You have probably heard by now that New Jersey Devils superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk retired from the NHL 3 years into a 17-year, $102 million dollar contract, having received $23 million in salary – leaving $77 million on the table. He went back home, to Russia, and is expected to sign with the KHL right away.
Turns out he loved playing in Russia so much during that ridiculous NHL lockout that he felt homesick upon his return. Well done, NHL/PA.
What you may not know and is impressive if you toss it into a conversation with someone, is that the Devils paid quite a price for Kovalchuk. First, they traded Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, a 2nd-round pick and a 1st-round to the then Atlanta Thrashers for him at the 2010 trade deadline (The Devils did receive a 2nd-round pick and Anssi Salmela from the Thrashers at that time).
When Kovalchuk’s contract expired at the end of the 2009-2010 season, the Devils re-signed him to a 17-year $102 million contract which the league rejected because it was back-loaded and circumvented the NHL’s salary cap. Then the NHL amended its Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to disallow other organizations from utilizing this loophole. The NHL punished the Devils who were forced to forfeit $3 million, a 3rd-round draft pick and a 1st-round draft pick.
So let’s do the math: The Devils invested: Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, a 2nd-round pick, two 1st-round picks, a 3rd-round pick, a $3 million fine, $23 million in salary and got in a large fight with Gary Bettman and the NHL over this.
It’s safe to say that this list was not worth it, considering that Kovalchuk retired with 12 years and $77 million remaining on his contract.
The Devils will now have a lot of salary cap space but if they knew this, would they have let forward David Clarkson become an unrestricted free agent? Clarkson was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs a few days ago at the start of the free agent signing season. So now the Devils have to find 2 premier players instead of just one.
The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, must have felt a little nervous when signing Clarkson from the Devils given the fact that Scott Neidermayer was elected to the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame this week.
How do the 2 relate, you might be asking?
Well, the Leafs known for terrible trades and horrible drafting have made some pretty sketchy decisions, since 1967’s expansion, such as; sending Lanny McDonald to Colorado or Owen Nolan from San Jose, or trading goalie Tuukka Rask and keeping Justin Pogge, while getting Andrew Raycroft in return, or trading 2 high draft picks Vesa Toskala in 2007, but the one that hurts the most, in my opinion is this one.
On October 16th, 1989 the Toronto Maple Leafs traded their 1st round draft pick in the 1991 NHL entry draft to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Tom Kurvers. That pick turned out to be Scott Neidermayer.
The Maple Leafs were a terrible team and with the recent addition of Europeans were easy to play against in the rough, tough Norris division. The coach, John Brophy, known for being tough himself insisted the team get tougher and that began with the laughable trade of speedy centre Russ Courtnal to the Montreal Canadiens for goon John Kordic (whom I met on the Toronto subway on the way to Wrestlemania 6 at the SkyDome. Kordic since died from an overdose)
Known for being a coaching carousel, the Leafs fired Broph after a 10 game winless streak and replaced him with Leaf legend and former captain George Armstrong – which didn’t matter with a terrible team as the Leafs finished last in the Norris division.
Over the summer, GM Stellick was fired, and Armstrong was not asked to return. Instead, the Leafs promoted their chief scout Floyd Smith to be the GM and they hired former New Jersey coach Doug Carpenter to run the team.
With Borje Salming and Chris Kotsopoulos leaving TO to sign with the Detroit Red Wings, and defenseman Rick Lanz deciding to play in Switzerland instead of Toronto, the team needed to add blueliners so they began with Rob Ramage, Al Iafrate, and they pushed along some young but unproven defensemen in Luke Richardson and Todd Gill. The Leafs also added Brad (no helmet, can’t skate) Marsh and tough guy Brian Curran – whom I remember as always having a broken jaw from fighting. Coach Carpenter knew the Devils well, and pointed to Tom Kurvers, who had already moved from the Canadiens to the Sabres and on to the Devils where as an offensive defenseman, managed 34 points during the 1987-88 season and 15 points in the playoffs. The following year, Kurvers lead the Devils in points from the defense with 16 goals and 50 assists.
So after losing 4 of their first 5 games in the 1989-90 season the Leafs and Devils agreed on a trade with the Leafs getting Kurvers and the Devils getting the Leafs 1st round draft pick in the 1991 entry draft.
Kurvers finished second to Iafrate in defensive scoring that year with 15 goals and 37 assists, helping the Leafs make the playoffs and finish 3rd in the Norris Division, however, the Leafs lost to the St. Louis Blues in 5 games – if you are around my age you will remember the Sergio Momesso slapshot from just past centre ice that goalie Alan Bester let in. That deflated the team and they were done in the series.
Toronto returned for the 1990-91 season with virtually the same roster, except Bester, who was demoted to Newmarket and was replaced by rookie Peter Ing. Unfortunately, the success of the previous season did not repeat itself. The Leafs again fell flat early in the season, going winless in the first seven games. After a win over Chicago, they lost another three games in a row and Carpenter was fired and replaced by former Vancouver and Winnipeg coach Tom Watt.
Watt was unable to pull Toronto out of their crash dive and by early November, the club was 2-15-1 and well on their way to finishing dead last in the league, which would have allowed them to draft the top prospect that year which was Oshawa General centre Eric Lindros. But with that debacle looming, panic set in and GM Smith traded over half the Leaf roster to avoid finishing dead last. Some of those trades included;
November 9, 1990 – Leafs trade John McIntyre to Los Angeles for Mike Krushelnyski
November 9, 1990 – Leafs trade Steve Bancroft (former 1st rounder) to Boston for Rob Cimetta
November 10, 1990 – Leafs trade Ed Olczyk and Mark Osborne to Winnipeg for Dave Ellett and Paul Fenton
November 17, 1990 – Leafs trade Scott Pearson (former 1st rounder) and their 1991 and 1992 second round picks to Quebec for Michel Petit, Lucien Deblois and Aaron Broten
December 17, 1990 – Leafs trade Lou Franceschetti and Brian Curran To Buffalo for Mike Foligno
In the end, the Leafs finished 11 points behind Quebec, with a 23-46-11 record, meaning Quebec drafted first (no draft lottery yet), while the expansion San Jose Sharks received the 2nd overall pick. The New JerseyDevils drafted 3rd with the Leafs pick from the Kurvers trade.
So what about Kurvers? Well he too was shipped out of Toronto, to the Vancouver Canucks for center Brian Bradley. Kurvers was traded at the end of that season to the New York Islanders, where he averaged over 40 points a season in his final three NHL seasons before he retired.
Niedermayer became the only player to win a Memorial Cup, World Junior Championship, IIHF World Championship, Olympic gold medal, Stanley Cup and the World Cup. He won the Norris Trophy for the best defenseman in the league in 2004, as well as helping the Devils win 3 Stanley Cups(1995, 2000 & 2003) and the Anaheim Ducks win one in 2007. He also won 2 Olympic Gold Medals for Canada in 2002 and 2010.
So while I wish Kovalchuk success in Russia, and Neidermayer congratulations for being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, I also feel a little frustrated knowing he could have been a Leaf.
Of course my Maple Leaf cynicism also has me doubting that the team would have developed him in the manner the Devils did, or that he would have had a player with the skill set of Scott Stevens to help him along.
Or maybe, the Leafs don’t panic and pick up Kurvers and instead draft Eric Lindros 1st overall…
Sigh. Say what you will New Jersey, but being a Toronto sports fan sucks!