A Call for Calm Regarding the NHL's Rejection of the New Jersey Devils Contract with Ilya Kovalchuk

Do what Ilya's doing and calmly put your foot on the foundation of the truth - which is solid as a rock. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Many are up in arms both here, throughout the SBNation network, the local hockey media (Chere, Gulitti), and all over the national/general hockey media (e.g. TSN, ESPN, Puck Daddy, NHL Fanhouse, The Hockey News, etc.) over the NHL rejecting Ilya Kovalchuk's deal last night.  Some are unhappy, some aren't unhappy that the NHL did this, and some are elsewhere in between (or not caring at all - but they won't be reading this).   After a night's rest and a day of work, I have a few thoughts that I think would benefit all involved - from Devils fans livid with the NHL to non-Devils fans who are laughing about it to people in the media making opinions to anyone else who reads this.  

Warning: There's quite a lot of reading ahead but there's one message that I want everyone to fully grasp.  Don't worry, you can't possibly miss it, as it's in big, bold letters.

First and most of all:

TAKE A DEEP BREATH

There, don't you feel a little better?  This is a contentious issue with a whole lot of reports and speculation running rampant.  This contract was massive at $102 million over 17 years.  The player involved is a goal scoring machine.  The team involved has been a contender in the Eastern Conference for at least a decade.  This is A Big Deal.  And everyone's interested in not only how this will play out for not only Kovalchuk and the Devils

There's value in discussing such an important event in the NHL.  That will not be done, or at least done constructively, if everyone's not willing to have a cool head about it.  So, again:

TAKE A DEEP BREATH

Therefore, my fellow Devils fans, dump the cries of conspiracy or laments that the league is out to get Lou/New Jersey/Kovalchuk/etc.  There's no definitive evidence suggesting that the league would unfairly punish one member club over another.  Especially one whose general manager has been an ally for the league for so long and who has a league-recommended cap-ologist who actually helped write the CBA.  This makes no sense; and such talk speaks far more about you - and not in a good way - than the issue itself.  

Similarly, you may need to hear what others who aren't necessarily supportive of what the Devils have to say. Scott Burnside isn't well liked here because he seems to think the Devils are doomed from season to season. Yet, his piece at ESPN today has valid points and even some encouraging news (though I wouldn't fully trust it since it's from a "source"). The most condemning point is the possibility (confirmed by Gulitti, sadly) that Lou and the Devils were informed that the NHL would reject the deal and still went ahead with the press conference and advertising Kovalchuk's return - as odd as it may seem.  That was wrong of the team to do and I recant my earlier anger at the league. The embarrassment is on the team and is deserved with this revelation.  And I wouldn't have even thought about it if I just discounted Burnside because he thought the team wasn't going to make the playoffs last season.

Let's get back to the main point here, there are  some truly untrustworthy people in the hockey media, yes, but it doesn't do us any good as a community or as a fanbase to only accept information from people who are associated with New Jersey.   The truth is the truth regardless if it comes from Tom Gulitti, Adrian Dater, or even, yes, Mark Everson.

Those who are not Devils fans who have lamented this deal and/or ridiculed the team for this decision, take a step back and watch your own words.  The word "circumvent" has been thrown around a lot but without a whole lot of definition.  I've seen people throw out how unlikely it is for a player to play until he's 44, as if unlikely meant .  Absurd, ridiculous, unfair, and stupid are all valid ways to look at the contract, but none of them mean the same as illegal.

Words are funny things at times and what you intend may not be picked up by whoever's reading what you type, much less whoever's replying to it.   For example, some may take this quote by Lou Lamoriello as an admission of guilt:

"I might agree," he [Lou] said. "But there is nothing that we have done wrong. This is within the rules. This is in the CBA. There are precedents that have been set. But I would agree we shouldn’t have these. But I’m also saying that because it’s legal and this is something that ownership felt comfortable doing for the right reasons." 

Yet, Lou had this to say today:

"We are extremely disappointed that the NHL has decided to reject the contract of Ilya Kovalchuk.  The contract complies with the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  We will have no further comment until the process outlined in the CBA is complete."

Read what you want in the first statement, but there's a common link here: the deal was believed to be legal per the CBA.  Read what you like but, these are not contradictory statements.  Displeasure isn't the same as malfeasance.  If you argue otherwise, well, I don't know what to tell you.  My point is that you would do well to calmly, rationally explain what you mean so that your point is understood.  Who knows, it may make it even more convincing and less likely to be shown up later on.  Don't tell me that the deal was bad for hockey, was a joke, etc. and assume we know what you mean - explain it.

Above all, both sides of the argument would do well to listen to each other even if it means accepting truths that run counter to what we want to believe.   The first step to do that is to:

TAKE A DEEP BREATH

This whole issue is deep-seated in the NHL Contract Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  Here is a direct link to the 6+ MB .PDF file that consists of the CBA from the NHL's website.   Sure, we can rely on reports ourselves and argue endlessly about what is and isn't fair.  The fact of the matter is that some of the answers to the questions raised are here in this file.   Let's use the CBA to answer these instead of conjecture, assumptions, and prattle.  For example:

  • Does the CBA limit how long a contract can be for a player?  If so, how long and is it by term or by age?  Is 17 years too long; is 44 too old; and if either or both or true, where does it say that?
  • Does the CBA limit a player's salary from year-to-year? If so, what are acceptable criteria?
  • If the salary cap or CBA changes, what happens to the deals in place beforehand? Are they subject to further review or modification, or are they grandfathered in?
  • What are the available procedures after a contract is rejected?  What is and is not admissible in those procedures (e.g. comparable deals, precedence of events, etc.)?  What are the potential penalties involved, if it comes to that? 
  • Can the CBA be modified in anyway to clarify an article ahead of the next CBA agreement?
  • What actually is "cap circumvention?" 
  • Is utilizing a salary cap cost based on the average annual value of a contract really a loophole or a circumvention if that are how cap hits defined in the CBA?

The answers to these may be elsewhere, but why rely on someone else when you can look it up in the CBA and get the actual, written facts right from the source?  State the actual text that addresses these questions and more?   Why argue and/or claim something as amorphous as "spirit" of the rules when you can look up what the rules actually state?  Sure, it takes some effort, but usually quality discussion doesn't happen from just quick, off-the-cuff ranting.   The document is available online, take the time to read it, and cite it as needed.  At a minimum, the discussion will be elevated by the presence of facts. Usually, that's what I think most people want at the end of the day: "Just the facts, sir/ma'am."

Of course, even if you're totally right on something and everyone else is totally wrong, citing it like a jerk actually doesn't elevate anything, so don't do that.  To prevent that, I suggest that before commenting you:

TAKE A DEEP BREATH

I think both sides should understand what the worst case scenario might be.  If you opposed the deal, then I suppose that would be the deal being found acceptable as-is in someway and life moves on.  If you supported the deal, I suppose that would mean a total rejection, Kovalchuk goes elsewhere, the Devils may face a penalty to their cap, and life moves on.   In both cases, there will still be a league, there will still be a New Jersey Devils hockey club, and the sun will truly rise again.

Personally, if I had to hazard a guess, I think what will actually happen will be somewhere in the middle.  More importantly and factually, many issues aren't resolved that.  Feel free to speculate, but I wouldn't get worked up over something that hasn't been resolved yet and won't be resolved immediately.  Did we not learn this from the three weeks prior to Kovalchuk announcing that he will sign with the New Jersey?  If not, let's learn it now.    When the news breaks, it'll break, we'll react, all parties involved will act accordingly, and life will move on.

Thank you for reading, and as an aside, a thank you to Sergei of From Russia With Glove who actually told me about the news first last night  (I forgot to mention him last night, sorry Sergei).  Please feel free to give your continued thoughts on the Kovalchuk contract rejection in the comments.  If you do attempt to answer some of these questions, please do not be alarmed if I or someone else asks for the actual evidence in the CBA that backs up your answer.  Again, it's linked in this very post for your convenience - check it out for yourself instead of relying on someone else.  

Before you hit "POST" in the comments though, regardless if you're a new user, a longtime member, or even a blogger/reporter/media person, might I suggest that you:

TAKE A DEEP BREATH

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