Ilya Kovalchuk Chaos Only the Beginning for 'New-Look' Devils

Russell McKenzieCorrespondent IOctober 26, 2010

Early on, Kovalchuk looks like a $100 gamble that the Devils are losing.
Early on, Kovalchuk looks like a $100 gamble that the Devils are losing.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Here are some warning signs that a franchise is in trouble.

Your star has under-achieved through the first 10 games of the season. 

Your normally steady goalie's play has been inconsistent.

Your defense, which your franchise has been known for over the last decade and a half, hasn't played very well on any night.

And the new guy, who is coming off signing a $100 million summer, isn't doing his job either.

If there was an exact opposite of a storybook beginning to a season, the New Jersey Devils are living it. They rank at the bottom of the league in almost every category. They have played nine games and have won only two.

Marty "I am the Devils" Brodeur has reportedly opened his mouth in the locker room, trying to motivate these Devils to play more responsible hockey.  But, even he can't seem to live up to his legend this season.  

Zach Parise, who is clearly one of the top five forwards in the NHL, seems to be missing a step, scoring three goals and earning one assist, after looking like a beast in preseason. Yet, in the opening chapter of this season, Parise seems to be a ghost of the dominant player he has been over the past few seasons.

The defense has looked very soft.  The Devils team defense ranks 25th in the league, allowing an average of 3.3 goals per game.  

Team offense has been looking flat, and with two super-powers, Parise and Ilya "$100 Million Man" Kovalchuk, colliding on the top line 1.3 goals per game is simply unacceptable.

So, what gives?

Rookie coach John MacLean gave the public a taste of what's going on when he chose to bench his franchise player for a game over the weekend.  It seems that there may have been a missed team meeting that resulted in Kovalchuk sitting out Saturday's match against the Buffalo Sabres as a healthy scratch.

The rumor of said feud between coach and superstar was only supported by both MacLean and Kovalchuk's refusal to release details when approached by the press prior to Sunday's loss to the New York Rangers.

Both claim that the issue has been addressed and resolved.  But, in practice today Ilya played on the third forward line.  Oh, yeah, coach and player definitely have buried the proverbial hatchet.

Based on the facts available, the Devils are in trouble and the season has yet to be one quarter over. Now, that's not to say that they won't turn it around soon and return to be a contender in the Eastern Conference.  But, we have seen how teams can implode when issues build up over time.

All signs seem to indicate that the countdown towards a locker room meltdown has begun.

And why shouldn't it be like this?  Lou Lammeriello has consistently put a quality product on the ice almost every season, without going out and doing just what he did this offseason.  

Maybe he saw his franchise goalie aging and panicked.  Maybe the owner meddled for the first time ever.  Whatever the reason, he did the unthinkable by committing a phenomenal amount of money and time to a player who has only participated in one postseason win in nine appearances.

And what of Zach Parise? His contract is looming on the horizon.  What of Jamie Langenbrunner, who has won championships for this franchise? What happens to Colin White, who has been a perennial warrior on defense for this organization?

The fact is that there are many players on this roster who have seen the short bench and know that there is a distinct possibility that they will be packing up their family and belongings and moving to another city sooner rather than later, all because the new guy, who has achieved exactly nothing in his NHL career, wanted his millions more than they did.

The locker room is unstable now, and the implosion has only begun. 


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