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Looking at Roberto Luongo's contract in the wake of NHL's apparent ultimatum

Sep 2, 2010, 10:05 AM EDT

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Thumbnail image for robertoluongo2.jpgIf the report from last night about the NHL throwing down an ultimatum to the NHLPA over Ilya Kovalchuk’s latest contract hasn’t already sent you for a loop, we suggest you get caught up by reading about it because a lot of the stories coming out the rest of the day may not make much sense to you otherwise. Case in point, the fans in Vancouver have every right to get anxious about things because Roberto Luongo’s contract is next on the chopping block.

Luongo’s 12-year extension with the Canucks went into effect on July 1, and when the NHL began to their witch hunt of other long-term, cap-challenging contracts Luongo’s contract (as well as those of Marc Savard, Chris Pronger and Marian Hossa) were all mentioned as deals the league was going to further investigate. Understandably, the report from the New York Post about the league potentially voiding Luongo’s deal should the NHLPA not agree to the NHL’s apparent terms has folks in Vancouver, like Jason Botchford of The White Towel, scurrying to analyze Luongo’s contract and if they’ve got a case to fight the league.

Before the Luongo deal was signed, the NHL advised Vancouver to take two years off of the negotiated term, making the deal a decade long. The Canucks chose to keep it a 12-year deal and the NHL only conditionally accepted the contract.

As part of the condition, the Canucks were investigated by a third party law firm. Both GM Mike Gillis and assistant GM Laurence Gilman were questioned for several hours in an effort to determine whether the deal was negotiated in good faith. If the league had found any wrongdoing, it would have likely acted on it by now.

If the contract is now de-registered, the NHLPA can grieve the decision. The Canucks believe the NHLPA’s case for Luongo is much stronger than the one for Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102-million deal. Arbitrator Richard Bloch sided with the league in the subsequent Kovalchuk hearing.

There are a few key differences in Luongo’s deal. He averages $1.2 million during the last 3 years where Kovalchuk was making less than $1 million. True, it’s nowhere near the $10 million he makes now. But Marty Turco will make $1.3 million this year. Last year, he earned $5.7 million. In the final three years of his career, Dominik Hasek averaged $1.4 million after averaging $7.7 million in the five previous years.

Luongo also does not have a no-movement clause, something Kovalchuk’s deal had for the first 12 years. In the final five years of his deal, Kovalchuk’s no-movement shifted to a no-trade and that shift was seen as an escape clause by Bloch.

Making the case against other older goaltenders with how much money they make is a nice comparison, but a lot of similar comparisons exist in the Kovalchuk contracts that have been/are being attempted by the New Jersey Devils and it seems as if the league would say no to both of them. What works against them here is that the league warned the Canucks to cut off the last two years of the deal and shook their fist at them while doing so. The Canucks figured the NHL wouldn’t dare do anything about it and they didn’t… Until now.

If Luongo’s deal was voided by the league he would become an unrestricted free agent, but don’t let your imagination run away with you, he wouldn’t be leaving Vancouver. After an eventual grievance hearing with the NHL over nixing the deal (which they’d likely lose) Luongo and the Canucks would just try to re-work a new contract and then we’d have another fiasco to work from similar to that we’re seeing with Ilya Kovalchuk. The fun would never end, but let’s hope it never comes to that.

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