Let's take a trip back about five years to an era where Marian Hossa, Robert Luongo, Chris Pronger, and Ilya Kovalchuk were about to be on the receiving end of very, very large contracts! There were a few NHL GMs who were read yto shell out top dollars, if the player was willing to make that team their home for the rest of their career. In the next four lines, you can see the mega deals that were signed.
Chris Pronger: $35.5MM, 7 years, $4.9MM cap hit
Marian Hossa: $63.3MM, 12 years, $5.275MM cap hit
Roberto Luongo: $64MM, 12 years, $5.3MM cap hit
Ilya Kovalchuk: $102MM, 17 years, $6MM cap hit
Now, the "spirit of the CBA" felt violated. Gary Bettman stepped in and decided to void only one of these contracts. The Devils were fined $3 million, a first, and a third round draft pick. The rest of the contracts were still valid and the "spirit of the CBA" was put to rest. Now, Kovalchuk's contract was no doubt bending the rules to the Devils advantage. In order to prove it to you nay-sayers, let's do some math. I used each player's annual salary and looked at the percentage difference from their cap hit each year. Below are the results.
My amateur analysis shows that Pronger had two extra years tacked on that meant nothing in terms of salary, but that's not too bad. Luongo's contract goes ahead and ups Pronger's contract by one year, c'mon NHL, that's violating the CBA, right? So the Blackhawks go ahead and push the boundaries further by adding four years of salary dump at the end, egregious!
Along comes Lou Lamoriello, God, in GM form. He decides to give the middle finger to the NHL and tacks on SIX years to the end of Kovalchuk's contract. Lou gets caught, gets slapped with fine, life moves on.
Stanley Cup...but not quite
Kovalchuk's tenure with the Devils was highlighted by a Stanley Cup Final run in the 2011-12 season. Kovalchuk was gelling with the whole team aspect the Devils employ. Devils fans were loving the scoring presence and enjoyed watching Kovy on the power play. The Devils lose in six games to the LA Kings and return to mediocrity with Zach Parise leaving for home.
The NHL locked out the players and half a season was lost. During this time, many players went to the AHL or back across the Atlantic to European leagues. Kovalchuk participated in this voyage and went to Russia. In particular, Kovalchuk captained SKA Petersburg. When the NHL lockout ended, Kovalchuk was late to training camp and there were rumors Kovalchuk would rather stay in Russia. Looking back, I guess Kovalchuk was just foreshadowing events in the future.
July 11th, 2013
Ilya decides that the NHL is not for him and retires. Devils fans begin the five stages of grief. The first stage go by within about five minutes of processing the news, denial and anger. Then, by dinner time, Devils fans began stage three, bargaining. Kovalchuk retiring in 2013 saves the Devils millions in cap recapture penalties, that's good, right? The depth will make up for Kovalchuk in the future. The Devils won three cups without a 40 goal scorer, we'll do it again!
The Other Hockey League
Stage four in the coping process is depression. I would say most fans hit stage four when Kovalchuk announced that he signed a four year deal with SKA, to play hockey. Kovalchuk even got a raise, which was rumored to be $15 million a season. Most Devils fans now accepted that Kovalchuk was gone. There was only one little issue left in the whole saga, the forfeiture of the first round draft pick.
Just yesterday, the NHL announced that they would return $1.5 million and a first round draft pick, #30 overall. Nate had a great recap of yesterday's activities. Apparently, Josh Harris decided to appeal the charges as the "situation" had changed. Well by golly he was right. While this is all good and dandy, the Devils still lost a third round draft pick and the cap recapture penalty of $250K a year for quite some time.
As fans, we've also been speculating that Lou may have known all along this was coming. Lou didn't forfeit the 2012 pick when the Devils picked at #29 out of a possible thirty. Was that not the perfect time? Perhaps Lou had known of Kovalchuk's plan and they kept it quiet just long enough to pull of this grand scheme. I sort of feel as if Lou Lamoriello is a much older George Clooney in Ocean's Eleven, everyone was duped.
This brings an end to the Kovalchuk saga. Devils fans now have a weight of their chest. Unless...perhaps... Kovalchuk wins a Gagarin Cup and longs for a more special Cup? His contract in the KHL is up in a few years...