It’s not every day that I can honestly say that I agree with Gary Bettman and the NHL. Upon rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year $102 million deal with the New Jersey Devils the league cited “circumvention of the salary cap” as its reasoning, as vague and indeterminable as that phrase is as it relates to the collective bargaining agreement. For myself and fellow cynics, a simple argument on the grounds of common sense would have been sufficient, although, we all know that wouldn’t hold up in Bettman’s “kangaroo court”.
Agreeing with the notion that the proposed Kovalchuk contract was absurd and that it warranted a ruling of null and void doesn’t mean that I’m in favour of the looming fallout. Not at all in fact; I wish it never came to this. Had Kovalchuk signed an equally lucrative contract with fewer years on it we’d still scrutinize it, but he, his agent Jay Grossman, and the Devils just had to blow the CBA out of the water in what will only compound impending labour negotiations.
Many pundits were quick to cite the lengthy contracts of Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Vincent Lecavalier, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Zetterberg, et al as reasonable grounds for a ruling in favour of Kovalchuk and the Devils. It simply wasn’t so, and now those somewhat similar “retirement” contracts face the possibility of “withdrawal” as James Mirtle has detailed at length based on Bloch’s ruling.
Our own Jonathan Willis previously outlined the factors that made Kovalchuk’s deal incomparable to those belonging to other superstars. Fundamentally, the “fake years” tacked on to the end of Kovy’s contract were the difference-maker. On that point, sure, we all knew that Hossa, Pronger, Luongo, Zetterberg, etc. were signing contracts that would carry them to retirement, but there was – at least on some level – an effort to mask that poorly hidden reality. A front-loaded deal is a front-loaded deal, but a more equitable dispersion of dollars versus years may have helped the Devils and Kovalchuk escape the selective long arm of Bettman’s law.
The NHL looks bad and the Devils look burned. Should Bettman and co. have stepped in two or three years ago when these monstrous deals first started appearing? Probably, but they didn’t. It’s not going to be a case of too little too late so much as it is one giant clusterfuck that preps the grounds for Armageddon 2012. Other deals are being looked at on the heels of Monday’s Kovalchuk ruling, and if the NHL opts for the withdrawal method then things could get messier than we could have ever imagined.