Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kovy finally a Devil - with no strings attached!


And our long national nightmare finally came to an end early this morning when the NHL and NHLPA agreed on amendments to the CBA in regards to long-term contracts and as a result, the NHL finally approved the Devils' second Ilya Kovalchuk contract of 15 years, $100 million with a $6.66 million cap hit and also dropped its investigations of other alleged circumvention contracts around the league.

Of course this process being what it was, there was more drama than there needed to be last night. After the parties allegedly came to an agreement in principle around 3 PM or so, the official deadline kept getting pushed back in two and three-hour intervals until the agreement could be formally drawn up and the ink finally dried on everyone's signatures at 3 AM. With all that's happened you couldn't help but think there was somehow a chance this could still fall apart after the last minute.

For once though, that didn't happen. Of course now that everything's worked out remarkably well in the end for us - getting Kovy at a reasonable cap hit and closing the loophole for everyone else - the conspiracy theorists are throwing bouquets at Lou Lamoriello, swearing that this was his endgame all along. While I admit Lou is smarter than a lot of us put together let's be honest, so much crap happened throughout this process that was beyond his control. From the arbitration hearing to the NHL and NHLPA's back and forth and counting on Kovy to stick it out through this whole mess. If it was his true endgame (to not only get Kovy signed but to close a loophole he admitted he didn't like), I'd say it was a terrific gamble but not some great master plan.

Whatever the case, now on September 4 we can finally get on with the business of completing the remodeling of the 2010 Devils. As of now we're around $3 million over the cap with 21 players signed and a month to get under it before the October 1 deadline (a week before the season starts). I suppose the dominoes will have to fall soon enough with camp less than two weeks away, especially since you have to figure the framework for deals are already in place by now.

True, there's still a question as to whether the Devils get fined or lose a pick due to the first contract being rejected but according to the Post's Larry Brooks any fine will NOT include the loss of cap space. So worst-case scenario you're talking about losing a mid-round pick I suppose which would still be a travesty since our contract was within the rules of the CBA at the time and the arbitrator himself said he saw nothing that suggested intentional circumvention. I don't think we'll even lose a mid-round pick or be fined but I can't say I trust the league not be petty and shoot itself in the foot one more time with unwanted attention. You would hope they would be just as anxious to get this mess behind us as the rest of us are.

At least now I can finally breathe a sigh of relief, which was basically my reaction when I found out both yesterday that a deal had been agreed on in principle and this morning when I saw it was finally official. With everything that's happened in this process you almost hope someone writes a book on it one of these days (not that Lou ever would or permit Kovy to, haha). I wouldn't want to read one at this point but in a few years, definitely. This has been one terrific roller-coaster. To wit:

-July 1, the start of free-agency and the nineteen days of rumors and speculation involving Kovy's initial signing including an outrageous (and never confirmed) rumor of the Islanders offering a 10 year, $100 million contract, numerous King offers followed by staged walkaways by Dean Lombardi, and of course KHL rumors.
-July 19, the announcement of a Kovy deal at last with the Devils just hours after it looked like he was destined for LA, followed by what would soon become a contreversial press conference the next day once it became known that the league told the Devils the contract would likely be rejected, which it was later that night on July 20.
-Over the next two weeks, the NHLPA filed a grievance of the rejection of the contract, both sides agreed to have the disputed settled by arbitrator Richard Bloch, then after the two-day hearing concluded in early August, Bloch's surprising rejection of the grievance on August 9 set more events in motion.
-After more negotiation between the Devils, Kovalchuk and the league which included a trip to NHL headquarters to discuss concepts that were rejected, the Devils submitted a second contract for approval on August 27, mere hours after the KHL rumors really heated up with chatter (a bluff?) that Kovy was getting tired of the NHL's red tape and wanted a decision from the league on that contract soon.
-With a deadline of this Wednesday (the 1st) to accept, reject or ignore - and tacitly accept - the second Kovy contract the league and NHLPA surprisingly agreed to extend the deadline till Friday 5 PM, then with the announcement of an agreement yesterday came more extensions of the deadline till finally the end of the Kovy saga...66 days after Kovy became an unrestricted free agent and 47 days after he agreed to the first contract.

Like I said, someone should make a lot of money writing a book on this.

At least now it's over and I can get excited about a Devils team that managed to add the top offensive free agent on the market in Kovy, the top defensive defenseman in Anton Volchenkov and other additions in Henrik Tallinder, Johan Hedberg and Jason Arnott. Even if there's still a little consternation over who will have to depart to make room for Kovy - you'd figure on Bryce Salvador being one of the departures since we currently have a glut of stay-at-home defensmen along with a couple of prospects that may make the team in camp, to go along with the fact that Salvador's easy enough to move with no NMC or NTC to worry about.

That gets the Devils right about at the cap number but it's likely they'd still have to make another move, probably a forward. There's been a lot of speculation that Danius Zubrus will be the one to go since he also doesn't have a NTC or NMC and moving him would clear $3 million plus. Personally though I'd hate to see that, yeah Zubrus is only a role player and a bit overpaid but that said, he was one of the few who actually gave effort in the mess that was the end of last season and looked somewhat effective on offensive lines late in the season.

I doubt Lou would move Jamie Langenbrunner at this point, granted I wouldn't shed any tears over his departure personally after his inexcusable behavior last year but at this point I really can't see Lou trading his captain just two weeks before camp. We've had a summer of turmoil as it is, that would create even more going into camp. Plus the captain has a NTC, as does Brian Rolston - who would be the ideal candidate to move (and also the hardest) given his declining production and $5 million salary for the two years remaining on his deal. I still wouldn't be shocked if Lou found a taker for Rolston in the end though, even if he has to give up a B-prospect or mid-high round pick to make it happen.

In any event, it's finally time for the fun and games to resume!

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