Devils stripped of two high picks, fined $3 million in punishment for first Kovy deal

Just like everything else this offseason for the Devils, when you think something’s over it is in fact, not over. Even after Ilya Kovalchuk finally got signed, sealed and delivered after six weeks of hearings and negotiations there was still the specter of whether the Devils would get fined due to the first rejected contract. Although arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled that there was no intentional circumvention and the loophole of that first deal is forever closed, the league still decided to take a bite out of the Devils by fining the team $3 million dollars and more shockingly stripping them of not one, but two high picks – a 3rd rounder this year and a 1st rounder to be given up in any of the next four years.

On the surface the penalty is simply outrageous. If the loophole for long-term contracts still existed you could argue that making an example of the Devils sends a message to the rest of the league but in fact, our machinations actually helped the league get a settlement it wanted with the NHLPA. So nothing really is gained at this point by making an example of us to this degree. And still Gary Bettman and Bill Daly saw fit to punish us so harshly, perhaps a final insult for us taking advantage of a loophole in a CBA they negotiated.

Honestly though I don’t blame Bettman as much on this one as I do the baby GM’s and owners who were no doubt crying behind closed doors that we needed to be punished and punished hard. Chief on that list is Brian Burke, who not only testified in the NHL’s behalf against the Kovalchuk contract but also came out strongly in the press against it afterwards, including an anonymous quote to TSN’s Darren Dreger about how the second contract was criminal because it attempted to hide the circumvention, unlike the first contract. It seems obvious he was the source of that anonymous quote given that Dreger’s a Toronto-based reporter and a few days later Dreger wrote an article about Burke’s objections to the contract.

Yeah ol’ Burkie’s the chief of integrity, after he cut and run on the Ducks in-season once their cap hit came due and gave away Ilya Bryzgalov to a division rival on top of it, while he still worked for Anaheim. What’s surprising about this is that Burke’s always been seen as a protege and ally of Lou Lamoriello, dating back to their college days. Like Anakin Skywalker, Burke’s gone over to the dark side, stabbing his friend and mentor in the back so publicly.

Not that he’s the only one crying about this deal, owner Ted Leonisis of the Capitals also came out against this deal publicly, as have I’m sure most other teams behind closed doors that either weren’t smart enough to attempt to exploit this loophole, or ones that stand to benefit from our being punished for it. New Jersey broke no rule, they violated the ‘spirit’ of the CBA, as did a handful of other teams that won’t so much as be fined a penny for it, including the Canucks who were about to have Roberto Luongo‘s contract voided before the NHL and NHLPA settlement. So clearly we weren’t the only ones to violate a spiritual rule and yet we are the only ones to get punished, and to this degree is just incomprehensible.

Sure, you can point out that the Devils lost no cap space in their punishment, but in fact they did…$666,666 per year for the next 15 years – the difference between the original Kovalchuk contract – legal under the letter of the CBA but denied by an arbitrator – and this one. It’s likely that the harsh nature of this punishment was the NHL’s pound of flesh for not further penalizing us cap space, which could have really crippled the team the next two offseasons. As it is they still have to make moves to get under the cap in the next three weeks.

Given the public (and private) whining about our deal and the fact we were able to sign Kovy to another so-called contreversial deal it’s obvious Bettman and Daly took the path of least resistance here…why annoy twenty teams who are already screaming about how we were able to ‘get away with this deal’ when you can just punish us harshly and annoy only one? Still if I’m Bettman or Daly I’m not planning any trips to the Rock in the next decade, at least. This offseason has been so ugly I shudder to think of the booing either will get the first time they show their face in Newark.

Will Lou bother to challenge this ruling? Well he can appeal to the Board of Governors, but that likely will get us nowhere. I doubt any court battle will do either side any good and the league is empowered to punish teams for circumvention, so once again we have to take crap from the league who probably thinks we pulled one over on them. Now the official tally for the cost of Kovalchuk (and a higher second round pick this year) is $103 million in contract and fines, two first-round picks, a third-round pick, Patrice Cormier, Nicklas Bergfors and Johnny Oduya. And that’s before we make our cap-clearing trades this offseason. So now it’s setting up to where Kovalchuk is going to get A-Rod like criticism if he gets off to a slow start, with all we had to give up to get him and all the trouble we’ve gone through this offseason in the process.

The only good thing about this? Now the Devils know what the official penalty is and can plan their trades accordingly though with the way it’s going it looks like any cap deals will come later towards the end of camp rather than sooner. I do think it would behoove the Devils to put this behind them before camp, but with only three days left before the vets report it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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