September 02, 2010
A few updates from last night's blockbuster story by Larry Brooks of the New York Post about an "ultimatum" given by the NHL to the NHLPA over the future of long-term contracts under the current CBA.
First is that the NHL is pushing back on the notion of an "ultimatum" ever being issued. Brooks reported that the League agreed to grandfather in contracts for Ilya Kovalchuk(notes), Marian Hossa(notes) and Roberto Luongo(notes) in exchange for CBA amendments that eliminated over-40 seasons from the average cap hit and that offered a new formula for calculating cap hits for contracts over five years in duration.
If the NHLPA didn't agree to those terms, the NHL would reject the Kovalchuk and Luongo deals immediately.
EJ Hradek of ESPN, Darren Dreger of TSN, and Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record reported that no ultimatum was given as the deadline for Ilya Kovalchuk's contract registration was extended to Friday at 5 p.m. ET.
Gulitti added, via Twitter, that the two sides had been discussing an amendment of the CBA over long-term contracts since arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled in favor of the NHL's decision to spike the Devils' 17-year contact with Kovalchuk.
If there was no ultimatum, it could simply signal that this is a negotiation, with the rejection of player contracts one scenario presented by the NHL. Ah, the subtle nuance between "ultimatum" and "strongly suggested." We saw it every week on "The Sopranos."
The other news concerns another contract that was under NHL scrutiny: That of defenseman Chris Pronger(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers. The scrutiny is apparently over, and that's a good thing: Because one prominent columnist believes the NHLPA may have the upper-hand in this long-term contract dispute with the NHL if the League starts spiking contracts.
The league has informed the union that it has accepted Chris Pronger's year-old, front-loaded, seven-year, $34.45 million contract with Ed Snider's Flyers under which the defenseman will earn $1.05 million over the final two years of the deal.
Pronger's extension kicks in this season, and Brooks correctly notes it's one seemingly constructed to circumvent the salary cap. Pronger will make $525,000 in each of his final two seasons, ending when he's 42 years old. His salary drops from $4 million to $525,000 as well.
We've long felt the Pronger contract would be spared for two reasons. The Flyers notoriously goofed in signing Pronger to an over-35 contact whose $4.921 million cap hit stays on the books whether he plays or is retired.
And, placing on our tinfoil hats for a moment: Is the NHL really picking a fight with Comcast?
So Pronger appears in the clear, but other deals may not be yet. If the NHL decides to go after Kovalchuk (again), Hossa, Luongo and possibly Marc Savard(notes), then Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports sees Gary Bettman and Co. overplaying their hands against the NHLPA:
Here's the thing, though: The NHL has a lot more to lose in a second arbitration. Commissioner Bettman won big the first time. The Devils and agent Jay Grossman worked hard to address every concern arbitrator Richard Bloch delivered in that ruling, meeting with the league during the process.
His cap hit went up from $6 million US to $6.67 million and the last five years now total $10 million (70 per cent of which is in the last two seasons) as opposed to $3.3 million.
According to several sources, the PA was preparing for a second grievance if "Kovalchuk II" was rejected, as was expected. Since Bloch didn't specifically outline what was an acceptable contract, the union was ready to take a chance with a different arbitrator.
If I was Donald Fehr, and the NHL threatened all three contracts, I grieve each one. In Fehr's former sport, 1-for-4 sent you to the minors. Here, it's a success, because that one contract becomes the blueprint for all long-term deals. That's why it's smarter for Bettman to hold his nose in exchange for a closed loophole.
He's spot-on here. The Kovalchuk contract, Richard Bloch and a flimsy defense from the NHLPA in that hearing were a perfect storm that isn't likely to form again for the other cases. All the NHLPA needs is a precedent set; which is why the NHL waited until the absurdity of the Kovalchuk 17-year deal to make their political point.