September 01, 2010
The Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) contract dispute has inspired a great many actions this summer, from the rhythmic slapping of foreheads in exasperation over its endless nature to serious debates about long-term contracts and the collective bargaining agreement.
Now, it's apparently inspired a dialogue between the NHL and the NHLPA, as they reached a mutual agreement to extend "the deadline by which the League must reach a decision on the contract between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk until 5:00 p.m. ET Friday, Sept. 3." The ruling was originally expected by 5 p.m. on Wednesday night, or five days after the last contract was submitted.
"We remain confident that the terms of this contract comply, in every respect, with the CBA and meet both the NHL's concerns and the principles of Arbitrator Bloch's decision. We remain optimistic that this extension will result in an approval of the contract and that Ilya Kovalchuk will remain a valuable member of the Devils for the balance of his career."
"Whenever that career ends, though probably before Year 15, suckers ..."
The latest contract was submitted last Friday afternoon by the Devils and Kovalchuk's representatives, following a week of conversations in which the framework of a proposed deal was rejected because of its term. Puck Daddy's Dmitry Chesnokov reported on Friday that the NHL was expected to accept the new proposal because it addressed concerns both in arbitrator Richard Bloch's ruling against the original 17-year, $102 million contract and privately within the NHL's upper management.
Wednesday, the ante was raised: Not only is Kovachuk's long-term contract at issue, but the current language in the CBA that deals with such contacts as well.
The obvious speculation on this development: The NHL was ready to reject the deal, the NHLPA predictably threatened another grievance, and the two sides decided to see if anything mutually beneficial, rather than destructive, comes out of this.
The real story? Anyone's guess, but one thing's clear: The NHLPA and NHL are in talks that go beyond the Kovalchuk contract's validity. From Tom Gulitti of Fire and Ice:
Lamoriello said the Devils were not involved in the discussions to extend the deadline two days.
"All I know is that I got a call at about 4 o' clock saying they had agreed to extend the deadline," Lamoriello said.
Lamoriello would not comment when asked if he was aware if the NHL and NHLPA were discussing a change to the CBA.
Although Kovalchuk's contract no doubt brought on this broader discussion between the NHL and the NHLPA, Lamoriello confirmed that no changes are being made to the deal that the team submitted on Friday and that there is no intention to make any changes.
Darren Dreger of TSN said via Twitter that the Kovalchuk contract hasn't been rejected and there are discussions about the rules that govern long-term deals -- discussions that push this thing even further into September. From Dreger:
"Some believe the NHL and NHLPA will amend the averaging rules that govern existing player contracts. Maybe we'll see a rule change soon."
That's a significant rules change, although one wonders if it could be targeted for specific contracts; i.e., contracts of a certain duration. It's clearly going to be a point of contention in the next labor negotiation, with debates over how salary figures should count against the cap. The question is whether the NHLPA can use this moment as a way to address the issue before 2012.
As for the Devils and Kovalchuk, the waiting continues. Blogger John Fischer of In Lou We Trust believes the extension is "garbage," but there's no getting around it. Kovalchuk spends another few days in limbo, the Devils spend another few days unable to market a superstar to the paying customers and fans spend another few days dreading that the ordeal drags on for another few days and then a few more after that.
Like I said on July 21, the day after Kovalchuk's 17-year deal was rejected: The NHL decided to take a political stand against long-term, cap circumventing deals. Now, on Sept. 1, look where we are: Two sets of suits at the bargaining table, with Kovalchuk an afterthought.