It seems to me that the major "subject of conversation" around the New Jersey Devils the last several days is Ilya Kovalchuk and the KHL. Whether or not he wants to come back to North America now that the lockout looks to be settled once and for all -- or at least until one side opts out in seven or eight years. Whether or not he should play in the KHL All-Star Game. Whether or not he will. And what all of this means to Kovalchuk, relations between the KHL and NHL and IIHF, the New Jersey Devils as a whole, et cetera, et cetera. We've seen comments from all different sides about what it means and what should be done about things, if anything.
Personally, I think a lot of this narrative is being driven by a hockey media that doesn't really have much to talk about. The new CBA has been analyzed and over-analyzed to death during the lockout, because most of the proposals were leaked publicly and there wasn't a whole lot for some writers to do besides poke through the finer details looking for an "ah ha!" moment. Training camps have yet to open, games are not being played, and there isn't a whole lot in the way of trades or free agents to speculate about. In short, writers and bloggers and so on have focused on this story simply to have something new and fresh to write about.
Based on the statements and non-statements that have been made, it seems "Houston, we have a problem" -- or we do if the Chicken Littles in the greater media have anything to say about it. So what's to be done about all of that? Well, I've got a solution. Quick and easy and relatively painless.
Let's magine that I'm Lou Lamoriello, Grand Vizier of All He Surveys in the Kingdom of the New Jersey Devils. I'd wrap this all up and put a bow on it with one simple phone call. And this is what the conversation would kinda, sorta sound like....
"Jay Grossman, please." (As in Ilya Kovalchuk's agent.)
"Mr. Grossman, it's Lou Lamoriello. I called to express my disappointment in you and your client over this non-story.... you know, the one that journalism has decided is today's version of making a mountain from a molehill."
"I hope I understand your client's sentiments on this one. I recognize how much he has enjoyed playing hockey in the KHL during the unfortunate lockout. I appreciate how he wants to play in the KHL All-Star Game coming up on Sunday and I have every reason to believe it means a tremendous amount to him to be able to do so.
"I don't want to stand in the way of that. I think it's terrific that he wants to demonstrate his appreciation to the KHL fans who have been wholeheartedly supportive of him during this difficult period. I believe the risk of injury or other misfortunate events that would have a negative impact on Mr. Kovlachuk or the New Jersey Devils is incredibly minimal were he to do so.
"But I'm still disappointed.
"This whole hullabaloo would never have arisen had you or your client picked up the phone and made a single call. Either one of you could have placed a call to me and told me about this ahead of time, so that I heard about this from you and not through some intermediary in journalism looking to snag himself some headlines and a few column inches.
"All you had to do was pick up the phone and call me to say 'Ilya would like to play in the KHL All-Star Game and then come to training camp a few days late. It means the world to him. After that, I promise you he'll fly back to New Jersey and be the best player he possibly can be for your franchise.' Or your client could have dialed me directly to say pretty much the same thing.
"This way, when some beat writer calls me to ask me for my comments, I could come out and say 'I've already spoken to Mr. Kovalchuk ('s agent). We've already cleared the air, and he has my blessing to stay in Russia for a few extra days and to play the All-Star Game there and show his love and appreciation for some of the greatest fans on Earth. Then, Ilya Kovalchuk will be back to lead the New Jersey Devils as they defend their Eastern Conference Championship in the upcoming season. There is nothing to worry about. Status quo.'
"One phone call, and there's no story. One phone call, and fans don't have to worry about whether or not the sky is falling. One phone call, and the writers can't instigate shenanigans without trying a whole heck of a lot harder.
"Mr. Grossman, I'm not particularly upset so long as I'm not given a reason to be upset. I'm just disappointed that one phone call ahead of time wasn't placed to nip this whole thing in the bud. As the old saying goes, 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' That being said, so long as your client is back in New Jersey by the Tuesday after the KHL All-Star Game, so that he can rejoin his teammates and take his physical and the coaches can start to figure out how they want to assemble their lineup for the season opener on Saturday the 19th, there's nothing more that needs to be said and done.
"Thank you for your time and attention. While I'm on the line, is there any other potential issues that it might be beneficial to talk about?"
One phone call. One (relatively brief) conversation. And one "crisis" put to bed.
No threats. No retribution. Just both sides clearing the air and making sure everyone is on the same page so that there aren't future misunderstandings that blow up into another media-driven circus.
And sure, maybe it isn't "the Devils way" to treat Ilya Kovalchuk differently than anyone else on the roster. However, I believe Ilya Kovalchuk is a special case and can be given a little extra leniency so long as it doesn't get out-of-hand. If there were other Devils' veterans (with secure jobs and roster spots) who were in the same situation coming out of this lockout, I'd extend them the same courtesy.
Sure, the writers wouldn't like this very much.... because it's hard to snag readers and sell newspapers based on "Nothing to see here. Status quo." But the resulting reduction in hysteria among a fan base is well worth it.