09 August 2010

Arbitrator Rules In Favor Of NHL, Nullifies Kovy's Contract

 Photo Courtesy of: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Just when you thought it might finally be over, you hear the news: Ilya Kovalchuk is officially a free agent (again).

As promised, the outcome of the Kovalchuk fiasco between the NHL and NHLPA was announced today.

The arbitrator, Richard Bloch, decided to uphold the league's decision to void the Russian sniper's 17-year deal with the New Jersey Devils.

Bloch called it "a retirement contract," and claimed that the deal went "well beyond the typical retirement age for NHL players."

The NHL released this statement regarding the contract grievance:

"We want to thank Arbitrator Bloch for his prompt resolution of a complex issue. His ruling is consistent with the League's view of the manner in which the Collective Bargaining Agreement should deal with contracts that circumvent the Salary Cap."

Of course, the NHLPA released a statement of their own soon after:

"We have reviewed and respect Arbitrator Bloch's ruling in the Kovalchuk matter. We also note and appreciate his finding that nothing in his opinion should be read as suggesting that either the club or Ilya Kovalchuk operated in bad faith or on the basis of any assumption other than that the Standard Player Contract was fully compliant with the CBA. That has been our consistent position throughout. While we do not currently have a contract with Ilya Kovalchuk, discussions have resumed and we are hopeful that a contract will be reached that meets with the principles in Arbitrator Bloch's award and the NHL's approval."

What happens from here?

For starters, it's clear that Bloch's only problem with the deal was the fact that Kovalchuk would have to play until he was 44 to fulfill the contract.

If that's the case, all the Devils and Kovy have to do is work out a slightly shorter deal with the same type of front-loading to lower his cap hit.

Chris Pronger, for example, is signed until he becomes 42 years of age.

Since the NHL did not attack that contract (or Roberto Luongo or Marian Hossa's), it is fair to assume Kovalchuk could do the same.

Before the hearing, it was speculated that the NHL had no case because they had set no precedent against these deals in the past.

However, now that Bloch has decided age is the limiting factor, a new precedent has been set.

And while the league may be pleased with the short-term outcome of the case, the long-term consequences could prove to be much worse.

Many believe this argument is the beginning of another lockout in 2012, when the NHL and NHLPA will meet to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

A lockout would be bad news for the league, players, and fans alike.

That being said, it's still a real possibility that there'll be no NHL in 2012 if this dispute isn't resolved properly.

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