Sorry, I strongly disagree.
Whether anyone wants to admit it or not Kovalchuk is the problem. Wait, before you say anything let's take a trip down memory lane.
1) Absolute disappointment so far. Sure he turned it on last year, but "almost singlehandedly getting the Devils to the post season" is still ALMOST. For the money he makes... We should've been there. Hey, he got the coin what has he really done?
2) His money has and will effect the team for years to come. Who are Devils going to get with all that money tied up with this guy? I think by the reactions of Parise and Brodeur, they're both DONE with this team and organization. I guess we'll see, but who and what are the Devils going to be able to get? IF they resign Parise, what else can they afford? So many issues are in need of addressing (RW, C, D, Goal)... I guess LW is okay... but there are a LOT of needs so what can you get for the money left.
3) Probably the only thing that isn't Kovalchuk's fault...I don't see a TEAM out there. I see individuals with the same j3ersey on in general. Sure some guys 'click', but not consistently. If you don't agree with me on anything else, you should at least see this. Not one solid game. Too many revolving 4th liners who don't get into the flow because they don't see ice time to contribute, and are thrown in for a few games here and there.
As per anyone coming to the Devils games... I think whoever plants their arse in a seat is welcome at a game. Regardless of the team they support, they are PAYING the Devils to watch a game. The money they spend goes to the Devils and given the state of the organization, I think every single person who pays counts. Would I want to see a bunch of Pens or Rags fans there, not really, but if helps the team... who am I to argue. At least it isn't a ghost town like Atlanta was last season even after they had section with all you could eat food!
This team has had construction problems since 2005.
Management was not prepared for a post-lockout world. Sure it was easy with 2.5 HOF Blue-liners on the defense.
The departure of Neids, Rafalski, Martin, and even Gomez changed the identity of this team.
The pre-kovalchuk years were about redifining that identity. I think LL realized the team needed a new identity by hiring Sutter, but slowly realized that this new post-lockout world didn't allow him to keep pace with the new NHL that relies on strong transition game , depth up the middle, and multidimensional blueline players. The era of 1-0 hockey was coming to a close. I don't think that LL was prepared to sacrifice the time it would take to truly adapt to an aggressive Sutter forecheck system - he wasn't willing to lose to learn. Hence - the diluting of that system as the season went on.
The role for aging lunchpail players like Pando, Madden, Brylin (as in too many of these guys) on contender teams was replaced by the need for youth, hunger, and determination (i.e. Zetterberg's, Malkin's, Toews's, Getzlaf's, etc.).
These season showed promise with the emergence of our own youth in Parise and Zajac, but still unsuccessful attempts to go back to the NJ Veteran well in underperforming players such as Rolston, Holik, Shanny, and even Pandolfo. Thankfully LL realized this before retaining players like Gio and Madden for ridiculous contracts.
The overachievement of the 08-09, 09-10 teams in the end only showed the blatant inability to play both sides of the ice through a strong transition game, PP, and a defense that could control a game. Sadly, these types of defenses - commonly built with a strong 2-way #1 Dman or two strong 1A's could only be built through a strong draft position (something NJ lacked until last year) or a risky trade (aka Pronger to PHI).
I think Lou realized that there was no real way to win with the old model, or at least that the defensive personnel were not available in the market to make it work past, at best, a stalemate position (strong regular season - but an inability to score enough or hold back a strong offense to go deep in the playoffs). The Jacques Lemaire model - works for a while but always seems to lack that certain chemistry or spark to succeed long term - the system tasks the players and requires them to play over the level of actual talent on the team.
I believe that Lou, seeing no feasible way to fix the D with top defenders through trade or UFA sought to attempt to meet the standards of the NEW NHL and outscore the opponent to give his goalie goal support - hence the Kovalchuck trade and contract.
The loss of Martin and his transition game (albeit limited) was hoped to be replaced by signing Volchenkov (the physical component), and Tallinder (a somewhat mobile defenseman). Unfortunately, these players had difficulty adjusting off the back as they were new. Both had their good stretches - by neither are leaders enough to be THE backbone of the defensive core.
There is obviously a gaping hole on the defensive - one that we all suspected might be addressed with the conspicuous White buy out and yet glaring lack of acquisition(s) to replace him - plus the unusual amount of capspace (which very well could be due to financial limitations) unusual to an NJ payroll.
Kovalchuk has NOT been the catalyst that everyone thought would give herald to a new electric NJ offense - but to simple lay FRANCHISE FAILURE at the feet of this one player and his contract is gross oversimplification of what has been developing in the evolution and transition of NJ Franchise hockey and system strategy. Lemaire HAD his chance - and was given one of the most prized tools to accomplish his goal - but his system - while somewhat effective, for whatever reason simply does not translate through 3 rounds of playoff success with THESE players in NHL 2000's - era.
Kovalchuk was a bold move and a plan to market this team as well. A genuine, electric, flashy, highlight reel, sexy-goal, scorer. Although it has not yet worked - time will tell on the deal. If you don't believe that - then tell me that the Kaberle trade was exceptional for MTL because he had 2 points today? Evaluation must be made accurately and thoroughly over time.
For the record, I don't like Kovalchuk and don't think he was the answer. However, I was HAPPY to see LL make a move in a different direction - remarkably showing an understanding for what was not working over the past 4-5 seasons.
An evolution is happening before our eyes - you can see it in Deboer's system. Whether or not these same players will be still here to execute it in a year remains to be seen. One thing is for sure - I don't see Pete Debo going anywhere anytime soon.
The only questions that truly remains are:
How long will this evolution take - and what sacrifices will both management and the paying fanbase itself be prepared to make to see it to fruition?