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It’s Time: The NHL owes the Devils a Draft Pick

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The Devils lost a contract, money, and a pick due to breaking the “spirit of the CBA.” Given recent teams’ “creative” treatment of LTIR, I believe we’re owed an apology.

New Jersey Devils v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

I’m sure some portion of people are very confused by the title of this piece. For those folks, we will need a little bit of a history lesson before we get started on what exactly the nature of my gripe is with the NHL. Luckily, SBNation and AAtJ/ILWT have a fairly robust timeline of the events to journey through.

The year is 2010. The Devils have just made the playoffs for the 19th time in 20 seasons with the help of mid-season acquisition Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovy is, at this point, the key superstar complement to Zach Parise that will enable the Devils to sustain their Cup aspirations beyond the retirement of the last few players from the pseudo-dynastic era of greatness (Elias and Brodeur). Kovalchuk is a UFA in 2010, though, so the Devils have a fight on their hands.

Luckily, GM Lou Lamoriello was up to the task — he signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year contract. One of the reasons for the length was to tack on a few cheap years at the end that would lower the overall average annual value of the deal and therefore make the cap hit associated with the deal manageable. This approach resulted in the following admittedly ridiculous salary structure:

The NHL denied this contract on the grounds that it “broke the ‘spirit’ of the CBA’”, despite the fact no use of “spirit” or any similar mechanism was listed in the CBA and this deal was merely an exaggeration of the trend that had existed in several previous deals. In order to become compliant with the leagues capricious whims, the Devils resubmitted a contract that only “broke the spirit” as much as previous ones (ex: Hossa) had instead of slightly more (15 years, $102M) — you can read about that deal and a timeline for the entire saga here. However, a key addendum to that timeline is that about a week later, the NHL also fined the Devils $3M, penalized them a 2011 3rd round pick, and forced them to sacrifice a 1st round draft pick in one of the next 3 seasons. All this for the Devils breaking the “spirit” of a CBA that contains no such mechanism for penalty and that had been established by the precedent of numerous previous contracts.

Ultimately, Kovy would retire at the ripe old age of 29 to go play in Russia (forcing a recapture penalty that the Devils are still paying), the fine would be reduced to $1.5M and the 1st rounder would be returned, but at the 30th spot instead of pick 11 where they would have been that season. These are not insignificant penalties! Here are some players that would’ve been available at 11, but not at 30: David Pastrnak, Dylan Larkin, Kevin Fiala, Jakub Vrana, Nick Schmaltz, Robby Fabbri, and Travis Sanheim. As a reminder ... we took John Quenneville. The 3rd rounder from 2011 seems less valuable, although I wouldn’t have minded a shot at finding Johnny Gaudreau, Ondrej Palat, Andrew Shaw, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ryan Dzingel, or Jordan Binnington. There are, of course, no guarantees that the Devils would have taken any of the players I listed above, but they deserved the chance.

On Dom Luszczyszyn’s model for draft pick value based on Game Score Value Added (GSVA), the downgrade from pick 11 to 30 is worth 2.8 GSVA (5.7 to 2.9), and the 69th overall pick (the 3rd rounder) is worth 2.2 GSVA. Combined that is 5 GSVA which is equivalent to basically the 15th overall selection.

It’s fair, at this point, to wonder why now, in 2020, I’m bringing up this gripe. Kovalchuk has returned and re-retired since then, the Devils are unrecognizable, and Lou Lamoriello and even his successor are both gone. What is new?

The Tampa Bay Lightning completed a trade in which the assets they acquired will cost them ~$4M, but the cap hit is reduced by $3.35M because they are acquiring players that will be on LTIR. In total, the Lightning have $97.3M on the books in a league with a hard $81.5M cap. This sort of thing has been done before (the Maple Leafs did a similar thing last year) but no one has ever utilized the loophole to this extent — exceeding the cap by nearly 20% by acquiring dead cap LTIR players.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are alleviating salary cap concerns by acquiring a contract for years of a player that they have no intention of rostering, and, in doing so, stretching one of the provisions of the CBA in unprecedented fashion.

SOUND FREAKING FAMILIAR ?!?!?!

But here’s the important thing, despite my irresistible desire to post petty tweets, I actually don’t begrudge Tampa their transactions at all. The “CB” in CBA stands for collectively bargained — all parties agreed to it and if they didn’t want a team taking advantage of the LTIR utility than they should’ve put it in. After all, the damn thing is 500+ pages. Tampa shouldn’t be penalized. Just as the Devils should never have been penalized for breaking a rule that wasn’t in the contract.

Therefore, assuming the NHL has no plans on penalizing the Lighting — and they shouldn’t — the NHL owes the Devils assets of value requisite to that of a mid first round draft pick. However, seeing as compensatory picks typically get tacked on to the end of a round, I’ll settle for the final 1st rounder along with their sincerest apologies.

I’ll put together my magnanimous “We forgive you” post and keep it in the queue for when the NHL, at long last, finally rights this wrong. That’s all my time for today, let me know when you get this, Bill and Gary. I’ll be waiting.