NHL Begins Contract Witch Hunt

Wow is all I have to say.

NHL.com is reporting that the league is now looking in to every “long term contract” to see if it violates the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Thanks to Richard Bloch’s decision that the contract the Devils issued Ilya Kovalchuk violated terms in the CBA and the leagues rejection is valid, the league is now armed and ready to go after any long-term deal and see if it does something similar.

On the NHL’s most wanted list are

  • Vancouver’s Robert Luongo
  • Boston’s Marc Savard
  • Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger
  • Chicago’s Marian Hossa

The league is taking matters very seriously.  In fact, Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has met with league lawyers last Wednesday, August 4, before the hearing of Kovalchuk’s contract was finished.  Upon the leagues registration of Marc Savard’s contract back on December 1, 2009, the league informed Chiarelli that they would be investigating the contract further.

Which to me begs the question – why did the league approve the contract in the first place?  That’s the leagues fault for approving it – if they want to investigate it further, they should have before saying it was OK.

 

I will come clean – I was on the leagues side during the lockout.  I believed a salary cap was needed.  Things were getting out of hand, teams were going broke, and to be honest, GMs needed to learn how to better manage player acquisitions.

But this is going to get bad really quickly.

I won’t say I’ve had a change of heart, because I really believe the cap is a good thing.  But I think everyone knows the CBA isn’t perfect and could use some tweaking.  It cannot be tweaked on the fly like this – that is just wrong.  The NHL cannot simply start to interpret the agreement differently all of a sudden and thanks to morons like Bloch get away with it.  Maybe the two sides, the NHL and the NHLPA need to come together and simply define some boundaries, some limits of what is acceptable and what isn’t.

Ha.

NHL – you were right for wanting a salary cap.  It was something the league as a whole needed.  But now you’re just starting to look like bullies.  Commissioner Garry Bettman, you better watch out.  You have public opinion on your side and many players in your corner during the lockout of 2004-05.  But if you keep this up, you’re going to lose, trust me.  You’ll be facing a PR war that’ll be very hard to win.  You broke the Players Association, but do you want to break the fans, the ones that fund the sport?

How to Read Kovalchuk’s Contract Rejection

It’s official, everyone has posted that the contract has circumvented the Collective Bargaining Agreement with arbitrator Richard Bloch’s decision that the NHL was right in rejecting the deal.

Couple of things: One, I am starting to feel more and more certain that the NHL is afraid if the Devils get good again, the league as a whole will suffer.  Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but this is starting to bother me.

Two, there are other long term deals that the NHL has approved that did similar things.  What’s the guideline here?  What is acceptable and what isn’t?  Does this decision give us a figure that we can abide by to get the NHL’s a-okay?

Three, this might not be as bad as it looks.  Here’s why:

If the Devils don’t sign Kovalcuk at all, they have $2.8 million in cap room that they can play with.  This means if the deal did go through, they would need to drop $3.2 million in salary before the season started.  That’s actually quite a bit, and not something easily done without losing a couple of good guys.

Now if the contract is worked, approved by the NHL and we do get Kovalchuk, chances are we’re going to get a bigger cap hit then we want and maybe even need to drop more money before the beginning of the season.

While Kovalchuk’s offensive abilities would be a nice addition to the Devils shallow offensive lines, would they want to risk dropping some good guys to make up for it?

I figure if this deal were to go through, Lou had a plan already in place of who was going to be kicked off of the island, but we probably wouldn’t know until after the start of training camp, as the cap limit doesn’t go in to effect until the season starts.

Now we must wait and see what comes of all of this.  We don’t yet know the complete fall-out as more could still come.  The NHL could fine the Devils, they could be forced to sacrifice draft picks for next season, and they could collectively get a spanking from Gary Bettman himself.

I hope that last one isn’t true.

Just In: Kovi’s a Free Agent

According to nhl.com, arbitrator Richard Bloch has ruled in the NHL’s favor and Ilya Kovalchuk is now an unrestricted free agent with his original contract from the NJ Devils now being null and void.

This will hurt the Devils if they want to sign him, as they now need to re-work the contract to take more of a cap hit if he won’t take a lower salary to play.

Round 2: The Waiting Game

The case for Ilya Kovalchuk has concluded, with both the NHL and the Players’ Association concluding their final arguments on Thursday.  Arbitrator Richard Bloch spent the past few days listening to both sides defend their position on the league’s rejections of Kovi’s 17 year, $102 million contract.

The NHL contends the contract’s length puts Kovalchuk at 44 when when it expires, and they do not believe he will still be playing by then.  They claim that the length is just to draw out the money the Devils intend to pay him to lower the average salary across the length of the contract to roughly $6 million a season, even though the Devils will be paying him $10 and $11 million for a number of years.

The Devils and , by proxy, the Players’ Association, contend that this is not true, and that they have every intention of seeing Kovalchuk play out his entire contract.

The real sticking point, since there isn’t a true way to determine how long a player will actually play aside from wait-and-see, is whether or not the Devils are trying to circumvent the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) set in place by the league and must be abided by the General Managers and Players.

The argument from the NHLPA is that there is no language in the CBA that states the league has the right to make such a judgment, and with no set measurement in place, the league has no authority to revoke the contract between Ilya and the Devils.

The hockey world will now have to sit and wait – most likely the maximum 48 hours Bloch is allowed – to mull over the testimony from both sides.  That’s through Friday and Monday.  It is possible we see a decision sooner than Monday, but not very likely.

Round 1: Testimony

The Kovalchuk case is all but started.  The “system” arbitrator is in place (Richard Bloch), the locale has been set (Boston), and the date has been made (Tuesday).

Wait, Tuesday?  That’s tomorrow!

Road trip anyone?

Well, here’s the low down on what we expect.  Richard Bloch, not to be confused with the one half of H&R Block (who died in 2004, by the way), dealt with sports arbitrations a great deal.  He handled some NFL arbitration cases and was also selected in a few NHL cases as well.

I could rattle them off, but you probably don’t know or don’t care about them.  There is one, however, that will live in my mind for a long time.  If you remember back to the summer of 2006, Scott Gomez filed for arbitration.  He was awarded a $5 million contract by none other than our good friend Richard Bloch.

This day lives in infamy because it started the “Days Left with the Devils” clock on Scott Gomez.  Lou did not like the outcome.

If you try to read in to this, you’d think that Bloch was a player friendly guy – but try not to.

My assumption here is that he’s going to look at facts.

Fact 1: Is the Devils contract for Ilya Kovalchuk front-loaded?
Yes!  The sheer numbers do not lie, this contract pays him out a great deal more up front over the next 10 years than the last 7.

Fact 2: Does this contract lower the single season cap hit?
Yes!  Again, simple math tells us that because of the low numbers at the end of the contract, the Devils cap hit is only between $5 and $6 million when they are paying out $10 and $11 million for a number of seasons.

Fact 3: Do points 1 and 2 circumvent the CBA?
No!

Here’s the hard truth of the matter.  The CBA does not explicitly outline guidelines for what contracts can and cannot be.

  • At no time does the CBA limit the term length of the contract.
  • It does not give the NHL permission to predict how long a player might play for.
  • It does limit the amount the contract can drop from season to season, and the Devils are within those guidelines.

The current CBA is what outlines the fact that a player’s “cap hit” is the average of all the seasons’ salaries combined.

At this point, the NHL does not have the authority to change the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  They cannot unilaterally change what they interpret the CBA to mean in a situation like this.  Instead, these points, if the NHL wants to change them, must do it at the next CBA negotiations.

My recommendation – during the next CBA talks – the NHL must make one change: whatever a player makes this season, that’s how much the cap hit is.  That’ll solve this problem.

Rumors are we’ll have a decision early next week.  I’m putting my money on Lou and the Devils.