August 10, 2010
It's clear the NHL is examining contracts such as Marc Savard's(notes) and Roberto Luongo's;(notes) but investigation doesn't mean nullification, especially when the burden of proof in the Kovalchuk case was so multi-conditional. In fact, NHL spokesman Gary Meagher told ESPN Chicago on Tuesday:
"I'm not sure 'investigation' is the right word," Meagher said. "We're looking at them."
According to the collective bargaining agreement, here's the skinny on de-registering a standard player contract from Section 11.6 (assuming this is the applicable section):
(b) Subsequent Challenge and/or De-Registration of SPCs.
Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Section 11.6, an approved and registered SPC may be subject to subsequent challenge and/or de-registration by the League: (i) in the case of a Circumvention relating to either the Club Upper Limit or the Maximum Player Salary, within sixty (60) days from the date upon which the facts of the Circumvention became known or reasonably should have been known to the NHL, or (ii) in the case of a challenge pursuant to (i) or (ii) below, within fourteen (14) days from the date upon which the SPC was approved by the NHL.
The second part's not valid for these disputed contracts, as they were all approved/ratified months ago (at least that's the assumption). My layman's question on the first part: Can the NHL argue that "the date upon which the facts of the Circumvention became known or reasonably should have been known" was when Richard Bloch upheld the Kovalchuk deal as having circumvented the salary cap and violated the CBA?
Can the NHL argue that these player contracts are now in the crosshairs because, to quote noted scholar Jeffrey Lebowski, "New [expletive] has come to light, man"?
Coming up, a look at how the aftermath of the Kovalchuk case is affecting several franchises today, and their reactions. We haven't seen something this big shake up the NHL since Chaka Khan in Vegas.
Boston Bruins: Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli issued a statement Tuesday about Marc Savard's seven-year contract that was signed in December 2009 and ends with him making $525,000 in each of the last two years of that deal. From the Bruins:
"We are cooperating fully with the League in its investigation of the Marc Savard contract extension. The League informed us upon their registration of the contract on December 1, 2009 that they would be investigating the circumstances surrounding this contract. From that point on, they commenced their investigation and it has been ongoing since then. On August 4th, I met with two League appointed lawyers as part of the investigation. We will continue to cooperate with the League in any future investigative proceedings if necessary and we will have no further comment on the matter at this time."
Aug. 4, of course, being the start of the Kovalchuk arbitration hearing. How convenient. DJ Bean of WEEI wonders how long the Bruins have known that the Savard deal could be spiked -- and if they'd be OK with that occurring.
Vancouver Canucks: GM Mike Gillis was the first team official to confirm that the NHL was ramping up its investigation of contracts, with Luongo's 12-year deal, that ends with him as a 43-year-old making $1 million, a target.
Now the conversation has shifted, as it has in Boston, as to whether fans should welcome the NHL's nullification of Luongo's deal. From the Globe & Mail:
For starters, the Canucks would not be chained to Luongo, and could feasibly reallocate their resources well before 2021-22, when his current deal expires. Second, it creates an environment where top goaltending prospect Cory Schneider(notes) could reasonably unseat Luongo.
Rejection of Luongo's contract will also help Gillis if he wants to roll the dice and let Luongo go. Antti Niemi(notes), who backstopped Chicago as they won their second-round series over Vancouver and eventually the Stanley Cup, is an unrestricted free agent after the Blackhawks walked away from the contract an arbitrator awarded him, which pays a more manageable $2.75 million annually.
Did we really just read that?
Suddenly, the Flyers are back on the radar because of Bloch.
"The contract with Chris Pronger(notes) that we registered with the National Hockey League is one we certainly feel was a compliant contract," Flyers president Peter Luukko said Tuesday afternoon.
"The Pronger contract is structured differently than the Kovalchuk contract. And it's been in effect well over a year."
Keep in mind that the Flyers are on the hook for Pronger's cap hit ($5 million) whether he retires early or not.
Chicago Blackhawks: Marian Hossa(notes) has already played one season under his contract, but it's clearly one that shares the Kovalchuk deal's problems. Sun Times beat writer Adam Jahns says the Blackhawks have declined comment on any investigation. Probably so they can figure out how to spin the Earth in its opposite direction to get Versteeg and Byfuglien back.
Los Angeles Kings: Kovalchuk is an unrestricted free agent again. Which means the Kings could restart their courtship, should they choose to. But Rich Hammond of LA Kings Insider has his doubts:
I had a quick chat with a member of team management today, and my inquiry as to whether the Kings would consider making another offer to Kovalchuk, should he come a free agent again, was met with a quick and stern, "Are you kidding?" Well, I was half-joking... Since July 1, it's been prudent to be in the "Believe it when you see it" camp when it comes to this story, so that's where I'll remain, but it seems that the Kings are exploring another avenues, for both forwards and defensemen. What are they? All I got was a cryptic, "We're working on some things." It wouldn't be surprising to see something happen at any time, but hopefully it won't be tomorrow, as I'll be out of range for half of the day... It seems clear that the Kings' next move will be a trade, not a signing, and that they recognize the need to make a move soon in order to improve the team.
Hammond's prediction: "He will end up signing a one-year contract, either in the NHL or KHL, and climb back on this merry-go-round 11 months from now."
New Jersey Devils: Finally, the troublemakers themselves. Here's Rich Chere from The Star-Ledger with Devils GM Lou Lamoriello:
Bloch upheld the NHL's rejection of the 17-year, $102 million contract on the grounds it circumvented the salary cap and now the Devils will do everything they can to rework the contract that will satisfy both Kovalchuk and the league.
"I'm trying not to think about what transpired," Lamoriello said today. "Right now I stand on the statement that I made and I really have no further comment until everything is resolved with reference to Ilya's future here. We very much would like to have him be a Devil.
"I think I'm going to leave it at that and not get into anything that has transpired."
Meanwhile, you have conspiracy theorists who say the NHL has it in for the Devils and who say that Lamoriello was trying to give Gary Bettman a slam-dunk case to kill long-term deals.
• • •
While I'd like to see the NHL void the Savard and Luongo deals for constancy's sake, I do think it's a "Get Out Of Bad Contract Free" card for both teams.
Then again, the NHL has made it a practice to wipe away the mistakes of its GMs and owners -- and this time it'll only have to void a couple of contracts instead of cancelling a season! Woo!