Lou Lamoriello would always work hard to save a few dollars on contracts — and would play an alienating brand of hardball to do so — but the Devils were always a team that carried a high payroll during their Cup years, and continue to do so now. He signed Patrik Elias(notes) to a 7-year deal with $42 million the year after the lockout; that's frugal?
That said: 17 years and $102 million for a player he didn't draft doesn't strike one as being Lamorielloian, and the Devils President/GM/Ruler of All He Surveys said as much in a candid moment with Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record:
Lamoriello said he "absolutely" rolled his eyes when the Islanders signed Rick DiPietro(notes) to a 15-year contract in 2006 and when Washington signed Alex Ovechkin(notes) to a 13-year contract in 2008. He also said he "absolutely" rolled his eyes about the Kovalchuk's contract terms.
So why would he sign Kovalchuk to such a deal?
"You'd have to speak to ownership about that," Lamoriello said. "The commitment that ownership has made here, this is a commitment and a decision they wanted to make for this type of a player and all I can do is say whether the player is a player that will fit into the team, can help the team and is not a risk as a player. As far as what the financial commitment is and that aspect of it, that was out of my hands."
Decoding Lou: He believes in Kovalchuk as an asset to the roster he's assembled (why else trade for him?) ... but this contract is nuts and if you want to know how we afford it, ask the man upstairs. Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek, that is.
Lamoriello seems to infer that Vanderbeek is the driving force behind the term and the value of this contract, if not the driving force behind reacquiring Kovalchuk altogether. Which is, in the history of this franchise, a surprising bit of candor. (Candor that makes us believe, potentially, that Lamoriello's kicking the "blame" for the controversial contract upstairs to take the heat off himself; with Vanderbeek a more-than-willing scapegoat.)
From Steve Politi of the Star Ledger: "This a stunning departure for the franchise and a strong sign that Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek is fed up with his team losing in the first round."
So is Lamoriello, of course. We're reminded of what one agent said in our Free-Agent Confidential piece earlier this summer: "He's thinking that this is going to be someone else's problem in a few years and 'I don't give a [expletive].' I think he sees a two-year window to win."
And let ownership figure out the rest.