The presser on Tuesday announcing Kovalchuk's 17-year deal with the Devils was a first-class affair. With the American Idol concert tour playing the Prudential Center that night, New Jersey's staff did not have access to its usual plush media space but made the most of it. They heralded Kovalchuk's landmark deal in the Verizon Tower, basically a grand lobby at the front of the arena. Devils fans waited outside, then management magnanimously allowed the faithful to stand in the back during the celebration. Coffee and warm chocolate cookies were served, as were smiles and speeches by Kovalchuk, team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek.
There was a surreal moment toward the end of the press conference when Tim Urban -- the mop-topped kid not exactly bursting with musical talent -- wandered in from the American Idol sound check. In hindsight, maybe that was a sign.
Adams: NHL Oozing With Hypocrisy in Kovalchuk Deal
According to several reports, the NHL warned the Devils on Monday that they were rejecting Kovalchuk's loophole-laden contract and they really might want to re-consider staging a formal announcement.
The Devils brought in a great media crowd to Newark for a Tuesday in mid-July, including players such as Martin Brodeur, Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner and Patrick Elias as well, and held the event anyway.
In other words, if the reports are true, the New Jersey Devils -- led by Hall of Fame franchise builder and league power broker Lou Lamoriello -- told the NHL, "Circumvent this."
For the record, I have asked the Devils for a response to the reports that the league warned them that the Kovalchuk contract was not going to be approved. So far, no comment on the subject.
Wow. Just wow.
The Devils did release one statement, however.
"We are extremely disappointed that the NHL has decided to reject the contract of Ilya Kovalchuk," it read. "The contract complies with the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement."
This is where the Devils are right, and where the league has a mess on its hands. Potentially a very dangerous one, too.
As has been well-documented on NHL FanHouse and everywhere else that's still writing about hockey in July, how did the NHL decide Kovalchuk's 17-year deal was where it needed to draw the line? Stud Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo can make $1 million at the end of a 12-year deal at age 43, but Kovalchuk cannot make $550,000 at the same age? Just a year ago, the NHL approved a 12-year contract in which Chicago forward Marian Hossa will see his salary hit a low of $750,000 at age 42. Hossa's salary cap hit for the next 12 years is $5.2 million, Luongo's is $5.3 million for the same term, yet the Devils cannot get the blessing for Kovalchuk's hit of $6 million for the next 17 years?
Lamoriello says the matter is now out of his hands, that's it's between Kovalchuk and his agent, the league and the NHL Players Association. The PA currently does not have an executive director. Many believe the Kovalchuk affair is a prelude to another potential work stoppage in two years.
Before traveling home from the press conference that wasn't meant to be on Tuesday, I labeled it "a great day for the Devils." Turns out it was a really bad day for hockey.