Monday marked the end of one chapter and the start of a new segment in this summer's Ilya Kovalchuk saga as arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled in favor of the NHL's decision to reject the star winger's 17-year, $102 million contract with the New Jersey Devils.
"The NHLPA is disappointed with the Arbitrator's ruling to uphold the NHL's rejection of the contract between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk. The NHLPA is currently reviewing the decision and will have no further comment at this time."
One of the main reasons this case has been so intriguing is that Kovalchuk's contract is hardly the first long-term, front-loaded agreement to spring up in the NHL's salary cap era but it was the first the league sought to veto. In addition to potentially setting a precedent on these types of deals, the ruling may signal a chance for the league to try to reject pre-existing cap-circumventing contracts. From James Mirtle at The Globe and Mail:
Bloch also noted that several other long-term contracts are under investigation for circumvention, listing deals given to Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo, Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard, Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger and Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa as raising similar red flags to Kovalchuk's rejected contract.
"While the contracts have in fact been registered, their structure has not escaped league notice," the decision reads. "Those players' contracts are being investigated currently with at least the possibility of a subsequent withdrawal of the registration."
Several agents contacted Monday were alarmed by the implication of the league going after contracts already in effect.
"I've never heard of a contract that had been registered and approved and then having that registration withdrawn," said one agent, who requested to remain anonymous.
"The league has two months now to go after Savard, Pronger and Luongo [whose contract extensions began July 1]. Until they start getting paid, they've got two months."
So why was this the contract that broke the camel's back? Well, no one knows exactly where the invisible line is with these deals, but there's plenty of evidence that the line is based on a combination of factors. From ESPN's Scott Burnside:
Part of it was the player's age at the end of the deal; Kovalchuk would have been 44. Bloch is right, no one not named Chris Chelios plays that long. Mark Recchi is currently the oldest player in the NHL, and he just signed a one-year deal with Boston that will take him to his 43rd birthday.
According to Bloch, only six players from more than 3,400 in the past two decades have played to the age of 42.
That, coupled with the fact that Kovalchuk's salary would have taken a precipitous dive -- from a high point of $11.5 million, which he would have been paid in years three through seven of the deal, to $550,000 for the final five years of the deal -- were enough for Bloch to take the league's side on this contentious issue.
Despite the ruling, it's possible Kovalchuk will remain in New Jersey as the Devils have reopened negotiations for a contract the NHL will approve. (via Fire and Ice)