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What We Learned: Boss Bettman and the Kovalchuk contract fight

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

You know, it's interesting how all this played out.

You might be right in calling it something like an argument with your wife about leaving out the dishes, an argument that's not actually about plates at all. The NHL must have simply watched in almost stupefied amazement as teams signed their high-profile players these last few years. Here were mercenaries who were signing away large swaths of their career in service to one team for astronomical amounts of money over the life of the deal, but the salaries of which nosedived at the end for obvious reasons.

"Hey," the league seemed to shrug even as it announced that these contracts would be the subject of feckless investigations of the when-we-get-around-to-it variety, "what can we do about it?"

The answer, of course, was nothing. Not until Lou Lamoriello took the puck that had previously been carried up-ice by Ken Holland, Dale Tallon, Mike Gillis and Paul Holmgren, and put it into Row Z of section 301. Egregious was one way to describe the Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) contract. Well-within-the-rules was another.

So what, exactly, made the Ilya Kovalchuk contract different from those given to Henrik Zetterberg(notes), Johan Franzen(notes), Marian Hossa(notes) and Roberto Luongo(notes) to make Gary Bettman bring the hammer down?

Opportunity and convenience.

You might want to break out the tinfoil hats here, but this was a thing where the boiling-over issue of these contracts -- which were clearly being signed with additional years intended to circumvent the salary cap -- just got too ridiculous. Bettman had to step in at some point for political reasons, unfair or not.

(Coming Up: Bolland and Keith are tone deaf at Wrigley; the death of the BuffaSlug; Cheechoo may still be a Star; Bobby Ryan(notes) and Ducks getting closer; the Freddy Modin era begins in Atlanta; Jimmy Howards gets a McFarlane toy; Jaroslav Halak(notes) still rules Montreal; Ian Laperriere(notes) will get hit in the face again; happy Yashin Day; the Coyotes have no context; Ty Conklin(notes) and BJ Crombeen(notes) on a tandem bike; Alex Ovechkin(notes) and Ilya Kovalchuk get charitable; and a ridiculous Lucic bobblehead and trade.)

So why not do so right when the NHLPA was about to get a new boss with a hardass reputation? Ilya Kovalchuk signed his contract on July 19, and had it rejected by the league the same day. That was just six days after the Toronto Star said Donald Fehr was in the hunt to be the Players' Association's leader.

So the NHL decided to throw out a couple quick jabs on this one, and see how the new and possibly more formidable union dealt with them. First Kovy and the Devils (and by extension the PA) lost an arbitrator's hearing that, let's face it, they were always going to lose. Then the NHL rejected their next proposed contract, just because at that point, they could.

And from the outside, it looks like the NHLPA just sat there and took it. They were bound to some extent by the agreements surely made before entering into the arbitration hearings, but with that little fuss?

Not only did Kovalchuk and the Devils shave two years of nose-thumbing off the original contract, but also $2 million (raising the deal's cap hit about two-thirds of a million dollars). They also got the PA to change the entire collective bargaining agreement to make sure it never happened again.

This has to have the players a bit nervous going forward, doesn't it? Their new field general let Bettman and the owners boss his boys around the negotiating table, just like they did half a decade ago. Maybe those suppositions of a work stoppage were a bit premature.

Just a week on the job (allegedly) and Fehr's already had to pick himself up off the canvas once. He can't be eager for a serious rematch any time soon.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Sorry, Toronto-based HFBoards posters, but Bobby Ryan extension talks are heating up. Looks like your offer of Kaberle and a 17th-round pick will have to wait.

Atlanta Thrashers: Freddy Modin, baby. The one-year deal is for $800k plus some small bonuses. This is the deal that pushes them over the top insofar as it can't actively hurt them (even though he put up 5-6-11 in 44 games between two teams last year).

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Boston Bruins: Patrice Bergeron(notes) wants to stay a Bruins for a while. And why wouldn't he? It's not like they have a history of shopping or actually trading their best players for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres have a new road jersey, and they effectively kill all remaining slugs. The Buffalsug will, however, live on in all our memories.

Calgary Flames: By not doing anything for most of the summer, Darryl Sutter made the best move he could have. No, this is not an Olli Jokinen(notes) joke, though certainly I can see where you'd make that assumption.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes will be on TV 65 times in their local market, plus national broadcasts. This package includes 35 road games, which is odd. How is a team's broadcast affiliate going to air less than 75 percent of its home schedule?

Chicago Blackhawks: Duncan Keith(notes) and David Bolland sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at a Cubs game over the weekend. It actually sounded worse than I imagined it would. Alternate joke: I'm surprised Bolland could successfully recite the number of "strikes and you're out."

Colorado Avalanche: Kirk McLean will join the Avalanche organization as a part-time goalie coach. Because Craig Anderson(notes) doesn't need the full-time help, thanks.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Tough season ahead in Columbus? Of Scotty Howson, Aaron Portzline writes, "And he showed tremendous faith in them this off-season by making only minor tweaks to the roster." To a team that was 21 points out of a playoff spot. Great.

Dallas Stars: The Stars will invite Rocket Richard WinnerTMJonathan Cheechoo(notes) to training camp. How many goals you figure for Cheech this year? Two? Two sounds about right.

Detroit Red Wings: Jimmy Howard(notes) is getting his first McFarlane figure made this winter. If he had been drafted by the Maple Leafs, this would've been his 14th already. (Not every day you get a hockey action figure joke like that.)

Edmonton Oilers: Taylor Hall(notes) has yet to pick a number, and apparently this is a big deal. Hey Hallsy, I hear 99's not taken.

Florida Panthers: Speaking of broadcast schedules as I was, the Panthers' network is airing 72 games. You know Carolina's got a bad deal when the Panthers are getting seven more games aired.

Los Angeles Kings: Willie Mitchell(notes) caught a 47-pound chinook at a charity tournament. Maybe he should teach Dean Lombardi the secret of landing a big fish.

Minnesota Wild: Owen Nolan(notes), who was with Minnesota the last two seasons and had his job taken by John Madden(notes), is currently sitting in a dark room with his chin rested on his hands, staring at the phone. Around him, the days pass without notice.

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Montreal Canadiens: Seriously though, Montreal freakin loves Jaroslav Halak. Even Carey Price(notes) waited in line for an hour to get his autograph.

Nashville Predators: Blake Geoffrion(notes) is gonna be living with his parents during training camp. Helluva time to start a blog.

New Jersey Devils: Devs owner Jeff Vanderbeek on the Ilya Kovalchuk to-do: "It was not the optimum situation." You might say that.

New York Islanders: Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Alexei Yashin(notes) signing that deal with the Isles. And he's only on the payroll for another four seasons.

New York Rangers: Are the Rangers using Tim Kennedy(notes) as an excuse to get rid of Sean Avery(notes)? Sure, it's not like they're paying his salary anyway.

Ottawa Senators: Bob Murray says the Senators are a "competing team." I don't know for what though. Wait this says he means in the East. Yeah okay buddy.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ian Laperriere is starring in a commercial in which he is hit in the face with a puck. This is oddly compelling. I hope it's first in a series of spots featuring cringe-inducing injuries.

Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes' new slogan for the 2010-11 season is, "Up the ante." Good thing Janet Gretzky isn't around that organization any more. She'd definitely want some action on that.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Mario Lemieux was given the Order of Canada. I don't know what that is, but it sounds like a big deal.

San Jose Sharks: Oh yes Antti Niemi. I've always said that a goalie who had a save percent of .910 in the playoffs behind that Blackhawks defense is just what the Sharks need to win that Stanley Cup which has eluded them lo these 18 years.

St. Louis Blues: Ty Conklin and BJ Crombeen on a tandem bike? Ty Conklin and BJ Crombeen on a tandem bike.

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Tampa Bay Lightning: Remember how Mattias Ohlund(notes) was awful last year? Yeah forget that ever happened, okay?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Dave Bolland(notes) took the time to visit/taunt his hometown of Toronto with a miniature Stanley Cup Parade.

Vancouver Canucks: Various members of the team sure are indifferent toward Roberto Luongo's contract being upheld. I mean "happy." They were happy.

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk hosted a charity game that earned $450,000 for charity. Combined, those two earned that much in the time it took them to lace their skates.

Gold Star Award

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Congrats to the National Hockey League for not letting one of its most exciting talents go to a rinky-dink league on another continent. I honestly didn't think they'd get out of their own way on that one.

Minus of the Weekend

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How 'bout the makers of this bobblehead trying to pass it off as something that could even be vaguely construed as a likeness of Milan Lucic(notes)?

Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week

User "h0us3b0y" thinks Zdeno Chara(notes) and Milan Lucic need a change of scenery.

to edm; chara, lucic

to bos; eberle, +, +

Yes.

Looks like you're looking for dragons, in the future.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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