The New Jersey Devils have always been a thorn in the side of the New York Rangers, one way or another. But, the Rangers hope for tri-state area supremacy in 2013-14, and perhaps beyond, may have been made that much easier after Wednesday's shocking announcement.
Back in 2010, reports surfaced that the Rangers may have been interested in acquiring Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers, but instead the right winger found his way to the Devils in February 2010. Later that year, in the off-season, Kovalchuk signed a 17-year contract with the team.
But, one day after the contract was signed, the NHL voided the deal, saying it violated the league's salary cap rules. Eventually, the case was taken to an arbitrator, who ruled in favor of the league. Kovalchuk would end up signing a 15-year-deal with the Devils in September 2010.
With his retirement, Kovalchuk forfeits the final 12 years of his contract, which translates into leaving $77 million behind.
“This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia. 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," says Kovalchuk. "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.”
Kovalchuk's retirement makes a big impact on the Devils, especially since the timing of the announcement occurred after the recent NHL draft and after the frenzied start of free agency. The Devils will have a hard time replacing the scoring lost by not having such a talented force on their number one line.
In addition, the NHL punished the Devils for circumventing the salary cap rules to sign Kovalchuk as they initially tried to. That punishment included the loss of a first round pick in the 2014 draft. With the loss of David Clarkson (to Toronto), the eventual retirement of long-time netminder Martin Brodeur, and now Kovalchuk's absence, that pick could potentially be a top ten pick again. In this year's draft, the Devils held the ninth pick and traded it to the Vancouver Canucks to get goalie Cory Schneider.
All of this can only benefit the New York Rangers.
The Devils are not just a local rival, of course, but a divisional and conference rival as well. Without Kovalchuk, New Jersey stands to be, on paper, one of the weakest offensive teams in the NHL. Wins against any divisional and conference rival pay big dividends for teams trying to make it into the playoffs, but especially in what may be a tightly contested Eastern Conference - with no outright favorite - it could translate into fans seeing plenty of happy center ice salutes from the Blueshirts.
Also, take into consideration, the off-season for the New York Islanders, who made no major splashes to improve their team. In fact, with the slim pickings as far as goalies were concerned, the Islanders were forced to re-sign Evgeni Nabokov. Now, while a 2.55 goals against, coupled with a .914 save percentage is certainly respectable and solid, it's almost certain the Islanders will go another year without a Cup.
Now's the time for the Rangers to strike. It's a contract year for arguably the best goaltender in the league, Henrik Lundqvist. Rick Nash is finally getting a full off-season and training camp to go along with a full regular season schedule. The team's moves of acquiring Benoit Pouliot, Dominic Moore, Justin Falk, and Aaron Johnson give the Rangers some depth they were certainly missing in the playoffs. The Rangers farm system is far better than it has been in the last 10 years, even the last 20. With the lessons of defensive-minded John Tortorella still fresh in the minds and now the promise of offensive confidence with Alain Vigneault behind the bench, this year could be the best chance for the Rangers to keep the King and raise Lord Stanley's Cup.
Not to mention, with Justin Bieber standing on the Blackhawks logo, that's got to be the start of a curse or something.