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A Decade of Necessary Changes Part 1: The 2009-10 New Jersey Devils

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The 2010s are ending and so will end a decade of New Jersey Devils hockey where past glories ended and difficult necessary changes were to be made. This is the first part of a series looking at each season in the decade, the 2009-10 New Jersey Devils.

New Jersey Devils v New York Rangers
Were these better times? Actually, yeah...
Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2010s will end on January 1, 2020. It was a tumultuous ten years for the New Jersey Devils franchise. Big trades, a player controversy, and massive changes in ownership, management, coaches, and players surround seasons where the Devils fell from past glories. It is not a decade that will be fondly remembered with some exceptions. It is a decade that forced the Devils to make some difficult, messy, and necessary changes. And as this decade closes, we can only hope that the changes that continue to be made will lead the Devils back to making the playoffs regularly, challenging for Stanley Cups, and perhaps being the model franchise for others once again. Before it ends, let us look back one more time at the 2010s with a mostly daily (one day coming up will have two) series of posts summarizing each of the previous ten seasons up to New Year’s Day.

As the National Hockey League regular season runs through the New Year, the seasons do not exactly line up. The 2010s will end in 2019, which is part of the current season that we have been writing about in full detail. Since it is ongoing, there is not a lot to really summarize. I will throw in some words about this season so far at the end. Therefore, we will begin this series with the 2009-10 campaign. This is meant to be an overview of that season and the resulting offseason. I hope to capture all of the major events. And if you feel there were things I missed or there was someone or something that you really liked (or disliked) that should have been highlighted, then feel free to share it in the comments.


The 2009-10 Season

The Record: 48-27-7, 107 points, Atlantic Division winners (Source: Hockey-Reference)

The Head Coach: Jacques Lemaire

The Team Captain: Jamie Langenbrunner

The Top Scorer: Zach Parise - 38 goals, 44 assists, 347 shots, 82 points.

The Biggest In-Season Move: Easy. The Ilya Kovalchuk Trade on February 4, 2010.

The Devils sent to Atlanta Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, and New Jersey’s first round pick for Ilya Kovalchuk, Anssi Salmela, and Atlanta’s second round pick.

This was stunning then and even in retrospect it is even better. For all of the issues Kovalchuk would eventually cause, nobody in New Jersey really missed Oduya, Bergfors, or Cormier all that much. Scuttlebutt around that time that Atlanta initially wanted Adam Henrique but Lou convinced Don Waddel to go for Cormier instead. That turned out to be a great move. Since Atlanta was bad, the second round pick would be pretty high. (Plus, the only other in-season move in 2010 would be the Martin Skoula rental for a 2010 fifth-rounder, which is really parenthetical.)

Playoffs?: Yes. Lost in the first round to Philadelphia, 1-4 in the series. It was a frustrating series to watch. Little did I know it would be one of the few playoff appearances the team would have in the 2010s.

The Months in Review: Here is a link to each of the Months in Review for the season - which includes the Devil of the Month (DotM).

  • October 2009 - DotM Honorable Mention - Zach Parise; ILWT DotM - Travis Zajac
  • November 2009 - DotM Honorable Mention - Andy Greene; ILWT DotM - Zach Parise
  • December 2009 - DotM Honorable Mention - Andy Greene; ILWT DotM - Martin Brodeur
  • January 2010 - DotM Honorable Mention - Zach Parise; ILWT DotM - Travis Zajac
  • February 2010 - DotM Honorable Mention - Jamie Langenbrunner; ILWT DotM - Travis Zajac
  • March 2010 - DotM Honorable Mention - Mike Mottau; ILWT DotM - Ilya Kovalchuk
  • April 2010 - DotM Honorable Mention - Dainius Zubrus; ILWT DotM - Ilya Kovalchuk

The Player Awards by the Blog: We were ILWT back then - In Lou We Trust - and here were our choices for player awards.

  • MVP: Zach Parise
  • Best Defenseman: Andy Greene
  • Best Goaltender: Martin Brodeur
  • Best Rookie: Mark Fraser
  • Best Defensive Forward: Travis Zajac
  • The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Dainius Zubrus

The 2009-10 Season Stats: This is similar to the charts in the By the Numbers sections in the current month in reviews. For this series, I put 5-on-5 stats, expected goals for 5-on-5 and all situations, power play, and penalty kill stats all in one chart. Rankings in green were top ten in the league in 2009-10; red is for stats in the bottom ten. The stats primarily come from Natural Stat Trick with special teams stats being pulled from NHL.com.

2009-10 New Jersey Devils Stats and NHL Ranks
2009-10 New Jersey Devils Stats and NHL Ranks
Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

2019 Thoughts About the 2009-10 Season: 2009-10 feels like ages ago. Back then, each conference had three divisions of five teams each. Teams within the division had more games with each other. Only the division winners were guaranteed playoff spots, the rest were divided by points to fill out the remaining five spots in the conference. After the failure of 2009, Brent Sutter left on the Devils and Jacques Lemaire returned for a second stint behind New Jersey’s bench. The good news is that the Devils were as stingy as ever.

One of the main memories I remember from that season was cringing when fans at the Rock cheered at the news that Philadelphia beat Our Hated Rivals on the final day of the season. This meant Our Hated Rivals would go golfing and Philly would be New Jersey’s first round opponent. While I am normally pleased when Our Hated Rivals fail, the Flyers were the one team in the East that gave the Devils issues back then. Per Hockey-Reference, the Devils went 1-4-1 against them. Against everyone else in the East, the Devils either split the season series with them or won their series. Philly and Chris Pronger just ate up the Devils and kept them from playing their game.

At the time, ILWT was in its second season at SB Nation and it was my fourth one overall. I tended to take a positive approach to the Devils in part because they were quite good and were incredibly competitive. High-scoring? No. But they were excellent at making sure their opponents were not. By this point, it has been quite some time since the Devils last made a real run to the Stanley Cup finals and plenty of Devils fans wanted more than just to make the playoffs after being really good in the regular season.

There was some reason to believe that 2010 would be different. Not only did the Devils win the division, they were successful against all of their peers except for Philadelphia. The acquisition of Kovalchuk was huge as it gave the Devils an important game-breaking forward to help Parise, Zajac, Langenbrunner, and Patrik Elias on offense. It took some time for him to get going, but when it happened, it was wonderful to watch. He was very much a player that could put the Devils over the top since their defense was one of the best in the league and Martin Brodeur was still very good at age 37. (Brodeur milestone note: He hit 600 wins in 2010 and set the shutout record in the 2009 portion of the season.) As we know now, it did not happen and there are more memories about what happened in the 2010 offseason than that season.

It is a shame because the 2009-10 team was really good, fun for the Devils fan to watch, it gave fans a lot of victories to cheer about, and - I wish I didn’t write this - it ended up being the second best team of the entire 2010s.

The 2010 Offseason

There is quite a lot to go over, but here are the main points:

The 2010 NHL Draft: In 2010, the Devils had five picks: Atlanta’s second rounder, their third, fourth, sixth, and seventh rounders. Defenseman Jon Merrill was picked with Atlanta’s original pick. Goaltender Scott Wedgewood was third. The remainder was defenseman Joe Faust, goaltender Maxime Clermont, and forward Mauro Jorg. Only Merrill and Wedgewood would get into the NHL and only Merrill became a regular of sorts as per Hockey DB. My initial thoughts on the draft class at the time are here.

The Ilya Kovalchuk Offseason Drama - Part 1: So Kovalchuk hit free agency on July 1 and announced, well, nothing on that day. From what I can recall back then from an inside source (one of the few times I had one), Kovalchuk was given an offer by Lou on either this day or July 2 and was told to take his time to consider it. This would be the one he signed. Given that offer’s length Kovalchuk decided to see what other teams would offer. Los Angeles was the only one who made a huge push for him, trying to sell him on being a big name, a big star, and so forth. But they would not commit the money Lou did. So on July 17, the decision was made: Ilya Kovalchuk signed a 15-season contract with New Jersey for a total of $102 million. It was bold, it was risky, it was massive, and it was stunning.

It was also not going to last. People were salty about the contract’s structure which was similar to the likes of Roberto Luongo and Marian Hossa to note a few. On July 20, the NHL rejected the contract citing cap circumvention. I was not happy about this if only because the Devils violated no written rule. This led to plenty of long, drawn out arguments online that really do not need to be revisited.

The player’s union was also not happy. The NHL Player’s Association filed an official grievance on July 26. What this meant was the case would go to an arbitrator to determine whether the NHL’s rejection of the contract would be sustained or overturned. An arbitrator, Richard Bloch, was agreed to days later and a hearing was set in early August. The hearing was held with arbitrator Richard Bloch on August 4 and August 5, which was when the hearing ended.

The decision came out on the evening of August 9: the arbitrator ruled that the NHL’s rejection is sustained. This meant Kovalchuk was back to being a unrestricted free agent. Whether the Devils would be punished was up in the air.

By the end of August, word got out that the Devils signed Kovalchuk to a second contract. Only that the NHL had yet to approve it at the time. There was a “line in the sand” that teams knew about it but apparently it was not enough at the time for the NHL to make a decision. This is not nothing as the CBA requires the NHL to make a decision on a contract within five days. On September 1, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to have an extension on this decision. I cannot fully put into words how frustrating it was to be a Devils fan about this issue, nevermind blog about this every week or every other day. Especially since NHL had no issue with Vincent Lecavalier’s similar contract extension.

Finally, on September 4, Ilya Kovalchuk was signed by the New Jersey Devils. The NHL approved the contract of 15 seasons for $100 million with a different structure from the initial one from July that was rejected. It was accepted at 2:53 AM that night so clearly there was a lot of negotiation and discussion on September 3.

The only loose end was that the Devils could still be penalized for the initial circumvention. The Devils were penalized on September 13: a $3 million fine, a loss of their third round pick in 2011, and a first rounder in the next four years that would be determined by the Devils. This was a lot on top of the meetings, the media, the questions, and the concerns endured throughout the entire summer just to sign this one player.

Would it be worth it? I do not know if I can say it was and a few years later, it would be moot. More on that in a later post. But this overshadowed the other signings and moves made. Some that would have a kind of impact for years to come like the Tallinder and Volchenkov deals and minor-league moves that led the Devils back to New York kept Kowalsky around to his current position today.

Site Notes and Etc.

In June 2010, I put out the first ever call for voluntary writers. Thibaut “Tibbs” DeShayes and Steve Lepore (who left later that June) helped on the site in the past. This would be the first ask of the community to volunteer to write regularly for the site and cover things when I could not. The initial people selected after auditions and me thinking about it were Matt Ventolo, Kevin Sellathamby, and Tom Stivali. Matt, Kevin, and Tom became cornerstone members of the site in the early part of this decade. I thank them for what they did for the site out of their free time as well as the others who auditioned back then.

The blog also broke 1 million page views at SB Nation. That took over a year and a half. For comparison’s sake, we break a million about every four-five months these days. I do not know what it is the total now. But I thank all of you - the People Who Matter - who take the time out of your day to read All About the Jersey or, as it was known in 2010, In Lou We Trust.

A Short Preview of Part 2, the 2010-11 Devils: Ugggggggggggggggggh, MacLean.


Thank you for reading. Part 2 will be up tomorrow as the series continues.