I’ve done some major slacking over the past month or so with my write ups but I’ll use the excuse that I was caught up in the hype of summer fun, partying, and being with people I only get to see two months out of the year. Now that Wildwood ’10 is behind me and I’ve returned home to New York, I’m ready to get the ball rolling again. For the past month and a half or so, any type of news related to the Devils has focused on one player: Ilya Kovalchuk. It isn’t news that the burdensome task of signing him to a long term contract evolved into a somewhat historic saga that’s dragged on well into late August. I’ll let Lou and Kovy’s agent Jay Grossman handle putting this drama to an end and focus on something different to discuss.
Having acquired center Jason Arnott back in June, some Devils fans have entertained the thought of reuniting the infamous A-Line that guided the Devils to a Stanley Cup in 2000 and a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2001. Right wing Petr Sykora is currently an unrestricted free agent, although his playing future in the NHL is uncertain after his past season was shortened to fourteen games due to injury. Last year, Sykora only had two goals, three points, and was minus seven after earning a spot with the Minnesota Wild. Sykora is currently recovering from two surgeries he had during the season and is hopeful to be healthy for the upcoming season. Patrik Elias, Sykora’s former line mate and fellow Czech was quoted saying he’d like to see the Devils at least offer Sykora an opportunity to join the team on a tryout basis. I know a lot of Devils fans have stressed on seeing the team get younger and have been iffy on Lou’s retreads, which is why I don’t think there should be such a strongly dismissive nature on the possibility of seeing Sykora return to New Jersey.
Saying Sykora is washed up is a statement of contrasts. It’s understandable if you base it off his recent playing and health struggles, yet unreasonable when you consider the consistency he’s maintained throughout his career. Sykora isn’t too young or old at thirty-three years of age and before his disastrous stint with Minnesota, scored more than twenty goals every year since the 1998-1999 season. Before playing in Minnesota, Sykora had twenty-eight and twenty-five goals in his two years with Pittsburgh, and twenty-two goals in 2006-2007 with the Oilers. It’s a weak example but this shows Sykora’s ability to remain consistent with his productivity on two different teams that played two different systems with two different player types on their rosters at the time.
Overall, to say someone lost that type of niche after one season is a little extreme in my opinion.
I won’t say it’s a sure thing, but returning to a familiar team, familiar players, and in good health could redeem Sykora’s play to where it was two years ago. I wouldn’t say he’d be a shoe in for thirty plus goals but assuming a Sykora return works out, his contributions won’t go unnoticed. Although it will more than likely be primarily, Sykora gives the Devils a natural top six right wing, a position I at least feel the team lacks in depth. Right now, the only true natural right wings on the team are Jamie Langenbrunner and Vladimir Zharkov. Danius Zubrus hasn’t stuck to a solitary offensive position in his three years with New Jersey, David Clarkson and Brian Rolston seem to prefer and thrive more on left wing, while Elias and Parise are the team’s best two left wings. Langenbrunner is currently the team’s only reliable natural right wing since Zharkov has yet to prove himself. This is where Sykora could bring some degree of positional stability to at least fall back on.
Considering the team’s current cap situation, even if the Devils sign Kovalchuk, I don’t see signing Sykora becoming a huge factor. It would be a low risk/high reward scenario especially if he tries to land a spot on a tryout basis. He’d realistically be signed for no more than a year and less than what he signed for in Minnesota ($1.6 million). Another concern is the team’s abundance of wings and how Sykora’s hypothetical return adds to that and impacts the chances of rookie hopefuls and the significance of their potential roles and ice time. Without Kovalchuk your top six are the A-Line and ZZ Pops, simple as that. There’s room for the remaining wings and a rookie or two, although it’s likely they’d mostly see third/fourth line ice time. Should Kovalchuk return, the Devils obviously have to clear cap space and like I’ve said, a few possible candidates to get shipped out up front are Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston, and Danius Zubrus. Patrik Elias could be considered although I can’t see Lou or Patrik mutually agreeing on such a move despite the recent rumors. Every mentioned player except Zubrus has some kind of no-movement clause but my figuring is if the right deal comes along and Lou makes it clear he intends on trading a player, I can say in confidence they’ll be elsewhere in some way, shape, or form along with their cap hit. Dumping the salaries of forwards gets the Devils under the cap, adjusts the forward rosters where every player will get a deserving spot, and strengthens the opportunities for rookie hopefuls. In this situation, the addition of Sykora will fit like a glove.