By Jeff O’Connor
I think everybody thought this was a true possibility at some point this year. While I was surprised at how early this deal come together, I believed that Alexei Ponikarovsky could wind up in a New Jersey Devils’ jersey for the second time in his career, like he did last night after New Jersey traded a pair of picks to bring him back to the East Coast. Lou Lamoriello stated last night that he actually wanted to keep Poni but he was waiting for a decision from a player (cough, Zach Parise, cough) and Alexei took the sure deal that was on the table from Winnipeg for one year and $1.8 million. This move makes sense on so many levels so let’s break it down.
One, he gives you an able-body replacement right now. The Devils depth is already being stretched pretty good as it is right now. If the Devils are serious about making a Cup run, they can’t pick someone from the minors to be a long-term replacement for Dainius Zubrus, who is going for exploratory wrist surgery according to the Devils and will miss potentially 2-8 weeks. Given how tight the Eastern Conference is, Lou can’t afford to have a bottom line with Cam Janssen AND Krys Barch on it. If this was a normally 82-game season, maybe he waits a little bit longer to bring in a player but there’s truly no time to waste considering they are past the quarter pole of the season.
Try this on for thought as well. If Zubrus’ surgery is successful and he recovers sometime before the playoffs, the Devils will essentially run out the same team from last year’s postseason minus Parise. If you remember, Petr Sykora only played in 75 percent of the Devils playoff games. If everything breaks right, the Devils could essentially go with Elias-Clarkson-Henrique, the CBGB line and some combination to the effect of Zubrus-Zajac-Kovy and Poni-Josefson-Butler and perhaps mix in Matteau as well. That can be just as deep and deadly as last year’s squad. Don’t forget that the Devils have approximately $12 million in cap space, so it’s possible Lou still goes out and makes another big move.
Prior to contrary thought, Ponikarovsky is the type of player you NEED in the postseason. He posted one goal and nine points in 24 playoff games for New Jersey last year. He can thump an opposing defenseman on the other team while forechecking to help wear down their blueliners. He can dig the puck out of the corner and use his body to protect it. He is versatile; he can be played on any line one through four and have some type of impact. Let’s take a walk down memory lane. Remember Adam Henrique’s game-winner in Game Seven against Florida? Remember who had the primary assist on that goal? Yup, Alexei Ponikarovsky. Who also assisted on Henrique’s huge GWG against New York in Game Six? That would be Poni. And in the series where the Devils were absolutely shut down, the Finals versus the LA Kings, who led the Devils in points? The Poni Express. Oh, and don’t forget the video of that goal above…that was sort of important too.
Overall, this is a great deal. His contract is EXTREMELY cap friendly. They got him for about the same price as last year; a fourth round pick and a seventh round pick. He’ll play wherever he is asked and he’ll fit in with any line. If they need to park him in front of the goalie on the power play, he can do that as well. Put it this way; I’m not sure you could find many Devils fans who are not either a) excited about the trade OR b) at least understand why the move makes sense.
Getting Alexei Ponikarovsky back was a smart move…and he’s going to help the 2013 New Jersey Devils.