Sunday, August 15, 2010

A road to nowhere

Ever root for a team even though you know deep down it won't do any good? We've all experienced that in this space. Brian with his two Buffalo teams. Hasan with the Mets and Jets, who appear to be defying logic 101 with their best player. And of course, yours truly with the Knicks, Rangers and my alma mater St. John's, who tries to bring in a big name coach in hopes of becoming relevant again in college hoops.

What does any of this have to do with the tired subject of the NHL defeating the Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk thanks to Richard Bloch's cap defining decision? Just this. By disallowing the controversial 17-year, $102 million contract, it opened up a pandoras box. A whole new can of worms may have been created, allowing Gary Bettman and his cronies to further investigate similar mega deals that were already approved. But that shouldn't stop a league hell bent on more chaos as we get closer to Armageddon II. In other words, beware Roberto Luongo, Chris Pronger, Marian Hossa and Marc Savard. Didn't Hossa just win a Cup in his first year with Chicago? And Pronger was instrumental in getting the Flyers to the the Final.

Just imagine if Bettman Inc. does the predictable. What are they going to do? Erase history. Something like this is unprecedented. No other league would dare break contracts that already were signed off on. Of course, that won't stop the NHL. Why would it? When has logic ever prevailed? To think that '04-05 was sacrificed so they could get their precious cap. As it turns out, it wasn't good enough. GM's found a way around it by locking up star players long-term. Fittingly, the chaos started thanks to Charles Wang, who inked Rick DiPietro to a then record 15 year, $67.5 million back in '06. That it would be an unorthodox owner who obviously didn't realize the tremendous risk he took in signing the No.1 goalie until the age of 40, speaks to another issue. One which was supposed to go away due to the lockout. Owners were supposed to be fiscally responsible. But here you had the uncanny Islander owner going over the top for a goalie who'd never even won a playoff series. Since, it's been one catastrophe after another with the franchise netminder suffering injury after injury, sidelining him for long stretches.

What's even sadder is that under Wang's leadership if you could call it that, this is the same organization that's still paying Alexei Yashin for the nonsensical 10-year $87.5 million albatross pre-lockout. Hard to comprehend two of the worst contracts coming from a team whose hands are tied, just treading water at the bottom of the cap. While it's easy to look at Glen Sather for many NHL/Ranger fan headaches, it was actually Wang calling the shots over Mike Milbury, which changed organizational philosophy in the Cap Era. Now, such mega contracts are common as more and more teams lock up players before the rules change.

Detroit's done it with both Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg. The Flyers also with star captain Mike Richards. The penny pinching Sabres with Thomas Vanek with an assist from Kevin Lowe. At least Darcy Regier got it right with Vezina winner Ryan Miller. Not so much with Jason Pominville. The rating Cup champion Blackhawks have cornerstones Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith tied away along with Hossa, who will be over 40 by the end of his deal. However, other players like Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland and Cristobal Huet forced Stan Bowman to trade away key pieces Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager while letting Antti Niemi and Adam Burish go. That's what the cost of winning has become in a constantly revolving league where more and more players are changing jerseys.

If it's true that there was technically nothing wrong with the Kovalchuk contract under the current CBA, then it's also true that the NHL should be concerned about what these deals are doing. We maybe against the league in this particular fight but they are justified in wanting to make adjustments for the future. Problem is they can't do it now. Dragging more players into this mess would do an incredible disservice for a sport that's coming off an exciting Cup where a major market won for the first time in half a century. Ratings were up and popularity was as well. The game doesn't need another post '94 when it was also hot before they locked out the players. How many times does a disorganized NHLPA take it on the chin? The players are the product and want to play.

When it starts up again sooner than you think, the focus needs to be on hockey. Not the current nonsense. It's called good PR. Like a classic Run DMC hit, time for the NHL to check itself before it wrecks itself.

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