NEWARK, N.J. – The NHL reduced its penalty against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday for signing Ilya Kovalchuk in 2010.
The Devils will keep the first-round draft pick they were scheduled to forfeit this year, and the league will reduce the $3 million fine assessed against the team for circumventing the NHL-NHLPA collective bargaining agreement
The Devils recently applied to the league for reconsideration and relief from a portion of the original penalty, citing primarily changes in circumstances which, in the club’s view, changed the appropriateness of the sanctions.
The NHL did not spell out what changed, but Kovalchuk retired after last season and returned to Russia to play there.
Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said the franchise’s new ownership asked the league to reconsider the penalty, and a hearing was held this year.
“We’re pleased,” said Lamoriello, who said several factors other than Kovalchuk’s retirement went into the league’s decision, without elaborating.
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur felt the original NHL penalty was harsh.
“I thought it was a bad judgment by them when they penalized with a first-round pick and all the money,” Brodeur said. “I thought they hit our organization pretty hard at the time. It will be nice for the future to count on an extra No. 1 pick.”
The league said the Devils will be entitled to the 30th selection overall—the last pick in the first round—in the 2014 draft. They will not be permitted to trade or transfer its right to that pick.
Kovalchuk, who had been acquired by the Devils in February 2010, became a free agent at the end of that season. New Jersey signed him to a 17-year, $102 million deal but the league ruled what would have been the longest contract in NHL circumvented the salary cap and rejected it.
Arbitrator Richard Bloch heard the union’s appeal and nullified the deal. The Devils eventually signed the Russian to a 15-year, $100 million contract deal. However, the NHL ruled the original contact tried to get around the salary cap and penalized the three-time Stanley Cup champions.
The Devils had already forfeited a third-round draft pick in 2011. The team also had a first-round draft pick taken from them in the ruling handed down by an independent arbiter, but they had the right to defer until 2014. The Devils kept deferring the loss of the first-round pick, which they were due to lose in June.
The NHL said it would not comment further on the decision.