Ilya Kovalchuk says he may stay in Russia if NHL cuts salaries
By Jason Murdoch, CBC Sports
Posted: Oct 23, 2012 2:54 PM ET
Ilya Kovalchuk has a message for NHL owners: Cut his salary and he's staying in Russia. And a few other compatriots might join him.
The New Jersey Devils forward, who signed with SKA Saint Petersburg at the start of the NHL lockout, made the declaration to the Russian website Sportbox.ru.
"We are all happy here [in the KHL]. If the conditions in the NHL will be unclear, many guys will think twice whether to return there or not," he told the website.
"Basically, I don't rule out staying in Russia in the case of a reduction of our salaries in the NHL."
Kovalchuk believes the league's latest offer, one that proposed a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue with the players but limited the length of contracts, among other stipulations, was a move to improve the NHL's image rather than kick-start negotiations.
"It's the same old offer, but in different words," he said. "Right now, the NHL has very bad media and they want to fix it.
"Alex Ovechkin and I agree on this. I already discussed this matter with him as well as with Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Bryzgalov. We'll wait for other proposals."
Two years ago, Kovalchuk signed a 15-year deal with the Devils worth $100 million US.
The NHL's latest offer would not allow a contract of that length. One of the NHLPA's proposals last week was a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue contingent on the league honouring all contracts signed before the lockout started.
For now, Kovalchuk seems content to be playing in Russia's top hockey league. Among the top scorers in the NHL for the past seven years, he has already collected 20 points in 11 games with his new KHL team.
"I can play in the KHL for the whole year and I'll do it with great pleasure," he said.
I know what you're thinking. "Whoop-dee-doo! Another Russian saying he'll stay in Russia...don't let the door hit you on the way out!" However, Kovalchuk's case is really unique, and actually quite interesting.
It has to do with his salary structure. Most long-term big-money deals we have seen lately are heavily front-loaded. They pay most up front, and then steadily decline. However, Kovalchuk's contract is different. This is how it breaks down:
2010-11 - $6,000,000
2011-12 - $6,000,000
2012-13 - $11,000,000
2013-14 - $11,300,000
2014-15 - $11,300,000
2015-16 - $11,600,000
2016-17 - $11,800,000
2017-18 - $10,000,000
2018-19 - $7,000,000
2019-20 - $4,000,000
2020-21 - $1,000,000
2021-22 - $1,000,000
2022-23 - $1,000,000
2023-24 - $3,000,000
2024-25 - $4,000,000
For some reason, the first two years of his deal, his salary was comparably low with his contract. Then, starting this season, it shoots up to 11 million, and stays that way for a few years. Why was it structured this way? Why did Ilya take less in the first two years?
But most importantly, did New Jersey management know all along that the NHL was not goint to negotiate any deal on a CBA that did not include a sizeable salary rollback? Because, if that is true, and there is any sort of documentation to prove it, that would be a textbook example of negotiating without good faith.
In the end, it's easy to see why Ilya feels he is getting the shaft. But after all of the drama surrounding his free agency, I can't help but appreciate the irony.