NHL Wins, Kovalchuk a Free Agent


The NHLPA filed a grievance against the NHL for rejecting Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils' mammoth 17 year contract. After an arbitration hearing for both sides, today the ruling was in favor of the NHL, thus making Ilya Kovalchuk a free agent.

Excerpt from Michael Stephens Added

This does bring up some concerning facts. The first is in regards to the NHL now winning a legal case over their control for player contracts. There is an incredible loop-hole in the current CBA which confirms that players who sign a contract at the age of 35 or over will stay on the cap regardless of retirement. Meanwhile, teams can sign players like Kovalchuk to ridiculous long-term contracts, well beyond the reality of when he will retire, in order to drop the cap hit average per year while still complying to the player's high price demands. Should he retire, his contract will not count against the cap as he signed it prior to the age of 35.

The NHL's attempt to address this increasing issue, which up until this point made a farce of the league, was successful and thus the odds of a new layoff to negotiate another Collective Bargaining Agreement could be put on the back burner as the NHL has the ball in their court (or puck on their side of the red line).

With the league now having the arbitration in their favor, they can address several further issues that may arise simply by rejecting the incidents and allowing the NHLPA to take them to another arbitration hearing. The more events that go to arbitration, the more power the NHL receives. The NHLPA may want to pursue another CBA, but with the legal courts favoring the NHL's perspective on this issue, it's difficult to have any hopes of winning the debate in negotiations.

But questions do remain on behalf of fans and players alike on why it took the league so long to attack one of these heavily front-loaded, long-term deals. The simplest answer is that up until now, they never had to. With contracts taking players to the age of 40, the NHL left it in the hands of the teams and general managers knowing that each franchise would eventually have to deal with it should the player continue to play. Now that the deals are reaching ages beyond 40, the odds of that player ever accommodating his contract is slim, and thus the NHL felt it necessary to step in before the 25 year deals start popping up, and until today, who is to say those deals would not present themselves?

The NHL now has more power to review future deals that might attempt a similar line of contract offers. With one arbitration hearing under their belt and in their favor, the NHLPA will have to reassess themselves and their situation with the debate on how to move forward. Perhaps this is a time to bite the bullet and let it go or fans could be in for another long break.

From Michael Stephens:

The renouncement of this deal helps to give some credibility to the league’s salary cap system. In theory the salary cap should have the ability to act as a measuring stick for the general talent level and value of players relative to each other. In a cap system where Mikko Koivu is worth $6.75 Million a season, how can a perennial 50 goal threat like Kovalchuk be ‘worth’ $750 000 less than him in the theoretical ledger? One of the most dynamic and competent offensive threats in the league, his own ‘value’ on ice was more than the proposed cap hit could ever be. This is not to insult the valiant efforts of Saku’s little brother, but Mikko is no Ilya. Of course, when Chris Drury and Scott Gomez are worth 7 mil, you can clearly see that I am a deluded, foolhearty idealist.

I have in previous articles and posts decried the nature of front loaded contracts so I feel that this is a victory for the entire league. I argued that the nature of the deal wasn’t being met in good faith and thankfully both the league and Mr Bloch saw through the paper-thin pretense. I wholeheartedly agree with Bloch’s verdict, and hope that this announcement will be the precursor to a more adroitly formulated and less exploitable set of rules surrounding the construction of contracts in the next CBA. Unfortunately, the existing contracts (Zetterberg, Luongo, Franzen, et al.) will all but assuredly be grandfathered in the new CBA.

This is not to suggest, however, that the Devils won’t re-sign the star left winger. I have every belief that the Devils brass will offer the same or similar money on a shorter term. A 14 year, $102 Million deal would see an annual cap hit of $7.29 Mil. Still not of adequate value for a player of Kovalchuk’s worth in my estimation, but it’s a little less transparently veiled on the part of the Devils.

Micheal A. Aldred