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Agents say that the NHL can't block Kovalchuk's contract

Jul 23, 2010, 12:36 PM EDT

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kovalchukpresser3.jpgThrough the many twists and turns of the Ilya Kovalchuk contract squabble with the Devils, we’ve been wondering about what, exactly, the league can do about things. The NHL has already done their part in rejecting the deal and while we wait to hear from the NHLPA about when/if they’ll file a grievance with the league over that, Michael Traikos of The National Post has polled some NHL agents about what they think will happen and the response was vitriolic.

But several player agents said if the matter goes before an arbitrator, the league would soon find out that it “doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on.”

“I can tell you that during bargaining, that the league was not successful in negotiating rules to limit the length of contract a player can sign with a club,” said player agent Ian Pulver, who was one of the authors of the CBA. “So the NHL is going to have to show evidence that the club and the player were trying to defeat rules in the collective agreement, because they can’t certainly prove that a player will not play when he’s 44 years old.

“You have to have the evidence to support that. Saying ‘we think’ is not strong enough.”

Indeed, there is nothing in the language of the CBA that limits the number of years on a player contract. Neither is there any proof that Kovalchuk will not be playing in 2026-27.

What’s been abundantly clear through this whole mess that the league has created is that they’re again being stung by their own wild inconsistency. Contracts similar to Kovalchuk’s deal by Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Marian Hossa, Marc Savard and Chris Pronger were all allowed by the league. Whether they were allowed begrudgingly or not doesn’t matter, the point is they were OK’d by the league and that’s that. The league picking this deal at this moment in time, just two years before the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expires with the NHLPA, is not coincidental.
The owners, courtesy of Gary Bettman, are setting up their own argument to be had with the NHLPA in 2012 when the owners complain about the salary structure and how things have ballooned out of control, they can use this one instance to say, “Listen, we tried to get things under control here but you, the players, decided to make a big mess out of things. We want things to be stricter.” Never mind that history up until this moment with Ilya Kovalchuk dictates otherwise, this is where they are taking a stand and where they’re attempting to “change the game” for themselves. Unfortunately for the owners and for Gary Bettman, everyone sees right through this.
Further from Traikos’ piece:

The Devils have up until Monday to renegotiate a new deal with Kovalchuk, or allow the NHLPA to file a grievance and send the matter to an independent arbitrator. After that, the league might find out if it will have to live with its mistakes until the next CBA is negotiated.

“The fact that they’re not registering this contract when it clearly does not circumvent anything in the CBA is a condemnation of Gary Bettman and Bill Daly’s skills,” said one agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If they think this is a bad deal, then they failed to do their jobs.

“Why don’t they suck it up and be men and accept that they screwed up?”

Asking billionaires used to getting their way to fess up and take responsibility for a mistake is often like trying to get blood from a stone. These are the sorts of things CBA negotiations get ugly over, and this is just the beginning. The fact that the NHLs case against Kovalchuk’s deal is so poor makes it feel like this is all set up to make the players look badly. We’ve been down this road before in the NHL and fans and curious onlookers alike didn’t buy into that blame game before, and there’s no chance that it works this time.

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