I'm sitting here still flabbergasted over today's events, not knowing how quite to start this blog. Especially since Derek's already done a good job of summing up the news of the day. In case you haven't been around for the last eight hours, the Devils have retained star winger Ilya Kovalchuk, in what came as a total shock to this blogger for two reasons.
One because the speculation of the last few days had him all but signed, sealed and delivered to Los Angeles. As the cynics pointed out though, if he wanted to go there as badly as some of his actions may have indicated then he would have found a way to take less and sign there. Clearly money wasn't the sole factor though, since Kovy still turned down more from the Thrashers months ago and allegedly turned down lucrative money from Russia to stay in Newark.
Actually the bigger surprise to me was that the Devils' biggest selling point - a winning organization - I thought took a big hit in Kovalchuk's eyes after our quiet first-round exit in this year's playoffs. Not so, in fact our reputation still worked in our favor as did GM Lou Lamoriello's personal touch (especially if you contrast it with Kings GM Dean Lombardi's public bluster), that made a difference according to agent Jay Grossman.
New Jersey remained absolutely steadfast in their interest. They were patient. They were understanding. They didn’t change their viewpoint, their position, anything in terms of their approach throughout the entire time.
“I think Lou, with his college background at Providence College as a recruiter, picked some of the tools out of his bag and he really was able to always call seemingly at the right time, always say the right thing. Again, you go out there and you look at things and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. He had a right to do it and, ulitimately, we realized that we came back to that point.”
Now that the Devils' stunning 17-year, $102 million contract is ready for NHL approval and the yearly salary structure is public knowledge, the speculation will come over what's next. Even with a surprisingly friendly cap hit of $6 million per season, the Devils will still have to move at least one player to get under the cap again before October since they were about $4 million under it before this deal.
Of course people will cry foul over this contract since Kovalchuk's salary takes a dramatic downturn at age 39, leaving room for a mutual buyout at that point to get the cap hit off the books so that Kovy isn't playing for minimum salary. Sure, it violates the spirit of the CBA and artifically lowers the cap hit but it's not like this is unprecedented. Philly did it with Chris Pronger and the Hawks have done it with Marian Hossa. Why shouldn't we take advantage of the rules too? Clearly in the next CBA negotiations this loophole will have to be closed one way or another.
And yes, there is always the inherent danger that Kovy can get hurt early in the deal a la Rick DiPietro and have the contract be a cap-killer but if Kovy was signed to a shorter term deal for more money and gets hurt in the first year, that deal would be even more of a cap-killer. Plus he isn't over 35 at the time of signing the deal so the consequences of replacing an injured player are less prohibitive. You have to pay top money for top talent and there's no disputing Kovy's talent. To put the cap hit in perspective it's less than Wade Redden's cap hit on the Rangers. And just a million dollars more than Brian Rolston on our own team. You have to give up something to get something, which in this case means giving up more money up front to get cap space.
True, $100 million in just over ten years is a lot of money to shell out for owner Jeff Vanderbeek, who's made Grossman a rich man in recent weeks after deals with fellow clients Anton Volchenkov and Johan Hedberg. Not to sound cold, but that's not my concern. I'm just glad we have an owner who's a legit fan of the team and wants to win. Not every owner fits that category.
And a final word about the process, which took eighteen days to sort out from the start of free agency on July 1. Although I've given the media a lot of well-deserved flak for the myriad of speculation, false information and rumors that were utter rubbish you have to give credit to the one guy who did call this - Larry Brooks of the Post, who tweeted this specific contract offer days before it was agreed to by the Kovy camp. I guess a cynic could say if enough people venture a guess, at least one has to be right but you do have to give credit where it's due.
Although Lou didn't manage to keep that offer under wraps, kudos to him as a whole through the whole process. While former protege Lombardi was all over the place grandstanding (and a big haha to the fact he didn't even get Simon Gagne, their supposed Plan B), Lou was in the background, seldom revealing much or negotiating through the media. Granted, he couldn't offer much when the ball was in Kovy's court but I'm glad he resisted the temptation to pull the offer and move on to other things the way a lot of Devils fans wanted him to do. Others have said that we should pull the offer because 'clearly' we weren't Kovy's first choice.
To that I say...so freaking what? As if every free agent automatically signs with their first choice. You think the Yankees or their fans would give back CC Sabathia a season and a half after they were, at best a sixth or seventh choice for him to go to behind the West Coast teams? I certainly don't see Kovy as the type to lollygag it on a winner, maybe he did with the Thrashers as Chico Resch pointed out memorably during one Thrashers-Devils game early last season but it does become hard to get motivated to play on a perrenial loser. He was certainly more motivated last year than a lot of people who will also be Devils this season.
Whatever you want to say about Kovy's defensive deficiencies, his contract, our glut of left wings and the fact that teams don't win Cups in July you can't deny the fact that today's a good day for the Devils Legion. Businesswise despite the high salary it certainly helps Vanderbeek since the Devils sold out fifteen of eighteen games after Kovy came aboard last season. Plus it still leaves us with more than enough room to maintain fellow star Zach Parise beyond next season and on the ice, who wouldn't want to add a perennial 40-goal, 90-point scorer? Teams can no longer key on Parise solely, which should open things up for him in April and beyond.
Now we never have to look back and wonder what might have been with Nicklas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya and Patrice Cormier. For once a big name stayed with the Devils. Most offseasons (other than 2006 when Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner re-upped) we're lamenting over the ones that got away. Who would have ever suspected that we'd get both the top defensive defenseman on the market - Volchenkov - and retain the top offensive player by far in Kovy?