Today marked a great day for Devils fans. The team officially announced the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk, locking up the left-winger for 17 years, $102 million dollars. Management, players and Kovalchuk all took center stage during the press conference today (click here for video links and here for Kovalchuk’s statement).
The event was also marked with a potential mini-drama. When speaking to the media, general Lou
Lamoriello and owner Jeff Vanderbeek had interesting things to say about the deal. They were both extremely candid in their comments, something unseen at most times. Below are some of the more interesting quotes, which may show a break between general manager and owner.
The first quote comes from Lamoriello (per Gulitti), in which he stated that contracts such as Kovalchuk’s shouldn’t be allowed in the NHL.
“I would agree we shouldn’t have these,” Lamoriello said. “But I’m also saying that because it’s legal and this is something that ownership felt comfortable doing for the right reasons.”
There is a lot of ambiguity in this quote. Not once does Lamoriello use the words “we” or “I”. Instead, he puts the responsibility on the ownership. This was the first of many quotes like this throughout the press conference. It almost seems as if ownership pushed for this deal, and not Lamoriello. We’ve never really seen an ownership/general manager dispute, but clearly it seems like there was some disconnect over the deal.
Continuing on to the second quote, which deals with Lamoriello’s feelings on the length of the contract (once again, thanks to Gulitti for the quote).
Lamoriello said he “absolutely” rolled his eyes when the Islanders signed Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract in 2006 and when Washington signed Alex Ovechkin to a 13-year contract in 2008. He also said he “absolutely” rolled his eyes when Kovalchuk’s contract was completed.
So why would he sign Kovalchuk to such a deal?
“You’d have to speak to ownership about that,” Lamoriello said. “The commitment that ownership has made here, this is a commitment and a decision they wanted to make for this type of a player and all I can do is say whether the player is a player that will fit into the team, can help the team and is not a risk as a player. As far as what the financial commitment is and that aspect of it, that was out of my hands.”
Once again, Lamoriello puts the responsibility on the ownership. He wouldn’t even take responsibility for putting together the deal, saying that ownership controlled the financial commitment to Kovalchuk. I’m sure that the Devils wanted to retain Kovalchuk, and Lamoriello was probably on board with that decision. But it seems that Lamoriello wasn’t on board with either the years or the money offered. Once again, I’ve never seen this type of disconnect between Lamoriello and management, but it seems there was something that didn’t click between the two sides.
Check after the jump for Vanderbeek's comments and my take on what these quotes really mean.
Here’s the last quote, coming from Vanderbeek. The owner told Rich Chere of the Star Ledger that the signing was a total team effort, and that Lamoriello was fully behind it.
“No, this is not my signing,” Vanderbeek said. “It was a combination of the whole organization. Certainly Lou did a lot of the heavy lifting. My partner, Mike Gilfillan, was very supportive and helpful. This is never just about one person.
“Lou is all about giving the organization the best chance to succeed. To win. He also knows, like I do, this is the best chance to put a lot of people in the seats to grow revenue.”
Vanderbeek stands on the other side of the controversy. This signing, he believes, was a total effort between general manager and upper management. Everyone was involved, and each person did their best to complete the deal. That includes Lamoriello. Vanderbeek doesn’t believe there is any disconnect, even crediting Lamoriello with doing the “heavy lifting” to get the deal done. It’s definitely a stark difference to Lamoriello’s quotes.
So what does it all mean? Some writers are attributing this as a shift in the team’s operations, including Chere. Other reporters say the organization is moving away from “its usual frugal direction” (Toronto Sun). Steve Politi, a sports columnist for the Star-Ledger, called the move “a stunning departure for the franchise and a strong sign that Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek is fed up with his team losing in the first round.” It’s a huge splash for the Devils, a team that usually watches big stars leave rather than break the bank. But the team, which has watched those free agents leave, needed to keep this star. It may have been Vanderbeek calling the shots, but the fact remains that the deal was done. No matter the quotes, Kovalchuk is a Devil. It’ll be interesting to see whether this power struggle continues to play out, but for now it seems a minor disagreement in the signing of a great player.
Photo Credit: Jeniffer Brown/The Star-Ledger