Did The Devils Pay $100M To Kovalchuk So Russian Billionaire Prokhorov Would Buy Them?

Mikhail Prokhorov nets

New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek was desperate to sign Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk this summer because he wants to sell the team to New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, sources tell the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Vanderbeek insists he has no plans to sell the team. He is a longtime Devils fan who held season tickets for 20 years before purchasing the team in 2004. (He used the fortune he accumulated as a high-ranking Lehman Brothers executive to do so.) Those facts make it easy to dismiss the conspiracy theory.

But here’s why it actually has some legs. Vanderbeek is well-regarded for being wise enough to leave personnel decisions to legendary general manager Lou Lamoriello. The huge, $100 million Kovalchuk signing – that the Devils had to twist and turn to comply with NHL rules – goes against everything Lamoriello has stood for in his 23 years at the helm. Normally, he eschews the big name player, allows the high-priced goal-scorers to leave, and quietly builds around defence and goaltender Martin Brodeur. Even he admitted ownership showed more involvement than ever before when signing the Russian star. 

With that in mind, the Globe and Mail report seems reasonable.

If Vanderbeek did want to unload the team, looking to Mikhail Prokhorov is a good place to start. He already has a bottomless fortune and a huge stake in the region’s sports scene. And signing a sniper that hails from the Motherland is one way to catch his attention.  Prokhorov has worked tirelessly to build a bridge between the Nets and Russia, so him coveting the Nets’ Prudential centre co-tenants with a Russian superstar isn’t so far-fetched.

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