Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Speaking of circuses...

Could today finally be d-day for the resolution of the Ilya Kovalchuk fiasco? God, I hope so. If ever I needed an offseason from the Devils it was after last year and the shameful hockey I saw from early January on. Instead, we somehow wound up being involved in what's probably been the most complex, convoluted free agent signing in the history of professional sports. So convoluted that the Devils have agreed to two deals with Kovalchuk in the span of two months, and we still don't know if the second one is going to pass the league's sniff test - but the deadline for a decision is 5 PM today.

So to put it succinctly, I need an offseason from my offseason.

In the end, it seems like only three outcomes are possible today. The least likely is that the NHL formally approves the Devils' reported 15-year, $100 million deal with a structure rumored by Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos to pay Kovalchuk $90 million in the first ten years of the deal then follow three years of a $1 million salary with $7 million in the back two, to avoid the 'retirement contract' complaint from arbitrator Richard Bloch in the first deal. I say outright approval is the least likely only because the NHL never really gave approval to the Marian Hossa contract and a couple of other contreversial deals but let them register and slapped an investigation tag on them.

Which leads me to the far more likely scenario - especially since we're now in the final hours of the NHL's deadline - no formal approval or rejection at all, though a non-rejection will equal a tacit approval. Under this conclusion the Devils will be able to operate with Kovalchuk under contract and have one of the NHL's ambiguous 'under investigation' tags slapped onto it...which in English means if the league stumbles onto a smoking gun that proves collusive behavior in the structure of the deal then we can take action at that point, otherwise we're powerless to do anything but will not give a seal of approval to this contract in any case.

Then there's the nightmare scenario for Devils fans - outright rejection in the last hours. That's not only lifting your leg up and taking a **** on the Devils and their fans but we would truly be venturing into the unknown once again. Would Kovy follow through on his threat to go to Russia for a year or possibly more if this deal gets turned aside? Could Lou and Vanderbeek sue the NHL or commissioner Gary Bettman? Might there be another arbitration hearing, with Bloch or someone else? What kind of penalties - if any - would the league seek to impose on us in the event of a second rejected deal (as if a summer of turmoil and likely losing Kovalchuk to Russia wasn't punishment enough)?

Of course if the latter happens the league will prove it's got a petty double-standard and is on an extreme power trip. If they reject a deal now, after already putting the Devils in check once and having the Devils use Bloch's decision and another meeting with league officials just over a week ago to discuss concepts as a specific guide, then that proves the league keeps moving the goalposts on us. Especially considering the terms of the deal are now far more in line with the other contreversial contracts that are - ahem - under investigation but registered.

After all there's already a 15-year deal on the books (hi, Rick DiPietro!). There are long-term deals that take players to and past 42 - Hossa and Roberto Luongo. Kovalchuk's deal has more money in the final five years of the contract than any of the other investigated deals. Probably the only thing you could complain about that's unlike any other deal is the alleged difference between the highest salary and the lowest salary. According to Kypreos's structure the high year is $11.8 million and the lowest years are $1 million, which is a pretty significant range. Still I don't think that should be enough to scuttle the deal.

As always however, you never know just how low the league will be willing to go. So we wait with bated breath for 5 PM.

UPDATE: Well apparently we didn't have to wait till 5 PM to know we were going to get jerked around yet again, as the league and NHLPA have agreed to extend the deadline until Friday 5 PM. Just before a holiday weekend. What a sham this league is.

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