Ilya Kovalchuk Deal Has NHL Taking Out Its Frustrations on Players and Fans

levinakl@levinaklCorrespondent IIISeptember 2, 2010

The two men who are helping to cause pain for the NHLPA, some NHL teams, agents, players and most importantly, the fans.
The two men who are helping to cause pain for the NHLPA, some NHL teams, agents, players and most importantly, the fans.Al Bello/Getty Images

Late last week, it became clear that the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk had once again come to an agreement on a signed contract for Kovalchuk to play a significant amount of time in New Jersey.

It wasn't long ago—July 17th, to be exact—that the Devils and Kovalchuk had agreed on a 17-year, $102 million contract that ended up being rejected by the NHL.

This new contract agreement apparently calls for 15 years and $100 million, which would be a cap hit of $6.666 million (very appropriate for a team called the Devils, no?).

So, what has changed this time around? Well, the rumor circuit had been very tight, although Nick Kypreos reported first that the last five years of the contract total $10 million, making the deal significantly less front-loaded than the last contract.

The contract would then basically be broken down to 90 percent in the first 10 years and 10 percent in the last five years, which is obviously a significantly better structure than the previous version. It also invalidates the argument of not giving Kovalchuk a reason to play out the contract beyond the 10-year period, but depending on how the five years are structured, it could strengthen or weaken the argument.

Unfortunately, the whole situation seems to have become quite a struggle for the NHL. Instead of being a situation where the NHL is analyzing the Kovalchuk contract as a single item, it has turned into a power struggle between the National Hockey League and the Players Association.

The NHL is taking the opportunity to try to take advantage of a Players Association without a leader. Currently, the NHLPA has no leader after it took a step back to analyze the demands of potential hire Donald Fehr, leaving players, teams, and fans in limbo.

Remember, once the Kovalchuk contract is finalized, there will be fallout around the league in terms of players being traded or signed elsewhere. What could have been done over the course of weeks will now happen in a matter of days, uprooting families, etc. It's just a terrible mess the league has escalated to ensure a designed loophole in the CBA gets closed two years before a new CBA is negotiated at the bargaining table.

Without a leader, the NHL sees the opportunity to go after front-loaded contracts and try to eliminate any current loophole that exists in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. The strategy worked in rejecting the first Ilya Kovalchuk contract and was upheld by arbitrator Richard Bloch.

However, with rumors of an ultimatum being given to the NHLPA, it seems apparent the NHL is on the verge of possibly declaring war against the concept of front-loaded contracts.

The players who appear to be targeted include Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo, and Marc Savard. The rumors have not been overlooked by Savard's agent, Larry Kelly, who has mentioned the possibility of suing the NHL if the contract was voided. What started out as a simple rejection of a contract is now potentially putting the league on a dangerous path of possible Armageddon.

Who is the biggest loser here? Unfortunately, it's the fans, who are constantly kept in limbo and fear another potential work stoppage between two sides that can't seem to get out of each other's way.

In a sport that has certainly regressed substantially in the United States sports landscape the last 15-plus years, the last thing the NHL needs is another black eye. However, this situation is looking like it may be a lot more similar to the loss of a limb rather than just a black eye. 

Let's hope they get it together, as egos need to be checked at the door—or a Commissioner on a potential power play could find himself short-handed in the end, without a profitable league, if the fans continue to be treated in such a poor and despicable way.

Want to discuss the Kovalchuk saga, the Devils, or hockey in general? Look me up and follow me on TWITTER @ LEVINAKL.