After that, though, it would seem a defensible risk to pick up Kovalchuk, if only to sell him on the merits of the city and the organization over the final months of the season and into the playoffs. Boston's scoring woes aren't going away - a primary reason why they were 0-6-2 in their past eight and with only a single victory in the past 12 games going into Thursday's action. That's not good enough in a conference that boasts two of the hottest teams in the NHL, Washington and Ottawa, plus the defending champion Penguins.
Meanwhile, the Kings weren't prepared to give up Wayne Simmonds as part of a deal for Kovalchuk; curious since Simmonds is playing fewer than 15 minutes per night for Los Angeles. Eventually, you do have to give up something for a player of Kovalchuk's stature.
The Devils were already the second-best team in the Eastern Conference even without Kovalchuk - and even as they've hit a 3-6-1 bump in the road. With him, they should theoretically be prepared to compete with anyone. Boston? Not so much.
MORE KOVALCHUK: Hours before pulling the trigger on the Kovalchuk deal, Waddell went public with the offers that couldn't get a contract extension done - a 12-year, $101-million (all currency U.S.) deal that would have amounted to the lifetime contract Kovalchuk sought; or a seven-year, $70 million option that would have leapt him past Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin into top spot among NHL earning leaders. It was a calculated move, but a completely understandable one, too. Coming out of the lockout, Kovalchuk used the threat of staying home to play in Russia to extract his current deal out of the Thrashers - Atlanta ownership eventually succumbed to the pressure because it didn't feel it could afford to lose its marquee star. Now, some four-and-a-half years later, it was not about to cede to the same pressure again.
What makes things even more complicated for Atlanta is that as a mid-market team in the southern United States, they really can't afford to spend to the salary-cap limit, or risk losing out on the NHL's revenue-sharing revenue. Accordingly, if Kovalchuk wanted the maximum allowed under the CBA - 20 per cent of the salary cap - he would effectively gobble up between 25 and 27 per cent of the actual Atlanta payroll because they are not going to go to $56.8-million under any circumstance.
For one player out of 23 to eat up a quarter of the payroll makes little sense, if the goal is to win as a team. Kovalchuk and his agent Jay Grossman forced Waddell's hand. Even as Kovalchuk kept insisting that his goal was to stay in Atlanta, there was little chance of that happening unless he was prepared to give a little on his salary demands.
"In a cap world, you have to make all the pieces fit," said Waddell. "If you have one player take up that much of your cap, it makes it hard to fit all those other pieces in there. As our younger players get better, they're going to demand bigger contracts - and you've got to look at that moving forward."
The Devils didn't enter the fray for Kovalchuk until this past weekend, when Waddell was taking in Sunday's game between New Jersey and the Los Angeles Kings. Lamoriello made an initial offer; when he finally included Cormier's name in the deal, that essentially tipped the scales in the Devils' favour.
So the Devils have Kovalchuk for now and presumably will make a push to sign him in the off-season, if the marriage between player and team works out. And if not, and if the goal is to, at all costs, maximize the dollars that he'll earn, then Kovalchuk may need to look homeward and sign with the Russian-based Continental Hockey League (KHL). Because the odds seem long that he'll earn more elsewhere in the NHL than what the Thrashers had on the table as negotiations broke down.