Well maybe now we're finally nearing a resolution of the Ilya Kovalchuk saga, as word came down late last night that an arbitrator had been agreed to and the case would be heard early next week with a decision to come 48 hours after the case's conclusion as per CBA rules. So by the end of next week there should finally be some closure to this madness. Unless of course the arbitrator unexpectedly rules in favor of the league, in which case nobody really knows what the next step will be though from all reports it seems unlikely the league would seek to extract further punishment against the Devils in the case of a favorable (for them) ruling.
Of course if the arbitrator rules in favor of the Devils, the star winger will finally be signed, sealed and delivered officially by the end of next week and GM Lou Lamoriello can get on with the business of restructuring his team to fit in Kovalchuk under the cap, since even with the contreversial cap-friendly contract the Devils would be approximately $2 million over, give or take a little depending on the final composition of the roster come October. Also an unrelated factor to the Devils' cap issues is a second buyout period that ends Sunday and under one of the more obscure CBA rules only exists because Mark Fraser filed for arbitration.
I can't see Lou buying anyone else out though, after giving Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters buyouts of their contracts, combining for a dead $1 million in cap space. It would be a way to get rid of someone who has a no-trade - say Colin White - but you hate to use the buyout on someone you could possibly get value for back in a trade, plus it won't help with our biggest cap headache in Brian Rolston since he was over 35 when he signed his contract and the cap hit remains no matter what.
Getting back to the Kovalchuk case, various sources including Sportsnet believe the arbitrator will be Richard Bloch, who has ruled on NHL salary disputes in the past and also on the Terrell Owens contract after a team suspension a few years back by the Eagles of the NFL. If nothing else he has experience with sports rulings and is clearly qualified. Trying to guess how he will rule based on his history is purely academic, especially since this case is rather unprecedented under this current CBA in the NHL and as much as we like to play armchair lawyer we really don't know all the facts and evidence that will be presented though nothing's come up publicly or by anyone's viewing of the CBA that suggests the Devils did violate any clause of the document and any ruling against the team would likely be based on circumstance and the 'spirit' of the rule.
Either way it's good that the NHL and NHLPA have worked towards a speedier resolution than I feared when this process started. Now that the Kovalchuk saga is going into its fifth week and second month it'll be nice to get on with other business soon since it's likely that Kovalchuk's contract dispute is holding up not only Devils-related business but that of other teams by extension as well. Among others, clearly someone like a Mike Mottau is probably waiting around to see what happens with the team, since if the Devils do trade a defenseman to get under the cap re-signing him cheaply becomes an alternative. Not to mention it's holding up ticket sales to fans who would be more likely to buy Devils tickets with Kovalchuk in the fold.