It was inevitable that Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract would end up before an arbitrator. When the case is actually heard is as unclear as who will hear it but in the meantime, Kovalchuk sits in limbo with the only thing for certain being that this situation is the first salvo in what is shaping up be another ugly labor war.
Obviously that’s the last thing the NHL and players need after a season-long work stoppage nearly ruined their business five years ago. But the players association really had no choice but to file a grievance on behalf of Kovalchuk, whose 17-year, $102 million contract from the New Jersey Devils was rejected by the NHL on the grounds that it was designed to circumvent the salary cap.
News flash: Of course it was. It’s an accepted way of doing things these days. The union, still officially leaderless after ousting Paul Kelly in a coup two years ago, therefore had no choice but to protect the legitimacy of a deal that seemed to follow the letter of the law would. Not to do so would have been a devastating sign of weakness heading into negotiations for a new CBA.
The current contract that expires in 2012 has actually been good to the players, a surprise to an extent considering their union was broken by the lockout and they were forced to accept a hard salary cap tied to overall league revenues for the first time. But income and salaries have grown precipitously since play resumed while the cap has increased by some 50 percent and creative types have found ways to give big bucks to marquee players by massaging the system.
Now the NHL wants to close the loophole that allows teams to average down a players’ salary over a long term to fit him annually under the cap. That's understandable since the tactic still favors haves over have nots, and already there have been a variety of options floated, including limiting contract lengths or using the average of the five highest-paid years as cap markers.
But making the CBA even more idiot-proof than it already is and convincing an arbitrator won’t be easy because the NHL has approved similar type front loaded contracts to Stars like Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo and Chris Pronger. And all go into what presumably would be retirement ages for the players involved, although none was as blatant or as long as the Kovalchuk deal which would have ended when he was 44.
But if the union prevails before an arbitrator, it will have established a precedent it is not likely not relinquish without a bitter fight. One that both sides are walking into.
Posted on: July 26, 2010 4:42 pm
Edited on: July 26, 2010 7:37 pm