Thursday, September 2, 2010
NHL's power play keeps Devils, other teams in holding pattern
Well the supposed decision yesterday turned out to be the five hundredth delay in this madness known as the Summer of Kovalchuk, as the NHL and NHLPA agreed to extend the deadline for a verdict on the second Ilya Kovalchuk contract till at least tomorrow at 5 PM. Why this occured wasn't immediately clear, until Larry Brooks' exclusive in the Post late last night about how the NHL had presented an ultimatium to the NHLPA which supposedly is as follows:
-If the NHLPA agrees to not count years of 40 and above on long-term contracts towards the cap and also acedes to allowing the cap hit on all contracts five years and above to be weighted towards the five highest paid years of the deal, the NHL will allow the Kovalchuk contract to be grandfathered in before the new rules take effect and end investigations of all the other so-called 'contreversial' deals that are cap circumvention according to suits Gary Bettman and Bill Daly (above).
-If the NHLPA will not agree to those terms, the NHL will immediately reject the Kovalchuk contract, void the contract of Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (which goes into effect this season and takes the goaltender to 43 years of age) and open a 'formal' investigation into the Marian Hossa contract.
So basically the NHL is holding the Kovalchuk contract hostage and now holding a guillotine over one or two other big-name players and their team's heads until they get what they want from a weakened and clueless NHLPA - a change to the current CBA that it took the sides over a year and a lost season to agree to - before the CBA's term expires. Is it smart of Bettman and Daly to take advantage of the capital they gained from Richard Bloch's initial decision in favor of the league almost a month ago? Sure it is, but it doesn't make it right or even legal.
If the NHLPA had even half the power of the MLBPA this might already been in court for any number of reasons but instead the NHL's power trip of interpreting the CBA the way they want is going pretty much unchecked. To be fair, the terms aren't exactly unreasonable...eliminating years above 40 from the cap hit pretty much ends the possibility of a 20-year deal to Drew Doughty or whatever other deal the next GM can dream up to take advantage of a loophole that is now holding up the entire NHL.
How is the NHLPA supposed to fight this really? Bloch's decision on Kovy contract v1.0 gave the league the upper hand in all contract disputes and even if the NHLPA calls the league's bluff and dares them to void a Luongo deal a year after it got signed and reject a Kovalchuk contract the Devils came up with after checking and double-checking with the league, the league has proven they are adamant about tying up every questionable contract in arbitration and threatening to put other teams through what the Devils and their fans have gone through these last two months.
Plus as of this point the NHLPA still doesn't have a leader. Sure, former MLBPA head Donald Fehr has been advising the NHLPA over the last few months, but if his list of demands for taking the job full-time is any indication, it sounds like he's only going to come on his terms. Can you really blame him though? With the unstability of the NHLPA leadership after multiple coups and general ineffectiveness after being beaten up by Bettman over and over, it's not exactly a rebuilding job a man in his early 60's really wants to tackle. Not with a CBA war looming in two years that will probably lead to yet another work stoppage.
Still, this NHL power play - while smart from a ruthless business point of view - is doing a tremendous disservice to NHL fans, players and even executives everywhere. For the players, it's a sham that they're basically forced at the point of a bayonet to accept a change to the CBA that wasn't collectively bargained for (even if the change is mostly for the better). Of course Devils' GM Lou Lamoriello can't be happy that he's being made to wait even longer to have a resolution of this mess, not with multiple moves that need to be made to get the Devils under the cap if the Kovy deal gets registered. Not to mention the Devil players who have been rumored to be on the move all summer long and still don't know their fate.
And how do you think Mike Gillis in Vancouver's feeling right about now? He's facing the prospect of having his Olympic-winning goaltender get his contract voided because of events that had absolutely nothing to do with him. Chicago's had enough problems this summer with having to deal with cap issues already on the books, adding a 'real' Hossa investigation would only put a further cloud on the defending Stanley Cup champs - who today found out that former goaltender Antti Niemi took a one year, $2 million deal from the Sharks weeks after the Hawks were forced to part with their Cup-winning goalie over the difference of $1 million.
Of course agents are up in arms too, Marc Savard's agent is threatening to sue the league if they make a move towards his client's contract. Fellow agent Allan Walsh mused a while back that the NHL was now writing the Kovalchuk contract and of course Kovy agent Jay Grossman has about a cool $3 million on the line with the outcome of this sham, since if Kovy's contract does get voided the KHL becomes a more likely option. For his part, the vice president of the KHL got in a good dig when he said if Kovy came over, he could sign any contract and SKA will pay the luxury tax because 'we're democratic and free'. Who am I to argue at this point, since the NHL system is getting more Communist by the day?
As usual though, the biggest losers are us - the fans. We're the ones that have been obsessively checking the internet, radio, TV, whatever for news over the last two months and we're the ones that have been jerked around the most with all of this red tape, endless rumors, delays and now being used as pawns in a high-powered game of chess between billionaires and millionaires. We're the ones that pay for tickets, buy jerseys and make up the TV ratings and we've been ignored and crapped on all summer long while the league selectively punishes some teams, rejects legal contracts and tries to illegally impose new restrictions on a good-faith CBA. And we're the ones that are going to suffer the most if (when?) the league locks out or strikes yet again after next season.
Like my fellow blogger would say though, it's never about the fans, is it? We're always the last ones to get any respect from any of these clowns, if ever. And yet we keep coming back because we love our team, the sport or both. So the endless cycle continues, as does the waiting for the resolution of this insanity.