1. The New Jersey Devils got their man the way they always do -- without fanfare, without posturing. Other than politely returning reporters' phone calls, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello never said much. There were no leaks and there were no theatrics. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Kings twice announced they were out of the bidding. To be clear, they were always bidding. Last week, they even hosted Kovalchuk for discussions in Los Angeles. The New York Islanders publicly dipped their toes in the water, then said they only wanted a short-term deal -- like one year. You wonder why they bothered. All the Devils did was roll up their sleeves and go to work with sincerity. They won the prize.
2. Left at the altar when so many reporters were convinced Kovalchuk was bound to be a King, the leaks continue out of Los Angeles. Less than 10 minutes after New Jersey called its press conference, one report suggested that Kings general manager Dean Lombardi never wanted Kovalchuk and it was ownership that insisted on making the splash. It's time for the Kings to get back to work. Although there is time left, they have yet to deliver on the bonanza offseason they publicly pledged to their fanbase.
3. NHL FanHouse - Feb. 9, 2010:
He's in New Jersey to stay. Although the price paid for Kovalchuk's acquisition was the cost of a rental, and many observers have made the leap this will be a cameo for a Cup run, there's an excellent chance he will be signed long-term.
In Lou Lamoriello's culture, Devils personnel do not speak of players as promotable assets. But the reality is that New Jersey still has plenty of suites and thousands of seats to sell at the high-class Rock, and there has been a subtle shift this season in the way the organization runs as a business. (Lamoriello even does a radio spot for a local BMW dealership). Hockey operations remain the same, but the Devils will start to market the team with a flair never before seen with Lamoriello in charge. Sometimes, the economics become all too real and cultures must adapt.
The general manager brought in Kovalchuk -- as he has acquired difference-makers like Alexander Mogilny in the past -- to win a Stanley Cup. But make no mistake: the club's sponsorship and ticket sales departments wanted to hug Lamoriello when they heard the news. Devils owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek, for good reason, probably did. After spending the first eight years of his NHL career with a never-contending franchise, Kovalchuk will want to stay. The Devils will be happy to accommodate him.
Fast-forward to July 19, 2010. Here's Kovalchuk agent Jay Grossman: "Ilya is excited to continue his playing career with New Jersey and knows first-hand the team's dedication and commitment to winning."
5. Although the Devils got Kovalchuk at reasonable value, they will have to make a move or two to get under the salary cap. It's hard to fathom any general manager taking on Brian Rolston's $5 million for each of the next two years, no matter the sweeteners; Lamoriello no doubt wishes he had that one back. Among the contracts that could be in play: captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who has a $2.8 million salary cap hit in 2010-11 before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer; and defenseman Bryce Salvador, who makes $2.9 million in each of the next two seasons.
6. What an offseason for New Jersey, and it's not over yet. So far, they lost standout defenseman Paul Martin to Pittsburgh, but added defensemen Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder. Lamoriello made a trade to return former New Jersey Cup hero Jason Arnott. He signed Johan Hedberg, arguably the best backup goaltender for Martin Brodeur in a decade. The Devils inked supreme grinder David Clarkson to a three-year deal.
And now they have retained Kovalchuk, all of 27 years old, for the long term.