When rumours of a proposed 17-year contract offer for Ilya Kovalchuk from Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils first began to float, there were essentially two schools of thought. There were those that dismissed the absurdity of the idea, and there were those that thought just maybe Lou had gone off the deep end in an effort to sign the 27-year old Russian. As the rumours started to become a reality it was as though Kovalchuk and his agent Jay Grossman were simply trying to expose every possible loophole in the collective bargaining agreement on purpose. For the NHL, “circumvention” is the preferred nomenclature. Late Tuesday, the Kovalchuk deal was rejected.
Something was awry with the Kovalchuk deal from the beginning. The NHL has seen its share of questionable contracts tabled and accepted over the last several seasons, but nothing quite as facetious as the one signed by Ilya Kovalchuk on Monday. From the way Tuesday’s press conference at the Prudential Center unfolded, Kovalchuk’s shit-eating grin, and Lamoriello’s own admission that this deal was out of the ordinary – there was bound to be some level of investigation.
“… there is nothing that we have done wrong. This is within the rules. This is in the CBA. There are precedents that have been set. But I would agree we shouldn’t have these. But I’m also saying that because it’s legal and this is something that ownership felt comfortable doing for the right reasons.”
– s/t Fire and Ice
An immediate outcry from Devils fans and the CBA-obsessed following the announcement of the NHL’s rejection of the deal will have little impact on any impending decision resulting from, in all likelihood, a grievance filed from the NHLPA. Although, there were a number of pertinent questions raised as to why the NHL is only stepping up now after the plethora of similar long-term deals signed in offseasons past. As the fellas at Behind The Net have pointed out: “There are nine existing contracts that ‘violate the spirit of the CBA’ by de-escalating a player’s salary over a number of years to reduce his salary cap hit”.
It’s true that the lengthy deals binding the likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Alex Ovechkin, Duncan Keith, Chris Pronger, etc. are all in violation of the ‘spirit’ of the CBA. With none of those contracts exceeding 13 years in length, it’s feasible that Kovalchuk’s camp could make the argument of ‘what, then, is the cutoff for contract length?’. The NHLPA has five days from the date of rejection to file a grievance. These next few days should prove to be very contentious for all parties involved.