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NHL: Why Fellow GMs Owe New Jersey Devils' Lou Lamoriello One Big "Thank You"

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst INovember 2, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 17: CEO/ President/  General Manager Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils address the media after introducing John MacLean as the Devils new head coach during a press conference at the Prudential Center on June 17, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)
Andy Marlin/Getty Images

Perhaps, this was his plan all along.

Perhaps the decision, so foolish and damaging on the face of it, is part of a larger, more altruistic purpose.

Perhaps Lou Lamoriello, the subject of much ridicule so far this season, is, in fact, a messiah.

And really, who better to know just how to save his fellow GMs and team owners from themselves than Lou Lamoriello?

He is the longest-tenured GM in the business, has been an intimate, inner-circle member of the NHL executive elite for over a decade and has three Stanley Cup rings on his hand.

If someone has the ability to pay for the future sins of his NHL GM brethren, it's Lou.

Honestly, a Christ-like self-sacrifice is the only rationale I can come up with after several months of head-scratching over Lou Lamoriello's uncharacteristically and appallingly foolish signing of Ilya Kovalchuk.

Lamoriello has long been considered one of the very best GMs in the NHL.

It was not only his championship team-building abilities that earned him this status but his shrewd negotiating skills, his ability to attract and retain not just good players, but the right players for his team and the unwavering belief that no one player is ever, ever more important than the team.

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So, when a man of this renown and accomplishment pursues a player like Ilya Kovalchuk, like a rookie GM more interested in making big headlines than making his team better, you can only shake your head and try to fathom the method behind such apparent madness.

The New Jersey Devils currently sit dead last in the NHL with just seven points earned in 13 games, have the worst goals-for/goals-against ratio at minus-22 and show absolutely no sign of improving any time soon.

Star winger Zach Parise has joined teammates Brian Rolston, Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov on the long-term injured reserve list, and due to cap constraints, the Devils have limited options to replace them.

They have already played with a severely shortened bench this season due to cap-limit problems, and looking for trade options to help improve the team is nearly impossible.

The real shame of all of this is that this is likely a good glimpse of New Jersey's future for years to come.

Sure, veterans like Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner aren't likely to be back next season, which will free up some considerable cap space (over $7 million). 

However, while signing RFA Zach Parise will be made easier with Arnott's and Langenbrunner's salaries off the books, the Devils will need more than Parise on their roster—and more money than they'll have to spend if they're to remain competitive in the free-agent market.

All of this to secure a player who demanded a $100 million deal.

I'm not sure what league rule stipulated that in order to remain in the NHL Ilya Kovlachuk must make no less than nine figures.  In fact, I'm quite certain there was no such rule. However, the Devils and Lamoriello seemed to labor under this delusion.

Even if Kovalchuk began the season on fire and was leading the league in goals and points (for the record, he's tied with Jason Arnott for second on the team with three goals and three assists), effectively putting him and his contract in the team's driver's seat would be at best, a questionable decision.

Additionally, Lamoriello must have envisioned a scenario in which cap constraints and injuries could force the team to play with a shortened roster yet still concluded that Kovalchuk was worth the risk.

But how could this be?  How could a man who has made a career out of never putting a single player above the good of the team be willing to accept such a risk, a risk that has now became a grim reality for his team?

And even putting aside Kovalchuk's salary, how could Lamoriello not have adequately addressed the established character flaws that came with the diva-like winger?

His moodiness, his pouting, his habitual tardiness or out-right absenteeism to team meetings were all public knowledge when Kovalchuk was in Atlanta.

Given this fact, and the fact that his Devils teammates would know exactly who and what was responsible for them playing a game with 15 players, one would think that Lou would have personally seen to Kovalchuk conducting himself with the utmost humility and fraternity.

Instead, Kovalchuk, the Devils' highest paid player—he man for which the rest of the team must sacrifice playing time and salary to accommodate—shows up late to a team meeting and as a result is scratched the following game.

In several ways, Lamoriello knowingly injected a potential poison into his team and their locker room, and for what?

Six points in 12 games.

Understand, I'm aware that the Devils' horrendous start cannot be solely laid at the feet of Ilya Kovalchuk.  Injuries, a shaky (if not, distracted) Martin Brodeur in net and a rookie coach in John MacLean are all contributing factors.

However, the negative ripple effect of the Kovalchuk signing is large and undeniable, and to my mind it is something Lamoriello must have foreseen as a possibility.

So, why did he take the risk?

Well, that gets back to the only reason I can imagine: to play savior to the entire NHL.

After the Kovalchuk signing, what GM is going to be foolish enough to sign any player to a $100,000,000 contract?

After the Kovalchuk signing, what GM would dare handicap himself with a monstrous, un-tradeable, lifetime deal?

After the Kovalchuk signing, what team is ever going to concede to a free-agent's salary demands, irrespective of the established market value?

None.

Lamoriello did an incredibly noble thing when he signed Kovalchuk: He ensured that no GM would ever make the same mistake again.

He and his team are now paying dearly for it.

However, weighed against the multitude of ill-advised contracts that will now never become a reality, every GM in the NHL owes Lou Lamoriello their undying gratitude.

Follow Matt on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MAhutter12

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