The (Unintentional) Genius of Lou Lamoriello

It's been nearly a month since Ilya Kovalchuk's 17 year, $102 Million contract with the Devils was rejected by the NHL.  It's been about 3 days since Richard Bloch upheld the NHL's decision to reject said contract after the NHLPA had filed a grievance about it. A few days after the contract's rejection, the NHL re-opened investigations for the contracts of Marc Savard, Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo and Chris Pronger, who all have heavily frontloaded deals, ones similar to Ilya Kovalchuk's deal. After giving myself a few days to calm down, vent my frustrations and think, I decided to look back on some of the quotes Lou Lamoriello made about the signing of the contract. One quote came to mind, and that was Lou's thoughts about the contract (Via Tom Gulitti)

"But there is nothing that we have done wrong. This is within the rules. This is in the CBA. There are precedents that have been set. But I would agree we shouldn’t have these. But I’m also saying that because it’s legal and this is something that ownership felt comfortable doing for the right reasons."

When I first read that quote, I thought that Lamoriello was taking a jab at how the CBA has loopholes bigger than Vesa Toskala's five hole. My perception on the quote changed as the events unfolded. After Bettman rejected the contract, I began to think that Bettman was offended by Lou's comments. But after the NHL re-opened the contract investigations on Pronger and company, my view on that quote changed once again.

Thanks to this tweet by PPP of Pension Plan Puppets, it got me thinking about that quote again. What if Lou intentionally signed the deal knowing it would get rejected? Lou was against these deals, so what better way to get rid of them by pushing the envelope too far? There wasn't alot of risk involved with the deal; had Kovalchuk's contract been approved by the NHL, the Devils would've secured the services of one of the league's top goal scorers with a decent cap hit. If the deal was rejected, it will be one of the few, if not the only blemish on the Hall of Famer's record. However the deal was rejected as we all know, but the rejection of Kovalchuk's contract is leading to the NHL looking into other lifetime contracts, as well as other steps forward for the league in writing the next CBA, which will have less loopholes regarding contracts and term. That and the Devils can still sign Kovalchuk, although to a much less controversial contract. So Lou can still claim a victory in the sense that teams are going to be more cautious when signing players to long term contracts, especially with the unrestricted free agent crop of 2010-11, which includes names Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton, Ilya Bryzgalov and Brad Richards.

Keep in mind, there were other factors which may have lead to the contract's rejection. One big factor was the NHLPA being a mess. Would it have been any different if former PA president Paul Kelly was still around? Maybe. Would the NHL have immediately rejected the contract if Lou never said anything about it? I'm not sure, but Tallon never talked about the legality of Marian Hossa's contract when he signed him. Hossa's contract went through despite the league investigating it. If Lou had planned it all out and judged all the variables, then i'm giving him credit for such a complex plan, and the fact that he was willing to use himself as a sacrificial lamb of sorts to try and get rid of the lifetime contracts in the NHL. If it was all just a coincidence and Lou had nothing planned, then it looks like Lou's error ended up helping out the NHL in dealing with these problem contracts. Either way, Bettman is the one who's benefiting from this mess, as the ball is in his court right now. None of us may like it, but Lou's got no problem with it if Bettman is serious about getting rid of long term contracts, considering Lou's stance on them.

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