18 April, 2014


The End of a Precious Innocence

Yesterday Greg Wyshynski touted New Jersey General Manager Lou Lamoriello’s savvy manipulations of the league’s player movement regulations over the years. Also yesterday, the NHL ruled that DevilLou had become too clever by half with his work in this area. This morning, one of the league’s most respected accomplished managers looks a heck of a lot less savvy and sophisticated.

More importantly, hockey is in the unfamiliar position of looking far too much like its winter sports partner, hoops, in greed and avarice and sheer stupidity. Most especially, in a most unwanted manner, it’s birthed the era of the celebrity-individual-for-hire. These past 20 Days of Ilya, turns out they really have come to represent who and what we are as a sport.

The ultimate team sport has, it appears, at last sold its soul. This morning our game looks just like everybody else’s, and that hurts. This morning hockey, in looking like all other sports, looks ridiculous. We have lawyers and a too-clever, callously-indifferent-to-the-good-of-his-sport manager to thank for that. No wonder I’m sad.

Take note: ESPN this week is interested in hockey. That can’t be a good thing.  I’m half expecting to meet Perez Hilton in the Verizon Center press box next season. Thanks, Lou.

Leave it to CapGeek to uncover the smoking gun of the summer of our grave discontent:

“CBA 26.3: No club may enter into any SPC if it is intended to or has the effect of defeating or circumventing the provisions of the CBA.”

You might say that a 17-year contract that pays out $11.5 million annually at its heart and $44.17 annually in its concluding years is undermining of the CBA.

Unless you’re Lou Lamoriello. Actually, even Lou agrees. More on that in a moment.

But this isn’t Jeff Finger. This is a transformative trauma, and it has the feel of an untreatable malignancy, as if we’re now on an irreversible course with contemporary fiscal insanity. Imbroglio Ilya seems to be the demarcation for managers across hockey to at last surrender their tenuous grasp of the threads by which hockey’s general welfare dangled and instead follow Lou: now you must manage only for the good of the team, everything else — most especially the good of our game — be damned.

Maybe, I guess, this day was destined to arrive. But I didn’t think it had to. Alexander Ovechkin’s lengthy contract extension with the Capitals two years ago was altogether contemporary and appropriate in its representation of Ovi’s standing not only as a cornerstone performer for the Caps but a dynamic and unprecedented marketing force for the league overall. It was fair for all parties. It had integrity. It looked good especially relative to the deals for mega-stars in other sports — good here meaning, again, good for all parties. That deal reminded us (me at least): hockey can still get it right on the labor front, when it matters most.

The irony with Ilya Kovalchuk as Godzilla is that he’s not all that as a player — you merely had to watch him perform in a Devil’s sweater last spring to see that. He’s a dynamic one-dimensional performer. He’s also 27 — we know what kind of hockey player he is and ever will be in his skating prime. To the extent that the goodwill and good-for-the-game karma of Ovi’s deal was ever upended, I expected it to be achieved for a player of greater, more balanced distinction. Or perhaps I missed the parades of protest in Atlanta’s streets when Kovy was dealt.

Lamoriello has never been a figure much associated with advancing the good of his sport (trap hockey, anyone?) but rather the very parochial interests of his club. Never more has that been on display than in the past 36 hours. At the press conference announcing the signing yesterday Lamoriello attempted to lay blame for this Godzilla monster moment at the wallet of his owner, but those individual year terms are the handiwork of the manager, who manages his cap, and they are monstrous.

From the Associated Press:

“Kovalchuk was to earn $6 million each of the next two seasons, $11.5 million for the following five seasons, $10.5 million in the 2017-18 season, $8.5 million for the 2018-19 season, $6.5 million in 2019-20, $3.5 million in 2020-21, $750,000 the following season, and $550,000 for the final five years of the unprecedented deal.”

Post lockout, we’ve paid our top athletes well (quite) but heretofore within hockey’s economy of scale. Because we don’t want another lockout. Eleven point five per over five consecutive years for the one-zone Russian gun? And then a slight dropoff in compensation over the contract’s final five years, by a factor of, like, a million percent?  As egregious as that is, the lawyer activating moment for the league yesterday appeared to coincide with Lamoriello uttering into the microphone, in effect, This is lunacy, I admit, but it’s a loophole I just had to exploit. So let’s yuck up it for a few and at last hit the links . . .

I’m one who’s been at the lead in these parts in being spiritedly skeptical of George McPhee’s reticence with free agency this summer, and I remain unpersuaded that to date he’s crafted a roster built for postseason durability. But this morning I’d suggest there’s a fresh and positive light shining on his stewardship of Capitals’ SPCs, and that its shine extends out far beyond the balance sheet at Kettler. You could make a credible argument I think that our manager actually is attuned to what may be dark clouds reforming over our macro economy; that discretion by him this summer may help preserve a core for contention four or five years from now. If so, that would trump another Capitals’ postseason disappointment next spring.

Would that he had more company in this endeavor.



One Comment

  1. Tracy Tran wrote:

    Just want to add that although Lou has been a great GM, these past few years have been unlike him with the Patrice Cormier incident and the Kovalchuk contract and I agree that we don’t like GMG’s moves right now, at least he had the integrity in each of the players’ signings.

    As for the potential lockout next year, I’m worried Donald Fehr will be advising the NHLPA. Yes, it is his job to protect the players and give them their best interests, but if he’s involved in the CBA talks, the NHL is screwed. I would know personalities like Roenick, Hull, and Yzerman would tell Fehr to make a deal. I can’t think of any active player would stand up to Fehr and tell him to make the deal.

    21 July, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink

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