And here we sit.
After an entire summer of questions about Ilya Kovalchuk—where will he go? how much will he get, and for how long?—the circus appeared to be put to rest in late July when the New Jersey Devils announced they had signed the Russian sniper to a whopping, record-breaking, 17-year, $102 million contract.
While everyone was still trying to digest the very idea of such a ludicrous deal, the NHL immediately cried foul and informed the New Jersey Devils that they were not going to approve a deal that quite obviously circumvented the NHL's salary cap.
To say the deal was front-loaded is factual, but it doesn't capture the true audacity of the deal's structure.
The New Jersey Devils would have you, I, and the NHL believe that they planned to have Kovalchuk suit up until he was 44 years old and that, from age 39 on, he'd be playing for $550,000 per season.
Never mind the fact that $98.5 million of the proposed $102 million contract would be paid out within the first 11 years of the deal, this contract is totally on the up-and-up and filed in good faith (wink, wink).
The NHLPA promptly filed a grievance on behalf of Kovalchuk, and the whole matter was eventually reviewed by an independent arbitrator, who rightly upheld the league's incredulity by ruling in their favor on August 9th.
Kovalchuk was once again a free agent and he and the Devils were sent back to the drawing board to draft a contract that would resemble something not created in Fantasy Land.
What they've come back with is a 15-year, $100 million dollar deal.
Wow! What a difference, eh?
They shaved a whole two years off of the original proposed contract, and with that, $2 million!
The previous contract would have resulted in a $6 million annual cap hit, a far cry from the actual $11.5 million that Kovalchuk would make in the richest years of the deal.
The new contract will up that cap hit to, wait for it...$6.6 million.
Yes, surely, this deal is much more in line with the league's salary cap restrictions and in no way circumvents or attempts to circumvent the cap.
Just take a look at the numbers reported in a piece by Bleacher Report's Tab Bamford on Wednesday.
By reducing the salary to $1 million in years 11 thorough 13 and then upping the salary in years 14 and 15 to $3 and $4 million, respectively, the Devils seem to be making it painfully obvious that this contract, unlike the last one, isn't buyout-friendly and that, they truly believe Kovalchuk will be worth a combined $7 million at age 42.
And you thought the first contract was ridiculous.
The sharp drop-off in the final years of the 17-year contract rejected by the league in August was obviously put in place to make a buyout much easier once Kovalchuk entered his 40s.
But, you could suspend disbelief long enough to see that, perhaps, the Devils anticipated a drop-off in Kovalchuk's abilities in his later years and thus reduced his pay accordingly.
You could almost see that as likely.
This new contract makes the likeliness of a buyout, well...less likely, but the Devils' attempt to circumvent the cap is made even more obvious than before.
What this means is that, if the NHL is true to its convictions (and I'm not saying they are), then they should reject this deal even more quickly than they did the first one.
However, in so doing, they will have taken one step closer to open war with the NHLPA, and that means the fate of the entire NHL will start to hang in the balance.
As easy as it might be to lay this whole mess at the feet of Gary Bettman, doing so would be unfair.
The NHL was totally justified in rejecting Kovalchuk's first idiotic contract and will be totally justified if and when they throw this one out as well.
The blame, therefore, for the lockout/strike to come should be placed squarely on the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk.
After all, there is no mandate, guideline, or stipulation that, in order to play in the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk must make over $10 million per year and must play under a long-term, $100 million contract.
But that's just the kind of delusion the Devils seem to be operating under.
Ensuring that the salary demands of a greedy, self-centered player be met is not something guaranteed by the CBA, but the New Jersey Devils management seems to think that it is.
The point is, none of this has to happen.
In fact, if New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello had done what Kings GM Dean Lombardi did earlier in the summer and gave Kovalchuk a "take it or leave it" deal that paid him handsomely, but without circumventing the salary cap, then none of this would be happening.
The principles of supply and demand would have simply priced Kovalchuk out of the market.
Think about it, if no one was willing to pay Kovalchuk his asking price, how long do you think he'd wait before either lowering his demands, or go to the KHL?
In business, be it a fruit stand or the NHL, the market always determines price of goods.
If you're asking $20 a pound for grapes, guess what, you're going to have a lot of rotten grapes on your hands. Lower that to $1 per pound, and you'll see them flying off the shelves.
The same is true for hockey players.
If Kovalchuk was seeking, say, an eight-year deal at $8 million per, he'd not only have many more suitors, but by this point, an NHL contract.
Instead, Kovalchuk's greed, and the Devils' foolish willingness to satiate it have forced the NHL into a corner.
If and when the next strike or lockout comes to pass, which is looking more and more likely as this idiocy continues, make sure to send a basket of rotten grapes to Lou Lamoriello and Ilya Kovalchuk, for it is this dynamic duo of greed that will be to blame for all of us losing NHL hockey yet again.
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