Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wait, more Kovalchuk drama?


Well... I guess it's not over with Ilya Kovalchuk's 2010-11 hockey destination.

In a move I can only refer to as stunning, the NHL has rejected Kovalchuk's 17-year, $102 million contract with New Jersey, citing grounds of its length and the low payments over the final six years.

If you read this blog, you probably read Michael Russo's, so you already know the final six years of Kovalchuk's contract average $583,000. Each salary during those six years is under $1 million, and, to steal a Russo Tweet, is the most blatant of these cap-cheating contracts.

I believe I've railed against these contracts before. There's something about a player being paid $3 or $4 million more than his cap hit that should rile up anyone who's not a fan of that team. In Kovalchuk's case, it would be nearly double over a third of his contract, when he'd be pulling in a salary of $11.5 million for five straight seasons but have a cap hit of just $6 million.

This raises the question of why the NHL didn't reject any of the other contracts like this. Off the top of my head, these include Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit), Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith (Chicago), Chris Pronger (Philadelphia*), Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay) and Roberto Luongo (Vancouver). Each of those contracts drop sharply in annual salary over the final few years, but none as drastically as Kovalchuk's.

(* - Pronger, as a 35+ player, can't retire and have the cap hit disappear, but the annual hit is lowered over a period of time.)

That, apparently, is why they were approved and not Kovalchuk's.

So what's next? Well, the Devils and Kovalchuk can re-structure the deal. More likely, the NHLPA will file a grievance (it has five days to do so) and then an arbitrator will decide. Hopefully the arbitrator - assuming it gets that far - will rule in favor of the league. These contracts are legal by the letter of the law but violate the spirit of the salary cap, and a clause exists that allows the league to terminate such attempts to circumvent the cap.

Also hopefully, this will be the first step in doing away with these kinds of contracts. Whether that means a term limit in the next collective bargaining agreement or some other solution that doesn't have a flagrant loophole, I don't know, but it needs to be done.

We'll see if it actually happens.

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