By MARK EVERSON
Last Updated: 5:18 AM, August 12, 2010
Posted: 4:28 AM, August 12, 2010
It's really what late Devils owner John McMullen meant when he said "You don't want 50-goal scorers. Then you have to pay them." The update is you have a huge cap hit.
It was a nice try, elegant even, and the Devils' attempt to keep Ilya Kovalchuk's cap hit manageable should have succeeded. Now that the arbitrator upheld the NHL's rejection of the contract, the extra cap space it's going to cost makes it even more likely that New Jersey will have to choose between Kovalchuk and Zach Parise in its long-term plans, and make that choice now.
It was going to be a tough go anyway, now it's that much harder. For this season, they can have both if they can get under the cap with Kovalchuk's hit. Next summer, Parise can become a restricted free agent, and that's when what they do now will really matter. Although he won't be unrestricted until July 2012, massive prior brainlock here to the contrary, there may be teams willing to sign him to an offer sheet and give up four first-round picks as compensation, an offer sheet that the Devils may not have cap space to match.
They have one insurance policy against restricted free agency, the option of club-elected salary arbitration for the 2011-12 season. Their request would precede (June 15) and preclude restricted free agency, and while the Devils would still face the major cap issues, those would be straightforward, and not hinging on other teams. After that, when Parise would hit unrestricted free agency, the league is likely to suffer its third lockout and all bets would be off anyway.
That's why a Parise contract extension now is vital if they intend to keep him, which Lou Lamoriello insists is the case.
It is boggling that a collective bargaining agreement would be interpreted in favor of the vagaries of the deal, rather than the specifics the sides negotiated. There was no stipulation on contract length, only on a mechanism that would permit salary cuts on long-term deals and averaging of salary for cap-hit purposes, encouraging the contract the Devils and Kovalchuk worked out.
It's dead now, and the Devils will be lucky if they can re-arrange a deal that socks them with an $8 million annual cap hit for Kovalchuk. For 2011-12, they'd already be at $50 million, and a conservative arbitration guess on Parise at $7 million would leave only $2 million in current space for 7-9 players, including next July's unrestricteds Jason Arnott (currently $4.5 million), Jamie Langenbrunner ($2.8 million), Andy Greene (738G) and Johan Hedberg ($1.5 million) or a backup goalie.
Another concern would be the $21 million in space allotted to three left wings, Patrik Elias, Kovalchuk and Parise, fully 35 percent of the current cap figure. That's a heavy list to port, and the third-liner simply wouldn't receive enough ice to justify such a share. Elias' still-record Devils deal ends after 2012-13, but still counts $6 million against the cap until then.
The league may have made the Devils' plan to keep both Kovalchuk and Parise impossible. Creativity hasn't worked, no fault of theirs. But now reality hits
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