Ilya Kovalchuk: What Arbitration Ruling Means For The Leafs And The Rest Of NHL

Cale LoneyCorrespondent IAugust 9, 2010

MONTREAL - JANUARY 24:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at the NHL Board of Governors Meeting during the 2009 NHL All-Star weekend on January 24, 2009 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

The arbitration ruling has been rendered and Ilya Kovalchuk is now, once again, an unrestricted free agent. While Gary Bettman and Co. celebrate their victory, the dozens of free agents and 29 general managers who aren't named Dean Lombardi, go back to the drawing board.

The ruling was handed down around dinner time, and went against what was originally expected to be a clear and decisive win for the NHLPA. The question on everyone's mind now is "What does this ruling mean for me?"

If you are an unrestricted free agent, it means that you are going to continue being one. Unfortunately, unless Kovalchuk signs soon, the saga could continue leaving further NHLPA members without employment.

If your name is Brian Burke, it means that Tomas Kaberle may be a colder commodity than originally expected. According to Todd Cordell and a source at ESPN, the offers for Kaberle are in the double digits. But as others point out, you can have hundreds of offers, but you still need the right one.

At least Brian Burke received some good news Monday as Leaf prospect Jerry D'Amigo opted not to return to NCAA hockey and to turn pro. D'Amigo is expected to report to either the Kitchener Rangers or the Toronto Marlies. Expect the Leafs to sign D'Amigo to an entry-level contract soon, as this prospect turned red hot after the World Junior Championships.

For the New Jersey Devils their was less good news on Monday. The arbitration ruling means that Ilya Kovalchuk may yet walk. This is highly unlikely as he has already done a very public press conference and it would be kind of hard to sign somewhere else and say they were his "first choice".

The KHL is often brought up as a possibility, but anyone who follows the league (or has read Dave King's book, King of Russia) would understand that the economics of the league don't really permit a long term commitment.

Add in that any short term deal, such as the alleged three year 30-million dollar offer, makes the presumption that the KHL will continue to exist in its current form for three more years.  On a league widely paid for by sponsorships with little gate revenue and modest TV contracts, a Kovalchuk-sized deal doesn't fit the economics of the league.

According to Damian Cox, the NHL now has some ammo to pursue two other contracts that are under investigation. The Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo, Marc Savard and Chris Pronger contracts are now being investigated and could be retroactively punished. 

And as one commenter on the article pointed out, if Jonas Frogren's illegal contract cost the Leafs a fourth round pick, what will the Kovalchuk contract cost? The Kovalchuk and potential Hossa, Luongo, Savard and Pronger contracts have to cost at the very least a second rounder. At the most, these deals could cost multiple picks including a first rounder, depending on the message the NHL wants to send.

If the arbitration hearing was meant to say anything, it was to tell the teams to enjoy these contracts while you can, because they won't last.