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Campbell's Cuts: Kovalchuk still talking to Kings and a new NHLPA constitution

Ilya Kovalchuk became a free agent July 1, but is still looking for a new home. (Getty Images)

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Ilya Kovalchuk became a free agent July 1, but is still looking for a new home. (Getty Images)

Some summertime Monday observations for your dining and dancing pleasure:

NO KINGS RANSOM FOR KOVALCHUK

The Los Angeles Kings might be putting their fans through the wringer when it comes to their negotiations with Ilya Kovalchuk, but they’re actually playing out the situation very well.

That’s because the Kings have made it clear that if Kovalchuk is going to sign with them, it will be on the Kings’ terms and they aren’t willing to sacrifice their young talent in a couple of years by getting involved in an albatross of a contract with a player who comes with some questions.

They don’t want the Kovalchuk deal to prevent them from signing young stars such as Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds and Jack Johnson when their contracts come up.

The fact the two sides keep gravitating together tells you Kovalchuk wants the Kings just as badly as they want him and the other options aren’t nearly as appealing. So it would be wise not to believe negotiations between the Kings and Kovalchuk have “broken down” until Kovalchuk actually signs somewhere else.

NEW NHLPA CONSTITUTION

When the players show up in Toronto Tuesday for the NHL Players’ Association’s North American summer meeting, they’ll be presented with a new constitution for the organization.

And if early reviews are right, it will, in many ways, bring the organization back to autocratic rule. And it will have been crafted by the man who will almost certainly lead them through the next round of collective bargaining.

Almost everyone connected with the game is of the opinion that former Major League Baseball Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr will ultimately be running the NHLPA, if not in title then in all practical terms. It’s probable someone else will be the executive director while Fehr takes on the role of consultant, but it will be Fehr effectively at the helm.

Not only is Fehr advising the NHLPA in its search for a new executive director, he’s also the driving force behind the rewriting of the constitution. And the constitution he’ll present to the players will give the executive director far more power than the unwieldy document that hamstrung lame-duck predecessor Paul Kelly.

Among the changes in the constitution, it’s expected:

• The union will either abolish the position of ombudsman or make it a part-time job that will be done at an arm’s length from the NHLPA’s office. The union’s first ombudsman, Eric Lindros, was instrumental in forming a cabal to oust Kelly.

• The division player representatives, a group of retired players who reported to the ombudsman, will be abolished.

• The advisory board, whose only role seemed to be to advise the players Kelly couldn’t do the job, will be abolished.

• The general counsel will report to the executive director, which is currently not the case.

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• The stringent rules surrounding quorum and approval will be relaxed. As it stands now, in order for the NHLPA to do any business of consequence, 25 of the 30 player representatives had to be on the conference call and 20 votes were required to pass a resolution.

So, it appears the NHLPA constitution that was supposed to give the power back to the players will collapse under its own weight. The players who were once so wary of giving their leader too much power will now happily accede it through the constitution. They’re also poised to effectively give it to Fehr, who will almost certainly be pulling the strings when the owners and players face off in CBA talks two years from now.

Almost makes you wonder why they ever got rid of Bob Goodenow in the first place.

WHY THERE ARE SO MANY SHORT-TERM CONTRACTS

Speaking of the CBA, it’s no coincidence we’re seeing a plethora of one- and two-year deals being signed, particularly by young players coming out of entry level contracts who have very little leverage.

Teams might normally want to lock those players up long-term, or at least avoid a few arbitration-eligible years, but there is plenty of talk around the league that teams are, as they did the last time they had this negotiating dance with the players, trying to limit the number of contracts they have beyond the summer of 2012.

The Colorado Avalanche, it has been rumored, are unwilling to give anyone anything more than two years, which means when burgeoning power forward Chris Stewart is signed, it will be on a short contract. The Avs have already signed Kyle Quincey and Brandon Yip to two-year deals, as did the Phoenix Coyotes with Wojtek Wolski.

It would be almost impossible for the NHLPA to prove the league is colluding to keep these contracts short-term, but there’s little doubt teams are counting on the financial landscape changing once again after 2012 and they want as few commitments as possible when those changes come.

The only flaw in that theory is the CBA doesn’t expire until Sept. 15, 2012, meaning teams will have to sign and re-sign players that summer in the event a work stoppage is avoided.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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