(Sports Network) - Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils will get their 2010-11 season underway tonight in Newark where they host the Dallas Stars at Prudential Center.
The Stars, meanwhile, will begin life without the face of their franchise as Mike Modano was not offered a contract by Dallas this summer and opted to sign with the Detroit Red Wings. Modano, the all-time goal-scoring and points leader among American-born players in NHL history, was drafted first overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1988 and remained with the Minnesota/Dallas franchise until signing with the Red Wings.
Kovalchuk joined the Devils weeks before last season's trade deadline before testing free agency this summer. The Russian superstar ultimately opted to stay in the Garden State, but the decision was not made official until early September after the Devils' first contract agreement reached with Kovalchuk in July was voided by the league. The Devils eventually landed Kovalchuk for 15 years and $100 million.
After all that, the Devils deserve to call Kovalchuk their own, but whether his presence makes New Jersey a serious Stanley Cup contender this year remains to be seen.
The Devils also fired head coach Jacques Lemaire after getting bounced in the opening round of the playoffs by Philadelphia last spring and replaced him with John MacLean, who won the 1995 Stanley Cup while playing during Lemaire's first tenure with the Devils. Many folks believe MacLean will change the focus in New Jersey from offense to defense, but don't expect the Devils' use of the neutral-zone trap to disappear completely.
With future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur's career nearing the end, the Devils can't afford to simply hang back and let the 38-year-old netminder carry the team forever. However, Brodeur did lead the NHL with 45 wins in 2009-10 while also pacing the league with nine shutouts and 77 games played. He also sported a sparkling 2.24 goals-against average and a stellar .916 save percentage. Brodeur did look bad at times in the postseason and wound up with a poor .881 save percentage in New Jersey's first-round exit at the hands of Philadelphia.
Still, Brodeur enters this season as the NHL's all-time leader in wins (602), shutouts (110) and games played.
New Jersey also lost its best all-around defenseman when Paul Martin opted to sign with Pittsburgh this summer, but the Devils re-loaded by signing shutdown blueliner Anton Volchenkov and solid two-way player Henrik Tallinder.
Without Modano as the top center, that task for the Stars now belongs to Brad Richards, who tied a career-high with 91 points last season. In addition to Richards, Dallas also has solid offensive players in Brenden Morrow,Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro and James Neal on its roster. Morrow, the club's captain, is suffering from back issues and is questionable for tonight's contest.
"Every game's important," Morrow told the Stars' official web site. "You can't overlook the first month of the season, so we're really focusing on that first game."
Longtime Stars netminder Marty Turco is also gone after he signed a deal with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks this summer. Turco's replacement comes in the form of Kari Lehtonen. Acquired by the Stars from Atlanta during last season, Lehtonen will try to follow a solid debut. In 12 games last spring, he finished 6-4 with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage.
New Jersey has taken three of its last five games against the Stars and Dallas has dropped five straight in the Garden State.