loathe to use him. Finally, it means get ready for 15 to 17 minutes of D'Agostini for the first few games.
No one man: Those of you familiar with Kanye West know exactly where that subject head is going -- the same place the Devils will most Kovalchuk the most over the next two, three or four weeks: the power play. New Jersey's power play has been a work in progress all season long. Now, the Devils lose what's pretty much been the Devils' only reliable weapon on the man advantage and the unit is supposed to get better? It's possible. It could turn out that the Devils were overly reliant on Kovy's playmaking and lasers from the point and perhaps taking that "crutch" away from them will force the overall five-man unit to respond better and play stronger as a group. The Devils' best power plays have usually resulted from minimal puck movement and maximum amount of shots, so the "Ewing Theory" approximation of the power play getting better without its best player could work. Then again, without Kovy's shots from the points, I'm having trouble finding a dynamic weapon that will scare opponents into overpursuing or a player with a shot even remotely close to Kovy's. The bottom line is it's a rare team that can lose it's best, most dynamic threat on a struggling power play and expect it to improve.
No deadline changes: OK, so that means the Devils will probably go out and be more aggressive at the trade deadline, right? Perhaps they'll jump into the Jarome Iginla sweepstakes. Yeah, don't count on it. The most important thing to come out of Lamoriello's presser Sunday was that Kovy's injury didn't require surgery and thus will not cause him to miss the entire season. The Devils can cross their fingers and toes and whatever other appendages they please and wait for Kovy to return while hopefully fighting through the obvious offensive hit that will come from losing Kovalchuk. Does this mean the Devils won't make a deal at the deadline? No, it doesn't. It's possible the Devils could try to add some scoring depth, but there's a few things Devils fans need to remember before thinking deadline deals.
For one, this is a franchise that isn't going to take on a big-money contract with the cap coming down next year and guys like Elias and Clarkson scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Two, the Devils have already traded draft picks for D'Agostini and Ponikarovsky and have to give up their first-round pick in one of the next two drafts. There's no way owner Jeff Vanderbeek wants to host the draft and have no first-round pick unless the tradeoff is a guaranteed Cup final or extended playoff run -- and outside of Iginla, I'm just not seeing the player that does that for the Devils. Three, the price for a guy like Iginla is sky high. Like, sky FREAKIN' high. Do you think Lamoriello is willing to give up a top-nine forward, a top prospect (or tw0) and that one first-round pick he has left for a rental? Yeah, me neither. Finally, the Devils technically have their own deadline addition coming at some point in the next two weeks: Zubrus. He's skating and shooting, meaning he'll return before the final two weeks of the season and possibly at the same time as Kovy. As long as the Devils can stay afloat, they could be at full strength heading into the final two weeks of the season and potentially the playoffs.
Bottom line: So what are we looking at here? Over the next two weeks, the Devils have road games against Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Florida, Boston and Buffalo, with two home games against the Islanders and Maple Leafs. It's not a massacre of a schedule -- it's doable. Basically, there's three groups of teams in this schedule. The two Florida teams are a mess -- the Panthers can barely roster an NHL team while the Lightning just fired coach Guy Boucher. Meanwhile, the Sabres, Islanders and Leafs all have their own flaws and are thoroughly beatable teams. The Senators and Bruins, on the other hand, will be tough cookies. While the Bruins would've been a difficult play even with Kovy, the Sens seem particularly daunting in the sense that they've somehow mastered playing through even more injuries than the Devils. It's also the first game without Kovy, making it more of a feeling-out process for DeBoer as he tries to find combinations that will help ease the burden. The one constant through all of this will be Martin Brodeur and the defensemen in front of him. What little margin of error the Devils previously had is now gone. Brodeur and his defensemen have to be as air tight as possible over the next seven games and hope that Kovy returns sooner rather than later. That is assuming that the Devils' injury info is truthful and accurate -- but we already covered that.
Devils fans should know that all hope is not lost. This team is still in the playoff chase and will likely remain in the running until Kovy returns. They have solid to strong goaltending and offensive pieces that can score when they play DeBoer's forecheck-heavy system. It will be a very difficult two weeks, but a two weeks they can navigate.