Two images captured the past, present, future of the Devils: the puck skittering harmlessly away from Kovalchuk's stick in the shootout, and Brodeur looking on in street clothes. It's a changing of the guard, but we never imagined they could be bad.
Sitting not-so-prettily at 4-10-2, the Devils are dead last in the NHL standings. It's their worst start since 1983, and while it's still early, there's not many reasons to he hopeful.
The team's old. The three leading scorers are a combined 105 years old. Young guns Parise and Zajac have been injured and ineffective, respectively. Which brings us to Ilya Kovalchuk, the 100 million dollar man. Obviously this isn't all his fault. But when you're paid that kind of money to be the face of a franchise, you're going to get the credit or the blame, whichever is warranted.
What's more troubling about the next 15 seasons for New Jersey with Kovy is that it's going to be without the man between the pipes who's been there for the last 16. Every year, we predict the decline and demise of Marty Brodeur, and every year he proves us wrong. (He's always drafted too high in my fantasy league, because we always spin him to our resident Devils fan for what we think is a rip-off. Brodeur always manages to outperform whoever he's traded for.)
But this might be it. His save percentage and GAA numbers are the worst of his career, albeit with a small sample size. Nagging injuries have popped up. Worst of all, this Devils team isn't built to go all the way this year, or in the next couple of years. Brodeur's window has closed.
And Kovalchuk's has opened. It's either fitting or just plain miserable timing that one of the league's best goalscorers skates into town just when the league's best goaltender is skating off. Brodeur's had some amazing teams in front of him (yes, even offensively), but he's never had a player like Kovalchuk. No Devil has ever scored 50; Kovy's done it twice.
So who do we feel sorry for here, when the old head and the young gun are just two ships passing in the night? For me it was Don Mattingly in '95, calling it quits just as the Yankees were turning it around. But Brodeur's won 3 rings, so fuck that noise. And Kovalchuk perhaps should have considered signing with a team poised to contend for many years to come — the Kings, anyone? — instead of just going with the contract with the most zeroes. Lou Lamoriello, who finally got his Weapon X five years too late? He's learning it's easy to look like a genius when you master the trap and have one of the best goalies ever.
Arnott, Langenbrunner and Elias can't win you a Cup, not in 2011. Devils fans need to prepare themselves for something many of them have never seen: a rebuilding year. That is, unless Brodeur returns in top form and puts up a Vezina-caliber season, shocking everyone. He's done it before.