The Devils did re-sign forward Patrik Elias and added some punch to the lineup by reaching deals last week with free agents Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder.
“We’re going to put the best possible team we can on the ice,” said Lamoriello, who insisted his main focus is on moving forward.
Lamoriello wouldn’t say whether the retirement soured him on Kovalchuk’s four seasons with the club, but he gave the clear impression that he was miffed.
The Devils gave up a lot to get Kovalchuk from Atlanta in 2010 and maybe even more to keep him after he became a free agent following that season.
New Jersey sent defenseman Johnny Oduya, then rookie forward Niclas Bergfors and junior prospect Patrice Cormier, and a first-round selection in the 2010 draft to the Thrashers for Kovalchuk and defenseman Anssi Salmela.
After the season, the Devils signed Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $102 million contract that the NHL ruled circumvented the salary cap. The league subsequently fined New Jersey $3 million and took away two draft choices: a third round pick in 2011 and next year’s first-round pick.
In tying up a huge chunk of money in Kovalchuk, the Devils also didn’t have as much to offer Parise and possibly Clarkson the past two years to try to keep them with New Jersey.
Kovalchuk spent his last four seasons with the Devils. His best was the 2011-12 campaign in which he scored 37 goals. He had 11 goals in 37 games this season.
Kovalchuk scored 417 goals and 399 assists in 816 career NHL games. His best seasons were 2005-06 and 2007-08 when he scored a career-high 52 goals. He had three other 40-goal seasons.
He represented Russia at three Olympic Games, nine World Championships, one World Junior Championship and the 2004 World Cup.
Kovalchuk played in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg during the recent lockout and was selected as team captain. He could be rejoining that club soon.
He participated in the KHL All-Star game before returning to New Jersey after the lockout. The Devils, however, failed to qualify for the playoffs in the season after they were Eastern Conference champions.