If you haven't heard yet, Ilya Kovalchuck's 17 year deal with the NHL was dissalowed today by arbitrator Richard Bloch. The NHL has won the grievance, making Kovalchuck a UFA for the second time in one offseason.
We're assuming that the Devils and Kovalchuck made some sort of contingency contract for this situation, meaning that it's quite possible he sticks with the Devils anyways under a restructured deal. Luckily for New Jersey, it looks like they won't be hit with a fine for cap circumvention per Globe and Mail columnist James Mirtle. They can probably shave a few years off the deal, increase the cap his marginally, and still have Ilya in the Red and Black by training camp.
However, although this may eventually work out for all parties involved, we don't like the precedent set here today. With the CBA set to expire in 2012, the NHL has effectively increased the ammunition to be used by the NHLPA in any type of negotiations. These types of contracts are going to be one of the most significant issues brought up in two years.
While Bloch's decision in a vaccuum is understandable, one issue still remains-- how can you allow the contracts of Zetterberg, Hossa, Savard and Pronger (Pronger's case is a bit different, and we'll get to that), and then turn around and disallow Kovalchuck's? It seems like a contradiction, especially when one considers that under the letter of the CBA law, this contract should be legal. It exploits a loophole, and while we don't agree with that loophole (i.e. these contracts clearly play fast and loose with expectations of how long a player will play under his contract), these contracts have been deemed legal before.
Bloch's claims that the length of the contract, specifically the age of Kovalchuck at the end of the deal, was the sticking point. Per Sportsnet.ca, Bloch stated that this "was a retirement contract," and extends "well beyond typical retirement age for NHL players." While that may be true on average, the recent efforts by former star players show that the most skilled of players are more than capable of playing into their 40's if the will to play remains.
NBC's ProHockeyTalk sums up Kovalchuck's contract very well: "Kovalchuk's deal is something of a Frankenstein Monster of the other bad contracts. It adds even more inconceivable years (basically as many as Hossa and Zetterberg probably won't play combined) to the longest contract handed out and would end with him at the oldest age.The one saving grace is that it at least drops a little less abruptly than some of the other ones, going from $11.5M to $10.5M to $8.5M then $6.5M and finally hitting that mid-range year at $3.5M."
There's an argument for either side here, but the NHL comes out looking pretty foolish in our opinion. In essence, they let this happen due to the allowance of the other contracts. It was unavoidable that a contract like this would surface, and now the NHL will take the PR hit for it.
If we had our way with the CBA, all contracts (regardless of when they were signed), would count against the cap after the player turned 35. In addition, contracts signed before a player's 35th birthday could not extend past the player's 40th birthday. In our opinion, those stipulations would close the loophole rather quickly. You could still finagle one of the deals, but it would affect the team down the road even if the player were to retire.
This is the ultimately why we don't look at Pronger's deal as a comparable to Kovalchuk's. If Pronger retires before his contract is complete, Philadelphia will be on the hook for the entirety of his $4.92MM cap hit. Although the extra years tacked on at the end allowed the Flyers to reduce his cap hit now, the fact that they will be forced to shoulder a five million dollar burden when Pronger retires serves as a cautionary tale to other League GM's who wish to pursue contract such as these.
The question now remains where does Kovalchuk end up playing during 2010-2011. As we mentioned intitally, New Jersey is still an option, and it wouldn't surprise us if a contingency deal was in place. However, the fact remains that Los Angeles Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi could be frantically working the phones right now in an attempt to take one more stab at the high profile scoring winger. If he lands in the Pacific Division, expect the Kings to be a huge powerhouse next year, with the potential to end the Sharks three year hold on the Division title.