The canny New Jersey GM got out from under Alexander Mogilny’s cumbersome salary Tuesday, allowing him to re-sign star winger Brian Gionta to a US$12-million, three-year contract as well as defencemen Dave Hale, Paul Martin, backup goalie Scott Clemmensen and forward Erik Rasmussen. And he did it all before the 3 p.m. ET deadline to submit opening day rosters.
“I’m happy that we’re able to get all of our players signed to keep our team together,” Lamoriello told The Canadian Press from his New Jersey office.
Lamoriello got the news he desperately wanted Tuesday when the NHL informed him that Mogilny could go on the long-term injury exception list, freeing up the $3.5-million the veteran winger was scheduled to earn this season in salary cap space.
Mogilny will still get paid but the ruling means the Devils will be able to exceed the $44-million salary cap by the amount of his salary.
The move comes two days after Lamoriello got rid of Vladimir Malakhov’s $3.6-million salary in a trade with San Jose, which cost him a first-round draft pick.
It makes for a combined $7.1 million in savings under the cap, allowing the signings Tuesday – and solving a difficult problem.
“I don’t know that difficult is the word, it’s just making sure that anything and everything that we’ve done is within the framework of what we have the ability to do both financially and within the rules,” Lamoriello said.
Gionta and Martin missed all of the pre-season as they waited for Lamoriello to clear up his salary cap troubles.
“We were very fortunate with the patience and loyalty that Brian has shown,” said Lamoriello. “Brian, Paul, David, Scott and Erik – they all knew the situation we were in. We were totally up front with the positives and the negatives and that we would do everything we could. We wanted them here. …
“Some of them (contracts) could have been done earlier but until you know what the pool of money you have to work with, you just can’t and I was honest with the players about that.”
Mogilny was difficult because he was 35 when he signed a two-year deal last summer. Under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, that meant he would count against the cap this season even if he retired, was released or played in the AHL. But the Devils convinced the NHL that his chronic hip injury was caused while playing for the Devils, which qualifies him for the long-term injury exception list.
The league examined the case and had Mogilny see an independent doctor Monday before allowing the Devils to place him on the long-term injury exception list.
“The neutral physician . . . determined that the player is disabled and unable to perform his duties as an NHL hockey player, which includes playing in NHL games,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press in an e-mail.
So the Devils get off the hook, which won’t please some other GMs around the league who were monitoring the situation. They will no doubt feel the 35-and-over clause in the CBA should have been the overriding factor with Mogilny. But the CBA also states that a player of any age can qualify for the long-term injury list if it’s a legitimate injury sustained while playing with the club.
The latter won out.
“I’m from the philosophy that I can only worry about what I have control over and that’s my own organization and my own team,” Lamoriello said when asked about the possible reaction from rival GMs. “I don’t allow anything else to determine how we operate.”
As for Mogilny, retirement could be in his future.
“I think he’s going to wait and see and analyse what he can do with his hip,” Mogilny’s agent J.P. Barry said Tuesday. “Right now he’s in too much pain to play at the level that he needs to be at to play in the NHL.”
Gionta, meanwhile, is coming off a career-high 48 goals and 41 assists last season. The Devils open their season Friday at Carolina.