<img src="http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/j/ap/devils%20kovalchuk%20hockey--810173562_v2.rp350x350.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Ilya Kovalchuk was all smiles and cracking jokes when he signed a record-breaking 17 year pact with the Devils for $102 million. Even with a declining Martin Brodeur and the future in net uncertain, by signing the Russian sniper the Devils look to remain playoff staples for the next decade.
That all came to a crashing halt today.
Kovalchuk is now stuck in limbo as the NHL rejected his new contract today citing that both sides are trying to circumvent the cap. The NHL believes that neither Kovalchuk nor the Devils believe that he will play out his contract in its entirety, at which point Kovalchuk will be 44 years old. It's quite obvious that the NHL is making a judgment call on Kovalchuk. The NHL is essentially saying that 1) Kovalchuk can't possibly want to play in the NHL at 44 years old, or 2) that he can't play at the NHL level at 44 years old due to declining skill. It seems as though Gary Bettman has forgotten that up until this year Chris Chelios, at 48 years old, was a NHLer. For comparison's sake, when Chelios was 44 years old in 2006, he suited up in 81 games for the Red Wings, posting 11 points with 102 penalty minutes and a healthy +22 rating.
<img src="http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/blackhawks-confidential/gary-bettman1.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">It also bothers me that Bettman is stepping in now. It's absolutely absurd. Where was he for the Marian Hossa contract? When Dale Tallon signed Hossa last summer, he was 30 years old and awarded with a 12-year contract, making him 42 years old when he retires. Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg will be 41 when their contracts expire in 2021. You don't even have to look to far beyond our backyard for another example: Roberto Luongo's new contract, which kicks in this upcoming season, will take him to 2022, at which point he will be 43 years old. Luongo's combined salary for the last three years of his contract? $3.618 million. Kovalchuk's contract isn't the first of his kind. Lou Lamoriello didn't set any precedents. All of these contracts were designed to circumvent the cap by lowering each players' cap hit. If Bettman is calling Lamoriello a cheat then he is also calling out Tallon, Ken Holland, and Mike Gillis, some of the brightest minds in hockey today. All of these contracts were designed to circumvent the cap to a certain degree.
I would be very, very surprised if the NHLPA doesn't file a grievance. I would understand Bettman's actions better had this been part of the new CBA, but this is still the one that was agreed on since the lockout. This CBA has proven to be a failure: traditional non-hockey market teams are still struggling, contracts are longer and more lucrative than ever, and there still hasn't been the parity Bettman has been talking about.
And what of Kovalchuk? Is he still a free agent? Do the Kings wait for the league investigation to be over or do they move ahead to Plan B? What about the Devils? Does Kovalchuk, one of the league's premier players, head to the KHL for greener pastures now? What's Bettman's plan? Where is this going to go? Kovalchuk's contract may have sent ripples across the league but Bettman's actions and decisions will make waves.
This is going to be interesting.