The New Jersey Devils’ penalty for the Ilya Kovalchuk contract scandal has been decreased by the National Hockey League (NHL). The news comes before the upcoming June first round draft, which the Devils had elected to forfeit. The news also comes four years after ice hockey’s never-ending scandal first hit the headlines when the Devils versus the NHL had all the drama of a Barch-May tussle on the ice.
Those headlines first slammed the news in 2010 when then free agent Kovalchuk, recently released from the Atlanta Thrashers, was offered a contract by the New Jersey Devils. And a very enticing contract it was, too. Kovalchuk accepted it. The contract was long- 17 years- and lucrative- $117 million-but it had one very fatal flaw: it was illegal. The contract circumvented the NHL salary cap and was subsequently rejected. A new contract, 15 years and $100 million, was issued and approved, but that was not the end of the matter, the NHL decided to throw the Devils into the sin-bin.
The NHL punished the Devils to the tune of a $3 million fine and a forfeit of a third round draft in the 2011 entry draft and a first round forfeit in one of the next four seasons. That season was this one. And before the time came to sit by and watch everyone else get a pick, the Devils appealed the original ruling for the contract circumvention. The NHL listened and acted, cutting the fine in half to $1.5 million and allowing the Devils to get the 30th pick in the upcoming first draft.
The decrease in the penalty dished out to the New Jersey Devils will be welcomed by fans of the three-time Stanley Cup winners. For some, the problem should have gone away when Kovalchuk did, the Russian not even finishing out the contract. For others, it should never have been a problem, the contract having been adjusted to fit in with the rules. And for many, fans and pundits alike, the Devils’ punishment was unfair for one simple reason: the attempted circumvention was anything but unique to the Devils. Plenty of teams have tried to get around the strict NHL salary caps to guarantee a big name on their ice, but the Devils were the ones singled out.
Meanwhile, not everyone will be supporting the NHL’s decrease of the New Jersey Devils’ penalty. Critics argue the Devils have got away with devilry to some degree, knowing only too well they were violating rules when the Kovalchuk contract was drawn up. However, the Devils have not really gotten away with anything. They are still $1.5 million worse off, a lot of money for an already struggling business in the red, and they have been hurt in two drafts. With the Devils now a player again in the upcoming drafts, and with the team, and the fans, $1.5 million better off, the future for the Devils is looking a lot less hellish.
Now that the penalty has been decreased, the New Jersey Devils can get a move on with moving on from the scandal that refuses to go away, and which many argue should never have been there. Kovalchuk has gone away though, retiring from the NHL and returning to Russia. That far away place must be one the New Jersey Devils board members wish, when the Kovalchuk scandal rears its ugly head, they could vanish to, too.
Commentary by Christian Deverille