Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Justice Has Prevailed

You had to wonder when the NHL would finally come to its senses regarding these "lifetime" contracts that teams were handing out to superstars who had accomplished nothing. Well, it appears the suits in the Ivory Tower in New York City have finally pulled their collective heads from the sand and noticed that the finances of one contract were completely ridiculous. In pulling their heads from the sand, they replaced it with a very clear line in the sand. Ilya Kovalchuk is still a free agent, the New Jersey Devils need to rework some numbers, and the NHL finally can claim that it has been proactive in preventing another team from committing a "DiPietro".

Just hours after the New Jersey Devils rolled out the red carpet for Russia's free agent wunderkind, the NHL went ahead and ruled that the contract was null and void for the simple fact that Kovalchuk will have long retired before his contract had expired. According to Section 26.3 of this document, Kovalchuk's contract circumvents the rules of the salary cap, and is therefore invalid.

I had suggested yesterday that there was enough reason to cause concern amongst the other twenty-nine owners regarding star players signed to idiotic contracts. We've seen some of them fail miserably - DiPietro on Long Island - while others have been a blessing for the player and team - Ovechkin in Washington.

However, paying a player $3 million over the last seven years of his contract when he'll be between the ages of 37 and 44 is not only insane, but completely and utterly stupid. Because let's face it: Kovalchuk is not Chelios or Howe. He will not play into his forties, and he certainly won't hit 44 in a Devils uniform.

I would like to stand and applaud the men who occupy the NHL Offices in New York City. They didn't wait long to call the Devils' bluff on this one, and now the three parties sit in limbo while the NHLPA decides what it will do for Ilya Kovalchuk. If they file a grievance, the matter moves before an arbitrator who must rule on whether the contract is valid. Until that happens, though, this contract is officially dead in the water.

What makes this harder to understand from the Devils' perspective is that they had Steve Pellegrini work on the financial portion of this deal under his title of VP of Hockey Operations. Before joining the Devils in his VP role, Pellegrini worked for the NHL as their "cap regulator" - the guy who knows all the rules about the salary cap, including all the cap circumvention rules! Couple that with Lou Lamoriello's comments about how he dislikes these types of contracts, and this entire ordeal appears to fall back on a "just get it done by any means necessary" mandate from above. The above? That would be owner Jeff Vanderbeek.

So, to summarize, if the man who knows all the rules of the salary cap is told to break those rules by the guy holding the wad of cash in his hand, and the man who rules all aspects of how the franchise is run is told to endorse the contract by the man who is holding the wad of cash, apparently the puppets are being controlled by the man who is holding the wad of cash. If this is the case, the man holding the wad of cash needs to be punished by the man hired by the thirty men holding wads of cash. Namely, Bettman's salary cap watchdogs told Devils' owner Jeff Vanderbeek, "Do not pass 'Go', do not pay out $102 million".

It's not the first time that the cap watchdogs have gone sniffing around an NHL contract. Chris Pronger's deal with the Flyers, Roberto Luongo's deal with the Canucks, and Marian Hossa's deal with the Blackhawks were all investigated, but all quietly passed the test because they didn't extend well into retirement for these three players. All three men were given the green light to play for their teams, and owners reluctantly shrugged their shoulders and moved on despite seeing bags of money thrown at three players.

What the NHL has done today with Kovalchuk's contract is set a precedent. This new precedent is simple: honour the CBA as it is written, don't be greedy, and stop trying to interpret the rules as you see fit. With today's rejection, the NHL has put a stop to the fifty-year contracts that would eventually happen as I had suggested yesterday. And that's good for the league and its players... even though the NHLPA may not see it as such.

There's no reason that Kovalchuk and the Devils can't still work together to find a solution to this ordeal. In fact, all they have to do is change the terms of the contract. One or both sides may lose a little in changing the terms, but that's life in the NHL - sometimes you have to sacrifice a little to get what you want.

For the first time in a long time, justice has prevailed. I didn't like the contract yesterday, and neither did the NHL. And, if just for once, the NHL decided to act in the correct manner.

What's popular is not always right. And what's right is not always popular. Remember those words, kids. They speak volumes, and they certainly hold true in this case.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


TheMetalChick said...

I usually like your blog but this line-

"the NHL finally can claim that it has been proactive in preventing another team from committing a "DiPietro"."

-is just godda** STUPID.
Rick DiPietros contract does not belong in any of these cap circumvention conversations. I really thought you were a better blogger than this.

Teebz said...

A better blogger? Perhaps I need to explain the rationale behind why I chose DiPi in this case.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the way that DiPietro's contract is structured in any way. The problem is the return on investment since these types of contracts cannot be insured.

You sign a 15-year deal and play a total of 17 games over the last two years? Granted, he played 63 games in the first two years of that deal, but, with 13 years of salary ahead of him, his lower-body injuries are a cause for concern. Management has been steadfast in saying that Rick will be ready, but they told everyone that before training camp in 2009 that he was ready. He then tweaked his knee and groin in Toronto. See the issue?

In the case of the Devils saddling themselves with a long-term contract, one knee injury to Kovalchuk could spell the end of that career. I point to players such as Cam Neely and Pavel Bure as prime examples.

Long-term contracts carry heavy risk, which is entirely why insurance companies won't touch them. I point to Rick DiPietro's contract as proof of the risk.

The idea of a long-term contract is entirely ridiculous when a player's health can only be controlled to a degree. Especially in a violent sport.