by pcoffey on 07/12/13 at 08:15 AM ET
“I am never surprised by anything that happens in this game today.”
Lou Lamoriello sure got that right Thursday while participating in an unanticipated conference call with media memebers after the shocking news that Ilya Kovalchuk had bolted for Russia.
But as Lamoriello said, we can't really be surprised anymore, can we? Especially in this case when Kovalchuk's money grab made LeBron James' "Decision" pale in comparison.
Remember all the vitriol when James, who was a free agent at the time, held court with NBA teams looking to sign him and then held a tacky announcement show on ESPN? Sure, you can blame James and his group of advisors for lacking marketing savvy, but James wasn't bolting on a valid contract that had more than a decade to run.
"The most difficult thing for me is to leave the New Jersey Devils, a great organization that I have a lot of respect for, and our fans that have been great to me,” Kovalchuk said in a statement that reeks of hogwash.
You know there won't be a press conference in North America because he would have to answer some pretty hard questions.
Kovalchuk should dispense with all this talk of wanting to play at home, as if earning $100 million over a 15-year contract to live and work in New Jersey was too big a burden to bear.
“This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia," Kovalchuk also said in his statement. "Though I decided to return this past season, Lou was aware of my desire to go back home and have my family there with me."
Here's the trick Kovy, you should have told Lamoriello about all this love for Mother Russia BEFORE you signed on for 15 years! After all, it is a bitch of a commute. And that way, the Devils would likely still have Zach Parise (Opps, forgot, he wanted to go home, too) or David Clarkson (another one who couldn't resist the lure of his hometown, in this case, Toronto).
But, again, both Parise and Clarkson were free agents, able to shop their wares elsewhere and be perfectly within the rules.
But not Kovalchuk, who has over a decade left on his deal. Kovalchuk pines for life in Russia and "retires." OK, fair enough. He has retired and can live a very nice life with the $30-plus million he has banked during his career with the Devils.
But no. That's not the case at all. We might be able to forgive such an altruistic decision.
But no, as "Deep Throat" told Woodward and Bernstein: "Follow the money." And the money here comes from SKA St. Petersburg, Kovalchuk's KHL team during the NHL lockout. Various reports have the KHL club ready to pony up $15 million per season.
So not only does Kovalchuk get to bask in the glow of his family and country, but he is going to be paid better than the paltry $11 million New Jersey was going to pay.
What a mercenary! Talk about your self-absorbed pro athlete!
Me. Me. Me.
Any Devils fan who bought a jersey with Kovalchuk's name on the back should fell cheated and used. Kovalchuk played you for a rube. But he also played Lamoriello for a rube, which isn't easy to do by any stretch. He played the entire Devils organization as suckers. Remember, getting Kovalchuk to come to New Jersey cost a package of players and draft picks lead by defenseman Johnny Oduya. Then there was the whole cap circumvention mess that resulted in the NHL taking away a first round draft pick. So Kovalchuk coming to the Devils emptied out the cupboards pretty effectively.
So people around the Devils and the NHL feel like rubes and suckers. But Ilya Kovalchuk has proven to be a fraud and that's a lot worse.
In the next couple days, there will be more reports and probably a photo or two of a smiling Kovalchuk brandishing a nice, new SKA St. Petersburg jersey for all to see. I hope the fans there are smart enough not to buy one.
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About Iced Coffey
Phil Coffey has covered the NHL since 1981, most recently as the Senior Editorial Director of NHL.com. He spent over 11 years there.