Revenue increased on a per capita basis, TV ratings reached record levels and the NHL conducted business as usual once the Board of Governors unlocked the doors in January, but Owners’ Lockout III did indeed produce collateral damage, with Ilya Kovalchuk serving as Exhibit A.

The tidal wave of condemnation in bidding Kovalchuk good riddance is understandable in the wake of the 30-year-old winger’s betrayal of the Devils organization, his teammates and the New Jersey fan base in order to follow his heart home to continue his career in Russia.

But it was this latest lockout that unlocked the door to St. Petersburg and the KHL for Kovalchuk, a man of independence who was ultimately granted his by Lou Lamoriello as the least of all evils.

There may be owners on the NHL Board of Governors, but 15-year contract notwithstanding, Kovalchuk simply would not cede ownership of his life to these men who had prohibited him from playing under that very contract for more than the first scheduled three months of last season.

It is hypothetical, of course, but the chances are remote Kovalchuk would have left the Devils for Russia if not for the lockout, given the fact the winger endured a circumvention hearing, a nullified contract and the threat of yet another circumvention hearing during the summer of 2010 when the KHL beckoned, offering far more than the $100 million on the table in New Jersey.

On Jan. 4, the day before the marathon negotiating session commenced that would lead to settlement of the lockout in the wee hours of Jan. 6, the NHLPA dissuaded Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin from issuing a joint statement declaring their intent to remain in Russia for at least the remainder of the KHL season regardless of whether or when the NHL reopened.