Sympathy for the Devils: NHL softens team’s Ilya Kovalchuk penalty

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Lou Lamoriello and Ilya Kovalchuk

The Devils have dodged a financial and draft bullet for their contract chicanery with Ilya Kovalchuk. (Getty Images)

By Allan Muir

Well, now we think we know why Lou Lamoriello didn’t cough up the 29th overall draft pick in 2012.

The fix was already in.

What else are we supposed to read into today’s asinine decision by the NHL to rescind two elements of the punishment it imposed on Lamoriello’s New Jersey Devils for circumventing salary cap rules with a front-loaded 17-year contract for Ilya Kovalchuk in 2010?

The league sent a clear message that year by fining the Devils $3 million, and forcing them to forfeit a third round pick in 2011 as well as a first rounder in one of next four drafts, that it would not tolerate contracts tailored to unreasonably lessen cap hits late in the deal’s term. It was a harsh sanction at the time, especially since there were no specific rules prohibiting that type of activity in the CBA, but it was widely applauded around the league because, hey, no one likes a chiseler, am I right?

And then, four years later, we get this. Today it was revealed that the league has rescinded $1.5 million of the fine and, instead of stripping that first rounder, it will now force the Devils to select 30th overall in the 2014 draft.

Really? What kind of Mickey Mouse decision is that?

The league’s official release states that “the Devils recently (italics are mine) applied for reconsideration and relief from a portion of the original penalty, citing primarily changes in circumstances which, in the Club’s view, changed the appropriateness of the sanctions initially imposed.”

Essentially, the Devils wanted a break after Kovalchuk’s retirement/defection to the KHL last July.

The response to that request should have been, “Tough luck.” The penalty wasn’t linked to Kovalchuk continuing to play. It was all about punishing a contract that was specifically constructed to flout the CBA. That offense didn’t disappear when Kovalchuk decided that he’d rather eat mom’s home cooking in Russia than play for a cellar dweller in the Garden State.

It’s hard to imagine that this decision will sit well with the rest of the league — not just because of how arbitrary it is or that everyone gets knocked down a slot from the second round on, but because it smells like a side agreement was in place well before this adjustment came to light.

When Lamoriello ended up with that 29th overall pick in 2012 as a result of New Jersey’s Stanley Cup Final appearance, it was widely assumed that it would be the one he would forfeit. After all, the pick could hardly get any worse. So when he kept it and used it to take winger Stefan Matteau, a consensus second-round prospect, pundits were baffled. Matteau saw 17 games worth of action with the Devils last season and is now toiling at AHL Albany.

In terms of asset management, it seemed indefensible. The Devils then had to choose between coughing up the pick in 2013, when they were hosting the draft, or this year. But we all know that Lou hasn’t gotten this far by being stupid. He ended up keeping his 2013 first rounder (ninth overall) … and shrewdly swapped it to Vancouver in the trade for goalie Cory Schneider.

Which brings us to this year.

No one can say for certain whether Lou actually knew something was in the works then or not. Maybe he just played a long hunch, or got a really lucky break when the league decided to help out New Jersey’s new ownership by sending the forfeited pick and half the cash back to the Devils. But there’s no denying that today’s reversal makes it look like the league has wimped out.

And that’s why this stinks.

  • Published On Mar 06, 2014

    damn why you hating on my "cellar dwellers"


    I think you're overreacting and are probably a Rangers fan.

    1. The punishment was far too harsh to begin with, and several similar and worse contracts had already happened before and after the Kovalchuk one. Ever look at the bonuses Minnesota was giving Parise? How about Tyler Myers' true salary? I don't see either teams getting penalized for that. I'd like to know what your opinion is on that. Why were the Devils punished for what several other teams did? It was obviously because the league wanted the Kings to have Kovalchuk. It would be better for profits and business.

    2. Lou obviously didn't know about it. Matteau isn't 'toiling' in the AHL. He's basically a sure NHL player. He's 20 years old and is scoring just fine there while acting as a defensive stalwart (which is what we drafted him for). The reason Lou kept the pick was because he wanted Matteau and knew he would be available, whereas the 2013 and 2014 drafts are short on talent out of the top 5-7. Drafting isn't about getting the lowest pick. It's about creating an identity for yourself and targeting specific players to fill that identity.


    What a dumb, nasty, ignorant column. I'm really shocked at the crap Sports Illustrated posted. Look, let me explain something to you. There's nothing "chiseler" or "chicanery" or any of the other words you got out of the thesaurus 'cause you think that's good writing. The NHL is absurd. They REJECT a contract, and then punish you anyway! What the hell is the justice in that? That's like you submit a loan application to the bank for approval, they reject it, and then the fine you $1000 and send you to jail just for asking. It's ridiculous and obscene. The Devils didn't do anything but ask if the contract would be acceptable. If they'd DONE something like pay off the player under the table, that would be one thing, and punish them. By all means.

    I hope this helps you learn how to do your job better. Best of luck becoming a professional.


    I have to disagree, since there were a few other contracts that were written and didn't suffer any consequences in the same time frame. So why only one team? Needless to say, I think there was enough suffering, the point was made, and since the player then decided not to honor the deal and bolt for Russia, by "retiring". So why not give the team a bit of relief over it. Its still making them pick last and they cant trade out of that deal. Sounds by the tone of your article that you dont like the New Jersey Devils, Lou Lamoriello, or both.....this must be an opinion piece...probably a Ranger