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While Kovalchuk's healthy scratch last month was a red flag, it's telling that most of the ensuing speculation centered on whether MacLean, who is in his first season on the bench, was in danger of losing his job. The coach, after all, isn't the one with 14 years left on his contract. The Devils have no choice but to accommodate Kovalchuk. "He is a team player, and he will go through some growing pains getting used to how we play," says Lamoriello. "But he is receptive, and he's working at everything that's been asked of him."
In spending so much capital to keep Kovalchuk, Lamoriello has gone against everything he has stood for in his 23 years at the head of the Devils' front office—which has led to speculation that owner Jeff Vanderbeek was behind the move. Beset by injuries and hard up against the salary cap, New Jersey dressed only 17 (there's that number again) players for a 3--1 loss to the Penguins.
Strong down the middle is a time-tested NHL formula, so why break the bank on a left wing when a center would have made more sense? Lamoriello, who has not had a first-round pick higher than 17th (and again) since 2003, says he signed Kovalchuk with an eye to the future. "New Jersey is no different from any other organization," he says. "It is an investment. This franchise has not had the opportunity to draft a player of that caliber."
Tremblay also has no doubt about Kovalchuk. "Mark my words, he's going to help the team bring the Cup back to Jersey," he says.
So just how long will it take? The Devils aren't anywhere close to being a playoff team. For the time being, at least, the rest of the hockey world is left to wonder.
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