Maybe it was salary cap circumventing deals such as Marian Hossa’s with the Chicago Blackhawks. Perhaps instead it was the fact the New Jersey Devils keep winning the Atlantic Division only to get kicked out of the first or second round of the playoffs. Or it could just be that GM Lou Lamoriello saw the team’s window closing and made a desperate move.
Either way, signing Ilya Kovalchuk to that wacky $100 million deal really backed the Devils into a salary cap corner, culminating in the team being forced to play less than 18 players on Monday. It was something of a perfect storm as Brian Rolston and Anton Volchenkov dealt with short-term injuries while enforcer Pierre-Luc Letorenau-Leblond received a one game suspension. Chances are that the team won’t be dealing with the same exact circumstances soon, although those injuries might not clear up too soon.
The situation hurt the team on the ice (they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1), but they might have been dealt an even bigger blow in the court of public opinion.
It’s important to note that the league probably won’t fine or reprimand the Devils for dressing only 15 skaters (barring the NHL pulling a 180, which is an undeniable possibility in the Wild West-like league justice system). That hasn’t stopped the winds of controversy from swirling, though. Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy provides a nice roundup of the viewpoints on the subject, with Derian Hatcher saying that “(Lamoriello)’s mocking the league” while others go as far as to wonder if it’s an issue that the NHLPA might want to intervene on.
Again, chances are this will just be a source of embarrassment for Lamoriello and the team. Honestly, I feel like the well-respected general manager has had his missteps over the years (letting too many valuable defensemen depart, signing Rolston to that ridiculous contract), so it’s not as if he was infallible until this summer.
All of that being said, his moves will be judged by how well New Jersey fares this season. If Kovalchuk helps the team lift the Stanley Cup for the fourth time, he’ll look like an evil genius. Yet if the Devils fall short of the mark again – or dare I wonder, even maybe miss the playoffs – then he’ll truly have egg on his face.
Either way, this isn’t exactly a shining moment for Lamoriello’s legacy as one the NHL’s shrewdest team builders. Too bad Lamoriello doesn’t care.