This summer wasn't supposed to feature big name free agents. Marian Hossa. Marc Savard. Chris Pronger. Roberto Luongo.
Most people aren't shocked this deal was struck down. I wasn't either. When it was announced Kovalchuk's contract was going to be investigated you knew this wasn't headed anywhere good. I was, and still am, surprised an investigation was conducted in the first place.
<img src="http://assets.nydailynews.com/img/2010/07/20/alg_resize_ilya-kovalchuk.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Now that arbiter Richard Bloch has nixed Ilya Kovalchuk's deal with New Jersey, it has set off a chain of events that the NHL may never recover from. It's a PR disaster - a league that identified its mistakes too late and now is set to potentially undo a number of transactions that would affect all 30 teams, directly or indirectly. I said in my previous blog post that the NHL's decision to investigate Kovalchuk's contract was a poor one because precedent had been set and it was no secret that all the very, very long-term contracts signed before Kovalchuk's were designed to circumvent the cap. The NHLPA agrees with me - from TSN: "The NHL Players' Association argued that those four deals were approved and that Kovalchuk's deal should be approved as well." It's a simple and logical argument. Remember when Luongo's contract (among others) was signed the NHL had already investigated and deemed it acceptable? Now they're saying it might not. Which is it?
This entire fiasco stinks of a small, small man determined to make some sort of history and make everyone play by his rules, not the CBA's or NHLPA's.
The issue that should strike a little fear in Canucks fans' hearts is that if Bloch rules Luongo's contract in violation of the CBA he immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent. Scary thought, huh? Rest assured that even if Luongo's contract is voided he will re-sign in Vancouver because this is where he has the biggest chance to win but since these "cheat" contracts aren't allowed it means Mike Gillis will have to retain him at a higher cap hit. A higher cap hit means more cap casualties and the Canucks are still around $2.5 million over the cap. Most players whose contracts may be voided will choose to remain with their respective teams for both monetary and non-monetary reasons. But there are teams who stand to gain from having such long-term contracts voided, like the Bruins, who have been trying to get rid of Marc Savard's contract for awhile (more on that later).
<img src="http://tenderslounge.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/roberto-luongo-c-on-mask.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">I get why the NHL doesn't like the deal and I agree it's preposterous, but it's not just Kovalchuk's. What's done is done. The CBA wasn't perfect and it seems like Bettman is taking these "cheat" contracts as a personal slap to the face. Lou Lamoriello is a bold GM who isn't afraid to make some controversial moves but this one was just too bold for Bettman's taste. (There are conspiracy theorists out there that claim this Kovalchuk contract was a sham in the first place and was designed to give Bettman impetus to investigate other "cheat" contracts further but I say that's a pile of poo - Lamoriello wouldn't stoop that low.)
The more interesting contract is actually Hossa's. Since Luongo's $64 million, 12-year extension doesn't kick in until this year, there's relatively little penalty. It will require Gillis to get creative once more but no harm, no foul because technically speaking Luongo's contract hasn't kicked in yet. But not Hossa's. Signed in 2009, Hossa's already played out one year of his 12-year, $63.3 million contract. Voiding Luongo's contract also means Bloch has to void Hossa's. In a side-by-side comparison, the two extensions are similar in term, dollars, and structure. So what happens then? If Hossa's contract is to be deemed void then it is void retroactive to July 1, 2009, before Dale Tallon/Stan Bowman built a Cup-winning team. It would mean that the Blackhawks won the Cup with an illegal player and given the impact Hossa had on that team, you could argue that perhaps that Cup shouldn't belong in Chicago.
Here's my guess: Luongo, Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen (funny how Gillis, Chiarelli, and Tallon/Bowman have been mentioned but not the NHL's golden boy GM, Ken Holland), Vinny Lecavalier, and Duncan Keith's contracts won't be voided because their salaries in the final years of their contract won't dip below $1 million, which seems to have been the cut-off point Bloch has arbitrarily decided on. Savard's will because he is 1) set to earn just $525,000 per year for the last two years of his contract, and 2) be 40 when it expires, and as Bloch is quick to point out there aren't too many NHLers who play past their 40th birthday. But it's a contract that doesn't kick in until this upcoming season so it's no harm, no foul. Savard will sign with the Leafs and Peter Chiarelli saves himself from a headache even though he loses Savard for nothing. Voiding not one, but two, might even make the NHL look better.
The strange one will be Chris Pronger's, whose contract, like Savard's, sees him earn $525,000 over the last two years of his contract. But the Flyers are on the hook for the entire length of that contract so it may be possible that Bloch decides that's enough punishment for Paul Holmgren. If Pronger's contract is deemed not in violation of circumventing the cap then it'll have to be on different grounds than Kovalchuk's. There's no way Bloch can declare Kovalchuk's contract void and Pronger's valid if the criteria is 1) "playable" length and 2) the sub-$1 million pay in the final years of the contract.
There's been a lot of talk about signing contracts in good faith. Gary Bettman breeds none.