New York Hockey: Ilya Kovalchuk

Kovalchuk's decision surprised teammates

September, 6, 2013
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New Jersey Devils defenseman Andy Greene was among those dumbfounded by former Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk's decision to retire from the NHL to return to play hockey in his native Russia.

"Shocked and surprised," Greene told ESPN.com on Friday.

"It was bizarre. I think that's the best way you can put it," Greene said.

The defenseman said he was outside doing yard work when teammate Dainius Zubrus called to tell him the news, but he didn't take the call. Instead, his cellphone began to fill up with text messages, and then his fiancé came outside to tell him that Kovalchuk was leaving the Devils.

"I was just like, 'What?'" Greene said.

The Michigan native praised Kovalchuk as a teammate and a leader.

"No one saw it coming," he said.

The new Metropolitan Division

July, 31, 2013
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ESPN Insider Craig Custance wrote a great piece breaking down the brand-new Metropolitan Division, home to the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Custance argues that the Rangers are trending up, saying that Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie in the division, better than reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky, and the top four of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal stacks up with any defense in the East.

Custance says the Islanders have good, young talent but expects "a small step back may be coming after last season's big step forward." My big question about the Isles is, can John Tavares keep up his production after a breakthrough season? If so, this will be a fun team to watch.

After losing Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson and Henrik Tallinder and adding Cory Schneider, Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr, the Devils are a hard team to predict. Custance thinks Schneider will have a big impact in the crease and the team will be able to hold steady.

Read the full piece here (Insider).

Paul Grant has expressed his displeasure over the new Metropolitan Division. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

Report: Kovy could make $20M per season

July, 12, 2013
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Ilya Kovalchuk may be walking away from $77 million of the New Jersey Devils' money, but it doesn't appear he'll be taking a pay cut to play in the KHL.

In fact, speculation is that he'll be getting a hefty annual raise.

According to SovSport, a Russian sports website, it would not be surprising if Kovalchuk makes between $15 million and $20 million, minus a 13 percent income tax.

That means Kovalchuk could make up 12 years of NHL salary in just four to five years playing for SKA St. Petersburg.

Kovalchuk's mother spoke to SovSport. Her interview was translated by Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog.

"Of course," Kovalchuk's mother said, when asked if her son liked playing for SKA St. Petersburg during the NHL lockout. "Otherwise this question about leaving the NHL wouldn't even be raised. And so it happened.

"Besides, there were some problems in New Jersey. You know there will likely be a change of ownership there. It's unclear how everything will turn out."

She also said United States taxes, as well as an NHL escrow system, contributed to Kovalchuk's decision. "So the pendulum swung for Russia," she said.

Kovalchuk's retirement is stunning

July, 11, 2013
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Ilya Kovalchuk's tenure in New Jersey is over -- just three years after it began.

The superstar winger, arguably one of the top-five players in the National Hockey League, stunned the hockey world Thursday, announcing his retirement from the NHL.

Just 30 years old, Kovalchuk decided to forgo the final 12 years and $77 million remaining on his massive contract with the New Jersey Devils to leave for the Kontinental Hockey League in his native Russia.

[+] EnlargeIlya Kovalchuk
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsIlya Kovalchuk walked away from the $77 million remaining on his Devils deal, but reports out of Russia say he will make big money in the KHL.
According to Russian media reports, Kovalchuk will play for SKA St. Petersburg next season.

When the Devils sent out the news release saying Kovalchuk had retired, I thought they'd been hacked.

It couldn't be true. But it was. Kovalchuk realized just how much he missed playing in Russia during the lockout, and was reluctant to leave when it was over.

Home is where the heart is, and Ilya Kovalchuk's heart was always in Russia. Now he can be there -- and likely flourish there, given his immense skill and talent. After all, the man scored 417 NHL goals, all but one before his 30th birthday.

In the short term, his decision leaves the Devils with a massive void on their top line and top power-play unit. After signing Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder, it appeared that the Devils had four extremely capable scoring lines once again.

That's not the case anymore, leaving GM Lou Lamoriello to scramble for a "replacement" -- though I use the term extremely loosely, because you can't replace Kovalchuk.

Certainly not this late in the free-agency game.

In the long term, however, the Devils acquired a massive amount of cap space and don't have to worry about what would've been a likely decline in Kovalchuk's production as he aged.

And this, of course, is the Devils we're talking about. They always seem to take punches -- only to deliver the final blow.

Still, this one hurts.

During their glory days, the Devils were built on defense and goaltending. But when they acquired Kovalchuk in a blockbuster trade with the Atlanta Thrashers in February 2010, it appeared that philosophy would change.

Kovalchuk was flashy, fast, skilled -- and not exactly the most responsible player in his own end. Whatever. The Devils needed scoring, and for the most part, he provided it with his rocket of a shot.

The Devils retained Kovalchuk's services that offseason with a record 17-year, $102 million contract -- but the NHL rejected the front-loaded deal and penalized the Devils a future first-round pick on the grounds that they circumvented the salary cap. Kovalchuk and the Devils ended up settling on a 15-year, $100 million pact.

The Devils missed the playoffs in Kovalchuk's first full season, but ended up in the Stanley Cup finals in Year 2. After the season, the team lost its heart and soul when captain Zach Parise left New Jersey for his hometown Minnesota Wild.

With Parise gone and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur nearing retirement, the Devils became Kovalchuk's team. But Kovalchuk and Brodeur were hurt for large parts of last season, and the Devils failed to qualify for the postseason yet again.

It looked as though the team would be poised to make a run in 2013-14, given its roster additions. But it's going to be much tougher now.

Newly acquired Cory Schneider is the goaltender of the future. Kovalchuk was supposed to be the franchise's leading scorer for several more seasons.

But his sudden retirement has left the Devils with a massive hole.

No more Parise. No more Kovalchuk. No first-rounder next season -- and perhaps, no more Brodeur either.

Now what?

DeBoer tossed as frustration spills over

April, 21, 2013
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Livid with the officiating throughout his team's 4-1 loss to the Rangers, Devils coach Pete DeBoer was tossed from the game with less than 35 seconds remaining in regulation.

DeBoer, who earned a bench minor for "abuse of officials" in the second period after a blatant too-many-men penalty on the Rangers went unnoticed, was served with a game misconduct as time was winding down.

It was the last indignity of a frustrating game that officially eliminated the Devils from playoff contention. The Devils have now missed the playoffs in two of the last three seasons, though DeBoer led New Jersey to the Stanley Cup finals last spring.

"There was frustration," DeBoer said. "It's obviously not the way you want to go out. But that's how it ends for us. We will have to regroup and move forward."

The officiating was questionable throughout the game, and Ilya Kovalchuk came to his coach's defense.

Throwing out DeBoer so late in the game seemed unnecessary, Kovalchuk said.

"You can't do that in the last seconds in front of everybody," Kovalchuk told reporters. "Fifteen seconds left, you don't have to put on a show."

It is not clear whether DeBoer will be subject to any discipline from the league, though Islanders coach Brent Thompson was suspended two games for his emotional outburst after the Isles' 2-1 loss to the Rangers back in March.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Devils

April, 21, 2013
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At a glance: Bounced from the playoffs by the Devils last spring, the Rangers have a prime opportunity to exact some payback when they host their division rivals at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

New York can end the Devils' season with a win, an opportunity they are sure to relish heading into the last week of the regular season. But don't count the Devils out just yet. An unheralded postseason pick last season, the sixth-seeded Devils knocked off the top-ranked Rangers to secure the Eastern Conference title before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals.

Offensive outburst: In throttling both the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres in consecutive nights entering the weekend, the Rangers finally got some "puck luck." The Blueshirts, who have struggled offensively through stretches this season, broke out for a combined 14 goals over their past two wins.

Kovy’s back: The Devils returned star winger Ilya Kovalchuk to their lineup Saturday after he missed 11 games with a shoulder injury. The Devils, whose horrific 10-game winless streak coincided with his absence, have rattled off two straight wins to stave off elimination. Kovalchuk was a minus-1 in Saturday's 6-2 win over the Panthers.

On a roll: Before Thursday's 6-1 rout of the Panthers, Rangers center Brad Richards was held off the score sheet in four straight games. He has since tallied four goals and registered five points, including a hat trick in an 8-4 rout of the Sabres on Friday. It was Richards' first hat trick in 896 career games.

Scoreboard watching: The Rangers remain among the top eight in the playoff bracket, but are fighting to hold on to that last spot with the Winnipeg Jets nipping at their heels. Gaining a point Saturday in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Islanders, the ninth-place Jets are trailing the Rangers by a mere point. The Blueshirts have a game in hand, though, and finish up their regular-season schedule with two games against the Devils (who may be out of playoff contention after today's tilt), and a game apiece against non-playoff teams Florida and Carolina.

Staying alive: A win of any kind for the Devils keeps their playoff hopes -- albeit dim -- alive. In addition to their two games at MSG against the Rangers, the Devils take on top teams Pittsburgh and Montreal in between.

Devils win to stay alive

April, 20, 2013
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Facing elimination Saturday, the Devils demolished the Panthers 6-2 to keep their playoff hopes alive heading into a bitter clash against the Rangers to close out the weekend.

The Devils travel to Manhattan Sunday for a matinee against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Ousted by New Jersey in the Eastern Conference finals last spring, the Rangers have a chance to exact some payback and extinguish the Devils' playoff hopes.

"That will be a man's game tomorrow," Devils coach Pete DeBoer told reporters after the game. "They've got an opportunity to close us out and I'm sure they're going to relish that."

Ilya Kovalchuk returned for the Devils after missing 11 games with a shoulder injury; he was a minus-one in 22:43 of ice time.

The Devils and Rangers square off twice more before the season ends. The two clubs close out the regular season with another game at MSG next Saturday.

Need to know: Devils running out of time

April, 12, 2013
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Give the New Jersey Devils this: Even in the face of the inevitable, there is no quit in them.

Down 4-0 to the Boston Bruins by the 3:06 mark of the second period Wednesday night, the Devils kept chipping away, and early in the third they had made it 4-3.

But the results are the results, and so it was that the Devils lost 5-4 and by night's end were that much closer to finding themselves outside the playoff bubble just 10 months after taking the Los Angeles Kings to six games in the Stanley Cup finals.

The loss to the Bruins marked the Devils' eighth straight game without a win. They are in 10th place in the East, only four points out of eighth, but with eight games left you get the feeling watching them that the gap might as well be 40 points.

It is a cautionary tale, to be sure.

The Devils chose not to move captain Zach Parise at last year's trade deadline, and he signed a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild in the offseason. Would GM and president Lou Lamoriello do the same thing again? Was the trip to the edge of a championship worth the loss of significant assets had he traded Parise? Would those assets have made the difference to a team that has struggled to fill the void created by Parise's departure?

It's worth noting that the same fate awaits the Nashville Predators, the former team of Parise's signing mate in Minnesota, Ryan Suter. The Preds likewise loaded up at last year's trade deadline and hoped to make a long run and, by extension, keep Suter in the fold. Now they will almost certainly miss the playoffs, in part because they received no assets for Suter and have not filled the gap created by his departure.

Undaunted, the Devils followed a similar pattern this year as they chose not to trade David Clarkson, who leads the team with 13 goals and can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Perhaps Clarkson will stay in New Jersey, where he has become an important part of the fabric of the team. Maybe there will be more laments when the free-agency period begins in July.

The Devils' fade from contention can be attributed to the loss of netminder Martin Brodeur for an extended period this season because of an injury. And that was followed by an injury to star winger Ilya Kovalchuk. Still, as you watched Brodeur, closing in on his 41st birthday, give up five goals to the Bruins on 18 shots, you had to wonder what the plan is moving forward.

The Devils are an uncharacteristic 17th overall in goals allowed per game and do not have a clear successor to Brodeur. They are 27th in goals scored per game and 22nd on the power play; they could not capitalize on a long 5-on-3 advantage situation early in Wednesday's game and gave up two short-handed goals in the first period.

All of which makes you wonder, which is the blip on the radar: last year's run to the final or this year's slide into an early offseason?

Rangers top Devils in standings

March, 19, 2013
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NEWARK, N.J. -- After Monday night’s 2-1 shootout win over the Hurricanes, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan stressed the importance of capitalizing, saying the win meant "nothing" if the team couldn’t follow it up with another against New Jersey the next night.

The Rangers did back up the win Tuesday with their second victory in as many nights, topping the Devils 3-2 at the Prudential Center and leapfrogging their division rivals in the standings to nab eighth place.

It was an important back-to-back set for the Rangers, who weathered an abrupt gut check after a three-game losing streak on the road last week and also withstood a resilient Devils squad that twice tied the game in the first period.

"It means a lot," said Callahan. "I think we take the next step and you can put that tough stretch behind us now."

In an offensive outburst that has seemed rare for the recently goal-starved team, the Rangers tallied twice in a span of 5:01 in the first period and snapped a 2-2 draw in the middle frame with Rick Nash’s go-ahead goal. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto was also a catalyst for the Blueshirts, opening scoring with a short-handed goal and setting up Nash’s 10th of the season.

Nash’s deciding goal was a beauty, too, preceded by a terrific sequence of saves from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Lundqvist made two short-handed stops to blank New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk and Steve Bernier before Del Zotto sprang Nash and linemate Brad Richards on a 2-on-1. Streaking down the right wing, Nash sent a sizzling wrist shot past Devils netminder Johan Hedberg for a 3-2 lead at 7:25.

"He definitely gave us some momentum," Nash said. "We were coming off a penalty kill and I think we caught them in kind of a bad change and Del Zotto made a great play up the ice and sent me and Richards on a 2-on-1. The D-man was sort of cheating the pass, so I thought to shoot."

After a particularly active offensive game one night prior, Del Zotto was rewarded for his efforts Tuesday. The 22-year-old blueliner batted one out of the air for a short-handed goal after Hedberg mishandled the puck along the boards at 11:49 of the first period.

"It’s funny. You get so many glorious chances from the slot and that’s the one that goes in for you, but I’ll take it," Del Zotto said. "I’m just happy to contribute here."

After a pretty wide-open first 40 minutes, the Rangers tightened up in the third to protect the lead, while Lundqvist turned away all seven shots he faced in the final frame to collect wins in back-to-back starts.

"It was a pretty open game," said Lundqvist, who finished with 29 saves. "Lot of chances both ways but I think we did a very good job and, in the end, I thought we played smart."

On the outside looking in at the playoff picture for a brief stretch, the Rangers now control their own destiny to remain in the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.

They have resurrected some offense and with it, some swagger, as they head into their next two games at home -- on Thursday against the beleaguered Panthers and Sunday against the Capitals.

With two straight wins and a couple of upcoming opponents foundering at the bottom of the standings, the Rangers hope to keep rolling.

"We have to keep moving forward and hopefully get some confidence out of this win," Del Zotto said, "and put together a few more."

Ponikarovsky set to play

February, 15, 2013
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Re-claiming his old No. 12, Alexei Ponikarovsky was back in a Devils jersey and practicing with his former teammates during the team's morning skate in Newark Friday. The 32-year-old winger is set to play Friday when the Devils host the Philadelphia Flyers.

He skated on the team's top line with center Travis Zajac and star winger Ilya Kovalchuk.

Ponikarovsky, who was originally brought in to New Jersey via trade last January before the deadline, was re-acquired Wednesday evening in a deal with Winnipeg that sent back two draft picks.

The move was prompted by an injury to forward Dainius Zubrus, who underwent surgery on his left wrist Thursday and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Ponikarovsky, who played 33 regular-season and 24 playoff games with New Jersey last season, had two goals in 12 games for the Jets this season.

Devils still perfect after Kovalchuk's winner

January, 25, 2013
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NEWARK, N.J. -- Capitals coach and former Devils assistant Adam Oates was trying to find the silver lining in his team’s overtime loss until Ilya Kovalchuk’s sharp-angle game winner was brought up.

At that, Oates rolled his eyes:

“Seen that before. I used to like it.”

Pete DeBoer had no complaints. When asked how he felt about the shot selection, DeBoer gave Kovalchuk a free pass.

“Depends who it is,” he said. “If it’s on Kovy’s stick, that angle’s fine.”

Martin Brodeur
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsMartin Brodeur, who has been in goal for each of the Devils' three wins, was terrific against the Caps.
Kovalchuk’s quick-fire wrister beat Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth with less than 21 seconds to play in overtime and lifted the Devils to an impressive 3-0-0 record to begin the 2013 lockout-shortened season.

After a surprising trip to the Stanley Cup finals last season, the Devils are once again surpassing expectations as they established themselves as the only unbeaten team in the East.

“Some teams are struggling a little bit and some teams are doing well,” said Kovalchuk, who tallied his second goal of the season. “I think it helps that we played ‘til mid-June last year and all the core guys stayed the same. And the coach, we know exactly what he wants from us. I think it’s to our advantage.”

The core guys are not entirely the same, of course -- Zach Parise is now playing for his hometown Minnesota Wild after signing a monster contract this summer -- but the core players that remain have been pulling together.

Kovalchuk added another game winner. Martin Brodeur was terrific in goal to collect his third straight win. And veterans like Patrik Elias and Marek Zidlicky are producing, chipping in Friday night with two points apiece.

“How hard our veteran players worked during the offseason, extended offseason, has really led to the start we’ve had,” DeBoer said. “Elias is in great shape, Brodeur is in great shape, Zubrus is in great shape, Kovy is in great shape. That helps.”

The Devils will aim to preserve their perfect record Sunday when they travel to Montreal to begin their first extended road trip of the season.

“I saw somewhere that every two points is worth 3.42 or something like that based on an 82-game schedule,” DeBoer said. “So every win we get, every point we bank is critical here.”

Devils' Kovalchuk: 'I'm happy I'm back'

January, 16, 2013
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Ilya KovalchukJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesAfter spending the lockout in Russia, Ilya Kovalchuk is excited to be back on the ice for the Devils.
NEWARK, N.J. – Putting to bed all the speculation that he could possibly stay in Russia this season, Devils’ star Ilya Kovalchuk arrived for his first day of training camp with the team Wednesday.

The 29-year-old winger, who played in his native Russia during the lockout and missed the first day of camp to play in the Kontinental Hockey League’s All-Star Game Sunday, explained his decision after playing in the Devils’ intra-squad scrimmage.

Kovalchuk said he wanted to participate in the game for the Russian fans, who had already bought tickets expecting to see him play, and asked Devils GM Lou Lamoriello’s permission first.

“I’m happy I’m back,” said Kovalchuk, who led the Devils in scoring last season with 37 goals and 46 assists. “I got some family reasons [why] I stayed, and I decided to play in the All-Star game there. I asked Lou and we just had a good talk. Everybody understands each other.”

In the interim period between the NHL and NHLPA brokering a new collective bargaining agreement and that agreement’s official ratification, reports out of Russia indicated that several of the country’s stars such as Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk might prefer and/or attempt to stay in the KHL.

The KHL and NHL have a Memorandum of Agreement that no player with an NHL contract can play in the KHL once the lockout is lifted.

“No, I don’t know where you read all those comments, but I have a contract here and in KHL they have a rule that as soon as the lockout ends, we have to go back,” Kovalchuk said. “Nobody had a choice.”

Kovalchuk laughed when denying one report, that even Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to convince him to stay.

“No, that’s not true,” Kovalchuk said. “I’m sure he’s got some other stuff to take care of.”

Lamoriello said he was never worried that Kovalchuk, whose 15-year, $100 million contract is signed through 2024-25, would stay.

“No, I never had any reason to believe he wouldn’t be back,” Lamoriello said.

Kovalchuk said he loved playing at home and enjoyed spending time with family in his native country – he got to celebrate the Russian New Year for the first time in seven years – but is glad to return now that the lockout has ended.

And given his time spent during the lockout – he racked up 18 goals and 24 assists in 36 games for St. Petersburg SKA – he feels he will have a slight edge with such a shortened training camp before the season opens this Saturday.

“I think there will be a little advantage for the guys that were playing,” said Kovalchuk, who flew into New Jersey on Tuesday night. “But it’s going to take a couple days with the time difference and then I’ll just feel normal, like I always do.”

Luckily for Kovalchuk, he managed to slink back into camp without any mention of his time missed or, more importantly, his impromptu figure-skating stunt that he was forced to perform during the All-Star game.

“That’s for later in the season,” coach Pete DeBoer said with a chuckle. “I’m sure that clip will come out.”

Kovalchuk to play in Russia during lockout

September, 17, 2012
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New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk will return to his native Russia to play throughout the NHL lockout. Kovalchuk's agent confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com that the 29-year-old sniper will join SKA St. Petersburg and begin playing Sept. 23.

Click here for the full story.

Devils retain 2012 first-round pick

June, 13, 2012
6/13/12
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NEWARK, N.J. -- As reported Tuesday, the Devils will retain their first-round pick in 2012 rather than forfeit the selection to the NHL as penalty for Ilya Kovalchuk's contract.

Kovalchuk's contract -- originally signed as a 17-year, $102 million pact two summers ago before being subsequently rejected -- was ruled a deal that circumvented the salary cap.

The Devils will still be forced to give up a first-round pick as penance for the contract, although they will not surrender this year's pick -- 29th overall. The Devils must sacrifice a first-round pick in either 2013 or 2014.

"We will pick," GM Lou Lamoriello confirmed.

Lamoriello would not explain why the team chose to keep the pick but said the decision was made "a while ago."

The Devils were also forced to pay a $3 million fine and give up a third-rounder in 2011 as penalty for the Kovalchuk contract.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Zach Parise may still become the most coveted free agent in NHL history should he make it to July 1, but the 27-year-old captain sounds like he wants to remain a New Jersey Devil.

Addressing questions about his future for the first time in months, Parise appears to be interested in re-signing with the team that drafted him back in 2003.

He has spent all seven NHL seasons with the Devils and said “no” when asked if he could ever imagine wearing another jersey.

“I’ve said all along, I love playing here and I’ve always appreciated everything that this organization has done for me,” he said during the team’s locker clean-out day on Wednesday. “My feelings have never changed.”

Parise also said there was a chance a deal could be done before July 1.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he said less than two days after the Devils were defeated in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals by the L.A. Kings. “Absolutely, for sure.”

Parise said he was “excited” about the option of testing the market as a free agent for the first time in his career, but said he may not get that far.

“Hopefully, we can get things worked out here,” he said.

Although that paints an optimistic picture for the Devils, the issue of whether the team can afford to re-sign him remains to be seen.

The Devils are reportedly in a state of financial distress, although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said during the finals that co-owner Jeff VanderBeek was “on track” to refinancing the team’s debt.

Parise said he doesn’t have much insight into the situation and how that may impact his status.

“I don’t really know. I think that’s something we’ll have to find out,” he said. “I don’t know if things have happened. We’ve only been paying attention to what’s been going on on the ice. None of that has affected the team. But I don’t know where that all stands today.”

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said the team’s financial issues have not affected hockey operations up to this point. He expects the situation to be resolved soon.

“I’m sure what has to be taken care of will be taken care of in the very near future,” he said.

Consistent with team policy, Lamoriello did not elaborate on discussions with Parise’s camp or any timeline between the two sides, but he reiterated that getting a deal done with the team’s franchise player was tops on their offseason to-do list.

“He’s a priority. We’ve said that from day one and that will remain a priority,” Lamoriello said. “Other than that, I don’t have anything else to add.”

Parise said he wasn’t aware of any discussions during the season between his agent and the Devils and was unsure when those will resume.

“We’re 48 hours away from a pretty devastating loss, so I haven’t had time really to sit back and think about that yet, and that’s the truth,” Parise said. “I’m not just giving you lip service. I know what’s ahead and the decision-making, so I guess we’ll have to get the conversations pretty soon.”

After a stunning season in which the sixth-seeded Devils advanced to the Cup finals and exceeded expectations at every turn, Parise’s teammates hope their captain returns.

“I hope that we’ll be able to keep him, because I think he’s the face of the Devils,” said veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur. “He’s a kid that people, really, they see him [and] they see a Devil, they see the type of work ethic he has, and it says a lot for other guys.”

Not to mention how well his first year as captain went, bringing the Devils back after missing the playoffs altogether last season.

“First year as a captain, not too shabby to bring a team like us to the Stanley Cup finals,” Brodeur said. “It’s a big priority for the Devils to get him signed.”

Ilya Kovalchuk, who was signed to a 15-year, $100 million deal in 2010, agreed.

“That’s our first priority this offseason, to sign him. He’s our captain, he’s our leader,” Kovalchuk said. “I’m pretty sure the ownership will figure out how to get things done.”

With free agency only weeks away, the speculation will soon subside when Parise confronts what will likely be the biggest decision of his career. It won’t come down to just money, he assured, but a multitude of factors.

“I like the people here. I like the staff, my teammates. I like the area,” Parise said. “So, there’s a lot of good things about this place.”

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