Many have been speculating as to why Lou Lamoriello signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year deal. The conclusion that most have come to is that he was trying to work the system. He signed Kovalchuk to a deal that would give the player the money he wanted and wouldn’t put the team over the salary cap.
However, I think there could be something else to the story – another reason why Lou created such an interesting contract structure – and it all comes from his quote of, "We shouldn’t have these [types of contracts]."
It’s no surprise that Lou found the loophole to exploit. He did have a hand in creating the CBA, after all. If anyone knows where the holes are, he does.
And it’s been well documented that he’s been critical of the long contracts that seem to be fashionable these days. He didn’t like the Hossa deal, he didn’t like the Pronger deal, and I’m sure he likely didn’t like the Kovalchuk deal – which is what he said after he signed him (see quote above).
Lou is a very shrewd general manager. I think everyone can agree on that. He’s managed the Devils to three Stanley Cups within ten years – 1995, 2000, and 2003 – which is no small feat. There’s a reason why he had a hand in writing up the current CBA.
I think – and this is all pure speculation on my part – that Lou was trying to make a point about long contracts. In fact, I think he intentionally pushed the bounds of absurdity in order to bring attention to the issue. I don’t think he really expected the NHL to approve Kovalchuk’s contract.
Yes, he was quoted as saying, "We are extremely disappointed that the NHL has decided to reject the contract of Ilya Kovalchuk." He doesn’t say why he’s disappointed, however. People are assuming that he’s disappointed because it didn’t go through, which is the logical assumption.
But, perhaps he was instead disappointed that the NHL would allow the other long contracts to stand when wouldn’t let his lesson in absurdity go through. It’s a fine distinction, but a distinction, nonetheless. Why should they allow Marian Hossa’s, Henrik Zetterberg’s, and Roberto Luongo’s contracts to stand when they won’t let Kovalchuk’s?
And, if that’s actually the case, then Lou may have a point. What really is the difference? There’s no guarantee that any player will continue playing next year, let alone 10 or 12 years from now. Hockey is a dangerous sport, and many players are knocked out of the game every year due to career-ending injuries.
After all, that would’ve been like signing Eric Lindros to a 12-year, $100 million contract when he was 30.