This has nothing to do with Kovalchuk going to the KHL. Nothing at all. Remember, the penalty is for the first contract.
I don't agree. There are a few factors. New ownership is one and Kovy going to Russia is the other. If one or the other doesn't happen I think the penalty likely stands. Remember that the NHL (Bettman) is essentially taking a big of egg on their faces by doing this and Bettman just isn't that willing to admit error. As others have pointed out I think this does have to do with Kovy leaving the team and explains why LL didn't fight Kovy over his departure. LL has torn apart players in arbitration to save a few bucks in the past and I don't see any reason why he wouldn't throw a rod and try to hold Kovy to his contract unless he had gained something behind the scenes. OTOH, the new ownership surely helped this along. Again, as others have pointed out, VBK wasn't the most popular owner deapite what were good intentions IMHO.