While the NHL as a whole opened up yesterday - in Finland of all places, one of the most anticipated opening games is tonight as the new-look Devils ice a remodeled roster to take on the Dallas Stars led by pricey free agent signing Ilya Kovalchuk. Tonight isn't one of those nights to look back on the contreversial deal that hijacked summer break though, and Ilya's return (for good) isn't the only reason to be excited about the Devils this season.
For starters, there's also the return of Jason Arnott after eight years away, following his 2002 trade to Dallas that netted us Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner - the latter of whom is still here while the former is now in Dallas as the GM. Arnott's return has more than sentimental value, for he fills a void we've had at second-line center for years, really since the lockout. Also, you have the first-time arrivals of Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder. Volchenkov should become an instant fan favorite with his propensity to block shots and play a physical game better than just about anyone in the league, while Tallinder fits the Devil mold - another solid, if unspectacular defenseman.
Finally, you have the NHL coaching debut for longtime fan favorite John MacLean, who may well run a more up-tempo style than his predecessors while not completely sacrificing defense and structure. Of course it's impossible to tell how someone will coach until they have some games under their belt, after all we were promised a more up-tempo style under Brent Sutter and Jacques Lemaire and only when Hall-of-Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur was forced to miss four months of the season two years ago did we see a system that wasn't totally one-dimensional towards defense. With the returns of Kovalchuk and Arnott, as well as standouts such as Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias offensively this may well be the best Devils group of forwards since 2000-01.
As much as I'm looking forward to tonight, there is still the specter of cap trouble on the horizon. Somewhat predictably Lou Lamoriello took the 'let's worry about that later' approach the way a teenager does with his or her homework by putting Bryce Salvador on LTIR and sending prospects like Jacob Josefson, Matt Corrente and even Matt Taormina down at the last minute so they could ice a bare bones roster of twenty skaters. Adam Mair's still skating with the team, apparently without a contract. Waiting for what, exactly I don't know. Meanwhile the unknown and faceless Adam Henrique may find himself in the Opening Night lineup without having played a single preseason game.
In any case, I'm gonna have to cut this preview - or more rapid-fire thoughts than anything else - short. Given my tenuous computer situation (not able to use my primary line at home) and upcoming family trip to New Hampshire, I'll probably be an infrequent blogger for the next week or so, but I'll be there tonight for our debut and post about it when possible.