Maybe it's just me, but Kovy always seems to have that deer-in-headlights look.

There’s something fishy going on in New Jersey, something that would make Tony Soprano proud.

It seems $100 million can buy a lot of things nowadays. That’s the infamous salary given to Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, a contract signed this summer which keeps him in New Jersey for the next 15 years. That kind of money puts Kovy well on his way to buying the L.A Clippers, or the entire country of Nauru. Personally, I’d rather own Nauru.

You may have heard something about Kovalchuk’s contract negotiations, because they kind of took a while. Hockey fans and media alike moaned and groaned about the lavished contract bestowed upon Kovalchuk, and the shrewd tactics of Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, but at least it kept us busy all summer. It was a bitter, ugly battle, but Kovalchuk finally returned to the swamp, and the world kept turning.

And now he’s a healthy scratch.

Prior to New Jersey’s game against Buffalo Saturday night, Kovalchuk took part in the optional morning skate, and he was on the ice for Friday’s practice. Then, without any explanation, the Devils’ leading scorer wasn’t in the lineup, with a team spokesperson only saying he’s a healthy scratch.

Just a thought, but maybe the Devils could have used him since they were steamrolled 6-1 by the Sabres. Of course, we’ve had a summer to learn nothing is ever black-and-white in Lamoriello’s tight-lipped empire. Simplicity is far too boring, and far too easy for Sweet Lou.

Lamoriello is very Belichickian in terms of his dealings with the media, but as easy as it is to haul out your conspiracy theories handbook, it’s difficult to think that Kovalchuk would participate in consecutive practices if there’s an injury to be hidden.

Tom Gullitti of the Bergen Record has been on the Kovalchuk watch since last February when the 27-year-old came to New Jersey from Atlanta at the trade deadline. Gullitti observed Kovalchuk working on his game sticks outside the New Jersey dressing room after the morning skate. Determining when exactly Kovalchuk received word of his demotion to the press box is about as easy as finding out who was on the grassy knoll, but it seems that he expected to play as of this morning.

Kovalchuk has two goals and five points over the Devils’ first seven games. On the surface these are fine numbers, but in the early going Kovalchuk perhaps hasn’t shown the consistency the Devils would like. His scoring has come in bunches, as Kovalchuk has scored all of his points in three games, and has posted goose eggs in the other four. He also has a -3 rating, a category the 2-5-1 are a league worst -11 as a team.

There are times a star player–or even secondary scorers–get benched. It’s the easiest and most obvious way for a coach to send a message, but it’s quite rare. The most recent example may be Alex Kovalev being benched by Guy Carbonneau when he was in Montreal, a reaching comparison if there ever was one. Kovalev was–and still is–on the down slope of his career, while Kovalchuk is still a threat every time he touches the puck, and has scored at least 80 points for three straight years.

Maybe the NHL is having third thoughts about that contract, and Gary Bettman himself pulled Kovalchuk at the last minute. There, that should get the rumour mill going…

UPDATE: Devils rookie head coach John MacLean said he made the decision to scratch Kovalchuk, and he was not under the influence of management whatsoever. However, MacLean would not say why he made this decision, only adding that Kovalchuk was informed that he would not play around mid-day. Kovalchuk was nowhere to be found after the game, and MacLean said he’ll “make that decision in the morning” when asked if the team’s high-priced star will be in the lineup Sunday night against the Rangers.

Comments (9)

  1. This is not related to this article but is there any chance Sharp will continue to score at this pace I mean his careerr shooiting % is 12.8 and his highest was only 17% so I dont see it but still he’s not slowing so far.

  2. The world knows that Kovalchuk does not skate backwards. Which is why I was always mystified why LL would have a glimmer of interest in him, his scoring notwithstanding.

    This might or might not be something to do with his benching.

    Unfortunately, John M. will probably come in last ina war of wills with a diva who has a no-trade clause to play with.

  3. whats fishy is jersey lost neidermayer years ago, and have not had a puck moving d since, brodeur has put up all the numbers he could but then playoffs come and they get worked.

    Paul martin, volchenkov etc. these guys over the years and now wont cut it.

    The worst part is when a few guys get healthy they will be in the same boat they were a few weeks ago with the cap, they need to make a deal for a puck moving d, maybe rolston and arnott for someone? Lots of no trade clauses on that roster though so will be tough.

    They are good upfront and i think if they get that they will be able to pretty much (like most other teams) rely on the 1 line, a solid top 2 d and some others, and of course the best goalie of all time.

    Getting volch back will be good, but then the cap

    Have fun lou !! maybe he’ll be coaching in a few weeks?

  4. the devils were idiots to sign him to that contract and i say good for them they have no way to get rid of him and when brodeur retires there goes the whole franchise did LL forget about the cap ? there is no way kovalchuk should be making more money then ovie and crosby he’s just not in there class.

  5. [...] rookie head coach John MacLean benched Ilya Kovalchuk Saturday night. We can sure speculate, and that’s one thing we’re pretty good at, but the seal is shut pretty tight over at the swamp.But here’s one thing that became [...]

  6. [...] this talented lineup is going to get moving, but right now he’s part of the problem. After his strange and still unexplained benching, Kovalchuk has only one point. Now Zach Parise is injured, bringing more worry to an offence [...]

  7. [...] act, both on and off the ice.MacLean’s job came into question immediately following his decision to make Ilya Kovalchuk (he of the 15-year, $100 million contract) a healthy scratch.  Given the circumstances around the benching (Kovalchuk was late for a team meeting), it’s [...]

  8. [...] season with the Panthers.  Ballard comes in at an annual cap-hit of $4.2 million, thus joining Ilya Kovalchuk in the category of the league’s more expensive healthy scratches.The Province has more on the [...]

  9. [...] with a paltry 35 points and have been the butt of a lot of jokes since signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a ridiculous $100 million contract. The news of Vanderbeek planting a for sale sign on the club would come as more disheartening news [...]

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