Let’s assume that Bettman does not intend this rejection of the Ilya Kovalchuk contract to be a light slap on the wrist that a minor and relatively insignificant tweak will fix. Let’s further assume that it will cost the Devils a minimum of a $1 to $2 million dollar per year additional cap hit as well as significant money being paid to Kovalchuk post age 37. That would make this deal very unattractive to New Jersey. Lou Lamoriello all but said that he hated this contract but ownership (Vanderbeek, et al.) made him do it.
So, what happens next?
The Devils won’t just walk away from it. Vanderbeek wants Kovalchuk but I am not sure even he is crazy enough to want him with a $7.5 million dollar or higher cap hit and $15 to $25 million dollars being paid to Kovalchuk after he is well past his prime. Bluntly, if Vanderbeek forces such a contract, I could see the aging Lamoriello with his already three cup rings submitting his resignation.
If the Devils put up a fight and it goes to arbitration, a loss could be devastating. At Bettman’s discretion, cap circumvention carries a $1 to $5 million dollar fine and it counts against the team’s cap. Holy hell. The flogging provisions were removed during the last CBA. The Devils do have resident capologist, Steve Pellegrini, on their payroll. Pellegrini was a major contributor to the CBA creation. Yet, he couldn’t contribute to a contract that would get past the league.
If the Devils win, then Bettman loses serious face. Essentially, cap circumvention rules are declared useless and the NHLPA goes into the next CBA with leverage. No way Bettman allows that to happen.
What about Kovalchuk? Technically, right now, Ilya could walk away. I doubt he does that. He is going to play this out. However, in light of his comments about Los Angeles, Lombardi and the team (essentially saying coming here helped him decide on New Jersey), Grossman’s lackeys (is that how you spell the plural of lackey?) will be working overtime if they are going to sell that Ilya wanted Los Angeles all along. While on that topic, are Grossman’s lackeys complete idiots for writing that nonsense for Kovalchuk? That is, if you believe the statements should be attributed more to Grossman telling Kovalchuk what to say v. Kovalchuk’s sincere sentiments. A good friend of mine reminded me tonight that Ilya may not even have the equivalent of a high school education and with the additional language issues, he seriously doubts any of the sentiments were that of Kovalchuk and further the real driver of this sinister ship from day 1 (Grossman) has masterminded this whole debacle. The argument has some merit. Who in their right mind would claim that Newark or New Jersey for that matter offers a quality of life greater than Los Angeles? I will tell you who – someone who doesn’t have to live in New Jersey. But, I digress…
If this ends with the Devils unable to afford Kovalchuk, we are literally back to July 1. What does he do then? Keep insisting on a $100 million dollar contract? If so, hello KHL and mother’s home cooking (no offense intended to his wife, as I have no personal knowledge of her talents in the kitchen or any other attributes she may offer…and that is not to say she would ever offer anything…forget it). Otherwise, Ilya may be a Los Angeles King but at what cost? Not $100 million. Try the best and final offered by Lombardi. $80 million, 15 years. However, would that really happen? Sure. Would it happen with Grossman representing him? Possibly. Consider this as an alternate scenario: If Los Angeles becomes the only realistic destination but the comments he has already made have to be explained (as I believe they must), then Kovalchuk perhaps does what we often see in government positions and politics – Grossman becomes a hangman. Fire Jay, blame him for the comments or let that assumption prevail and Ilya lives happily ever after with $20 million less.
This is nuts, right? Here is more.
Do you believe that the league and, specifically Bettman, has had it out for New Jersey for a while? I do. The clutch and grab team of the 90′s that slowed down the game have been the bane of Bettman’s existence because they have represented everything that Gary does not want hockey to become. Take a look at the rule changes. The trapezoid rule should have been called the Marty rule. Since the new rules, how successful has New Jersey been? One first round exit after another. Now, the league would allow the biggest free agent in the market within the NHL’s history to go to that New Jersey team? The one that is in the bottom 1/2 of the league in attendance? The one that is circumventing the cap to do it and doing it with their GM all but throwing it in Bettman’s face? Conspiracy theorists unite! Or if they are dyslexic, untie!
Stay tuned…more to come.