A Diehard NHL Fan Who Wouldn't Mind Another Lockout

TJ SandersContributor IJuly 20, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 22:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center at on April 22, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Most hockey fans only need to look at the picture to the right to know exactly what I am going to rant about.

How in the heck does Lou Lamoriello offer this kind of contract to Ilya Kovalchuk?

In case anyone missed the biggest news in the NHL today, Kovalchuk finally made up his mind and re-signed with the Devils today for an absolutely outrageous 17-year contract worth $102 million total, which works out to be a $6 million cap hit per year.

The crime in a seemingly modest cap hit? Take a look at Kovalchuk's salary breakdown per season, as reported by Minnesota Wild beat writer Michael Russo:

2010-2011: $6 million
2011-2012: $6 million
2012-2013: $11.5 million
2013-2014: $11.5 million
2014-2015: $11.5 million
2015-2016: $11.5 million
2016-2017: $11.5 million
2017-2018: $10.5 million
2018-2019: $8.5 million
2019-2020: $6.5 million
2020-2021: $3.5 million
2021-2022: $750,000
2022-2023: $550,000
2023-2024: $550,000
2024-2025: $550,000
2025-2026: $550,000
2026-2027: $550,000

I'll cut off my right arm if Ilya Kovalchuk plays the final six years of his contract.

This contract was purposely (albeit masterfully) designed to take full advantage of the joke of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that the NHL and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) agreed upon to bring hockey back to life after the lockout almost six years ago.

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The current "loophole" that somehow everyone missed while constructing the current CBA is that if a player retires he won't get the money that he was scheduled to make and the team he was under contract with isn't penalized.

It's not that today's contract was the first of its kind. Chris Pronger, Roberto Luongo, Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, and Vincent Lecavalier have similar deals.

The frustrating part of Kovalchuk's contract is that the current CBA was created only after the NHL and the NHLPA worried that the lockout would extend past one season and threaten what was already a dwindling and bitter fan base.

The biggest impasse between the NHL and the NHLPA was that Commissioner Gary Bettman wanted players to accept a salary cap structure tying player salaries to league revenues.

During the 2002-03 NHL season, the NHL collectively lost $273 million US, and several NHL teams declared bankruptcy. The main cause of this was that before the new CBA, NHL teams spent on average more than three-quarters of their team revenue on player salaries. In a league where it's a struggle to hold TV viewership and where many teams play in low-interest markets, it was a disaster waiting to happen.

The current CBA is set to expire in September, 2011, although the NHLPA does hold the right to extend that deadline by one year. 

Think Bettman isn't fuming over today's latest contract? He should be. 

The NHLPA was the camp that fought tooth and nail against a "salary cap" despite repeated warnings from NHL. Thankfully, they budged after the best sports fans on earth had to go an entire season without getting to watch NHL hockey.

The most ironic part of today's contract is that Lou Lamoriello took full advantage of a loophole to circumvent a salary cap that NHL GMs and Commissioner Bettman fought for.

In a way, NHL GMs are now letting players reap the benefits of an abundance of cash. Seems that NHL players are getting the last laugh.

The reason NHL fans should be upset is, if this contract is "acceptable," what in the hell was the reason why we lost the 2004-05 season in the first place?

In a sports world where the NHL is already the laughingstock of every other non-hockey fan, today's contract is certainly not going to help matters. 

I look at today's contract as the start of a disastrous slope that the NHL can ill afford to slide down. The NHL rebounded amazingly after the 2004-05 lockout with record attendance and since then, fan support and popularity has only seemed to have grown. 

Unfortunately, with the Kovalchuk signing today, the NHL looks to be no better off in terms of fixing its so-called "salary cap." 

Bettman has warned in the past to stop signing players to these type of contracts but no one has listened. What happened the last time no one listened? We missed an entire year of hockey.

It was unfortunate, but in my opinion, it was necessary because whether haters of Bettman want to admit it or not, he was right by wanting teams and players to accept a salary structure. Who knows if the NHL would even exist today without the current agreement.

The frustrating part as a diehard fan is to watch GMs and NHL players take full advantage of a system that really isn't a system anymore. What is the point of NHL owners and GMs wanting a salary cap and then a few years later doing everything in their power to circumvent it? It doesn't make any sense.

I, for one, welcome another lockout. Maybe it will knock some sense into the selfish professional athletes and GMs who employ them. The only unfortunate part is that I am not sure if the NHL would be able to afford to miss another season.