The $73,000 scratch

Seems $100 million doesn't mean much in the NHL these days. Results matter.

Still, Saturday's decision by first-year New Jersey Devils coach John MacLean to bench high-scoring - and high-priced - forward Ilya Kovalchuk is one of the most eyebrow-raising moves this season by any team.

Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch for Saturday's 6-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. For those with short memories, this is the same Kovalchuk and these are the same Devils who dragged out a contract saga for more much of this past summer.

First, it was a 17-year, $102 million deal in July that the NHL rejected because it circumvented the salary cap. After the union filed a grievance, a 15-year, $100 million agreement was hammered out and given blessing by the legal department on Avenue of the Americas.

Not without a heavy hand coming down. The league fined the Devils $3 million and took away two high draft picks over the next four years.

General manager Lou Lamoriello told the New York Times in September that things are just fine between New Jersey and Kovy.

“Certainly, the Devils are pleased that Ilya Kovalchuk will be an asset for the team for years to come," he said.

Or seven games into the new season, anyway.

Though Kovalchuk is tied for the team lead with five points, the Devils are in last place, and MacLean has said that all players are responsible for the slow start.

Commendable, sure, but look at the message being sent.

According to Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski, the decision to bench Kovalchuk was made by MacLean, arguably one of the best players in Devils franchise history.

"That's between him and I. It was my decision." MacLean said, and told The Associated Press that Kovalchuk knows the reason for being benched.

There is also a chance that Kovalchuk will be held out from Sunday's tilt against the New York Rangers. Based on his $6 million salary this season, Kovalchuk will lose $73,000 for each game he's held out.

So, what we have here, if I read this right, is an old-fashioned pissing match between a coach trying to exert his influence and a superstar player.

This scenario has been played out countless times.

Johnny Mac? Your intentions are good in wanting to show that you are the bench boss. Being the franchise's all-time goal-scoring leader also helps enhance your status some.

It will only go so far.

I don't know what Kovalchuk did that raised MacLean's hackles, but this is not some rookie from Moose Jaw. Kovalchuk was a No. 1 overall pick, and despite some perceptions of being soft, the Russian has scored at least 41 goals in six straight seasons.

Plus, you know, there is that contract and what it cost the Devils.

Advantage, Kovalchuk. Whether MacLean likes it or not.

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