Ilya Kovalchuk is still a UFA after his 17-year, $102-million contract was rejected by the league, a decision baked up by an arbitrator. (Getty Images)
In the wake of arbitrator Richard Bloch’s ruling in favor of the NHL’s rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102-million contract with the New Jersey Devils came news the league is still investigating the contracts of Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger, Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, Chicago’s Marian Hossa and Boston’s Marc Savard.
Although league senior VP of public relations Gary Meagher told ESPN.com the league wasn’t as much “investigating” those contracts as “looking at them” it led to rampant speculation the NHL would attempt to retroactively reject those contracts.
The league could face stiff resistance from the Philadelphia Flyers, who consider the league’s previous investigation of Pronger’s contract a closed issue.
Team president Peter Luukko told CSNPhilly.com the Flyers consider the big defenseman’s contract to be compliant with the rules of the CBA, but league deputy commissioner Bill Daly suggested otherwise.
That, however, is a fight the league should avoid.
The Flyers are owned by Comcast Spectacor, whose chairman, Ed Snider, has long been an ally of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman; infuriating Snider is the last thing Bettman and the league want as it could potentially jeopardize ownership unity in the next round of CBA talks with the NHLPA.
The NHL prides itself on presenting a united front of owners and GMs when facing off in labor talks. The last thing it needs is a wedge issue that could jeopardize that solidarity.
Agent Ritch Winter, who represents Hossa, told The Sporting News he and the Blackhawks negotiated his client’s contract last year to be compliant within the framework of the CBA. He warned against suggesting the Kovalchuk decision would adversely impact all similar contracts, noting each would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
It’s been suggested revoking Luongo’s and Savard’s contracts could be blessings in disguise for the Canucks and Bruins as they could either then re-sign the pair to more affordable, shorter-term deals or simply walk away.
But player agent Kurt Overhardt suggested such a move by the league could open up a legal can of worms, pointing out those contracts have already been registered. Hossa has played one season under his deal, whereas the Kovalchuk contract was not registered by the league when it was rejected.
It appears only the contracts for those aforementioned four are being reviewed by the league. The deals for Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff, Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier and Detroit forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen – considered amongst the forerunners for those other contracts – are not.
Although the NHLPA was on the losing end of the arbitrator’s decision on the Kovalchuk contract, it is believed to be fully prepared to file grievances on behalf of any player whose contract might be retroactively rejected by the league.
THN.com columnist Rory Boylen pointed out it was the structure of the Kovalchuk contract – paying him 97 percent of his salary in the first 11 years of the 17-year deal – that was considerably different than the others, whose pay also drops significantly in the final years of their respective contracts, but not to the same extent.
It’s possible the NHL will retroactively reject one or more of the contracts in question, but unlikely. Reviewing those contracts could be the league’s way of reinforcing the message it sent by the rejection of the Kovalchuk contract that it won’t stand for further exploitation of the CBA loophole allowing these deals.
KABERLE CRUNCH TIME
Time is running out for the Toronto Maple Leafs to trade defenseman Tomas Kaberle without his permission.
Kaberle’s no-trade clause goes back into effect Aug. 15 so, naturally, speculation is starting to ramp up over potential trade candidates.
The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox listed several on Tuesday, suggesting the L.A. Kings might’ve been interested, though their attention might now be upon Ilya Kovalchuk.
Cox also listed the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars as having varying degrees of interest despite Kaberle’s stated preference of playing in the Eastern Conference, while the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning might also make a pitch for the long-time Leafs blueliner.
The Columbus Dispatch’s Tom Reed reported the Blue Jackets had “kicked the tires” on Kaberle, but unless the Leafs lower their asking price Jackets GM Scott Howson isn’t likely to pursue the issue.
While it’s possible the Leafs will trade Kaberle by Aug. 15, there’s also a good chance he’ll return to their lineup next season, something GM Brian Burke has suggested more than once in recent weeks, while claiming he has no real zest to move Kaberle even as he entertains offers for the defenseman.
We’ll know Kaberle’s fate for certain by Sunday.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.