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|12 июля 2013 года.
Kovalchuk leaves devils in lurch: Decision to return to Russia could have long-term effects // USA TODAY
When it comes to correcting roster problems, New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello is known as the NHL's fixer.
He has made small deals, major trades, quiet signings, flashy free agent acquisitions, coach hirings and firings through the years to stay a half-step ahead of the competition. That's why he has made the playoffs 21 times in 25 seasons as Devils boss.
But not even Lou's magic can find a solution for losing a player of Ilya Kovalchuk's magnitude this late in the free agent season.
Kovalchuk's decision to retire from the NHL on Thursday to set up a jump to the Kontinental Hockey League has left the team with limited options for mitigating the damage he has inflicted upon the franchise.
You could never replace Kovalchuk, because he is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game, but the Devils probably would have looked at their player matrix differently had Kovalchuk officially announced the day after the season that he wanted to return to his native Russia to play for SKA St.Petersburg.
Would the Devils have worked harder to keep David Clarkson? Could they have been more involved in bidding on other free agents?
The word "betrayal" has surfaced on social media sites as fans come to grips with the idea that Kovalchuk is leaving after fulfilling three years of a 15-year, $100million contract.
Some fans remember that when Kovalchuk turned down a $100million offer from the Atlanta Thrashers, there was a thought around the NHL that he wouldn't be able to get that lucrative of a deal elsewhere. That $100million figure seemed important to Kovalchuk, and the Devils gave him that.
The Devils even took a beating to sign Kovalchuk because their initial 17-year, $102million contract (which paid him $550,000 a year in the final five years) was deemed to be cap circumvention. The NHL imposed a penalty of a first-round draft pick, a third-rounder and $3million.
Now, they will pay a cap-hit penalty of $330,000 for the next 12 years to make up for the cap advantage they enjoyed in the first three years of his deal. That amount won't affect their buying power, but it will remind the Devils every year of the mistake they made by signing him.
The Devils needed Kovalchuk's star power as well as his talent. He wasn't always as productive as New Jersey fans would have liked, but he was fast, electrifying, dangerous, never out of the play.
Kovalchuk played more minutes than any other NHL forward this season, nearly three minutes more than Steven Stamkos and nearly four minutes more than Sidney Crosby.
Lamoriello knows he can't replace Kovalchuk, and he won't overpay to find a player who's close. He will try to win with a patchwork lineup because he has had success with that method.
He will have some cap space now and will look for the right opportunity. But that could take a very long time.
Meanwhile, the word is Kovalchuk will be able to make up for the $77 million he is leaving on the table in New Jersey. St.Petersburg apparently is ready to pay huge dollars to win a major recruiting battle with the NHL for this star player.
Kovalchuk's defection likely will affect young Russian players for years to come. Over the last few years, there seems to be a growing reluctance to draft Russians for fear they will return home to play or will use the KHL for negotiation leverage.
Last month, Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin was drafted 10th overall by the Dallas Stars when many scouts thought he had the talent to land in the top five. Some scouts think he could have an impact similar to Evgeni Malkin, but nine teams passed on him.
With Kovalchuk's departure leaving the Devils in a mess, NHL general managers certainly will pause before they add a Russian.
Credit: Kevin Allen, firstname.lastname@example.org, USA TODAY Sports