The Second Ilya Kovalchuk Contract with the New Jersey Devils - Why Hasn't the NHL Approved This Yet?

Back on Friday, the New Jersey Devils submitted a second contract with Ilya Kovalchuk to the NHL. Unlike the first contract, full details on this second deal aren't available.  However, enough details have been reported to get a grasp on how this deal is different from the one back in July.

If there are any additional details, such as a full breakdown of the contract or a listing of trade clauses (if any), then please let me know in the comments.  (Update: Nick Kypreos has the full breakdown at Sportsnet.ca. Thanks to C.J.Richey121 in the comments) Still, based on what Gulitti and Kypreos has reported, this should be enough to correct the root causes for what got the first deal rejected.  I explain my reasoning after the jump.

There are two things to keep in mind that drives my reasoning.  The first is this report from Damien Cristodero of TampaBay.com that stated that the NHL was OK with the Vincent Lecavalier contract extension.   The details of that contract extension can be found at CapGeek.   Essentially, Lecavalier's guaranteed 97% of his total contract extension in the first 8 years of his 10 year extension and the deal will take him to 40.  He also has a no movement clause on the deal.   The NHL has went out of it's way to tell the Lightning organization that they have no problem with this contract.

Well, the known details of this second contract for Kovalchuk aren't dissimilar.  Kovalchuk will be on the books for 2 more years, but he's getting a less-frontloaded contract than Lecavalier.  In fact, while Lecavalier's deal tails off in the final three years of the deal; Kovalchuk will see his tail dip and then spike at $4 million at the very end.   If the NHL has no problem with Lecavalier's contract; then there shouldn't be any problem with this deal short of some shocking information.

The second comes from the ruling made by Richard Bloch earlier this month in sustaining the NHL's rejection of the Ilya Kovalchuk contract.  Bloch made his ruling based on the contract as a whole insinuated that Kovalchuk would not complete it.   That the length of the first deal and the breakdown in salary with the long tail in the final 6 years of the deal and the usage of no trade/movement clauses suggested that Kovalchuk would get out before the end of the deal.  We can disagree on that, but that's how Bloch ruled it. 

It would be more definitive with a full breakdown, but again, I think the reported information is enough to eliminate these issues. This new deal cuts back on the proportion of salary by years.  The higher "tail" along with the $4 million in the final year should suffice as an incentive for Kovalchuk to play out the length of his contract.  (Aside: Not to mention hearing that he can't possibly play for that long for most of summer. Spite is your friend, Ilya. Show them all.).  I don't think the length of the contract shouldn't be an issue either since there are active NHL players at age 42 (and beyond in the case of Mr. Mark Recchi).  Even without knowing how the clauses are broken down, based on current information, two of the issues that guided Bloch's judgement are adressed to some degree.

Update: Here's the full salary breakdown of the Kovalchuk contract reported by Kypreos at Sportsnet. I am not seeing anything here that changes my mind.  Remember: they've accepted the contract extension for Lecavalier.

Both the Bloch ruling and the NHL's reassurance to the Lightning that Lecavalier's extension may also help explain why the NHL is dragging their feet on this new contract.   Yes, the NHL is contractually obligated to take up to 5 days to approve or reject a contract.   However, there may be indecision on what to do.  For the first Kovalchuk contract, news that the NHL rejected the deal came in the evening that Kovalchuk was officially announced as a signed New Jersey Devils.  The NHL certainly came up with their decision quickly.  Yet, here we are, with no word on what the league will do for this second deal that was submitted this past Friday.   I would think the NHL may not be happy with this deal, but don't necessarily have the basis for rejection given what Bloch ruled and what they already deemed acceptable to other teams.  Surely after the NHLPA filed a grievance for the first deal, they can (and probably will) do so again which would cause another arbitration hearing.  Even if Bloch is still the arbitrator, the NHL is going to have to have something solid for Bloch to sustain a rejection of this new deal. 

Basically, I don't believe the NHL can't just reject the contract for the sake of rejection.   Therefore, I think they are looking for something in this new Kovalchuk deal that would give them an argument.  However, they aren't successful yet - so they may just drag their feet and begrudingly accept it.  That's the most cynical opinion I can come up with.  It's entirely possible the problem has more to do with formalities and minute details that's just taking a long time to resolve, and the NHL will ultimately accept it as-is tomorrow.

This is where the situation has become frustrating and maddening for fans and reporters alike.  Please recall that the Devils met with the NHL to discuss the framework of the deal last week.   I personally find it hard to believe that even if the NHL said "no" to the proposed framework, per Gulitti, that the Devils and Jay Grossman didn't leave the league offices knowing what would and would not be allowed.   Please recall that NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was willing to tell me - me, of all people! - that NHL teams are aware of where the league will "draw the line" for future contracts on August 13.  I find it even harder to believe the Devils ignored any internal messages from the league given what happened with Kovalchuk.

As far as I see it, to suggest that the Devils made a mistake with this contract is to suggest that the Devils to saw the first deal rejected, that rejection sustained in arbitration, get told by the league internally what the guidelines will be for future deals, went to discuss a framework with the league, and then submit a second contract for Ilya Kovalchuk that the league wouldn't accept.  I can't accept that the Devils would be that tone-deaf, provided I have all of this correct.

What exacerbates the frustration is when reporters, who are just as interested in seeing some kind of conclusion as we are, hear from a source about how there could be a decision of some kind made today.  It's 7:10 PM EDT as of this writing, and there's no update. Nothing on Twitter but frustration over the lack of news.  I suppose there wil not, in fact, be a decision today.  And I feel bad for those reporters because I'm sure their sources aren't feeding them garbage, yet they look terrible because the NHL is going the full length on making a decision on this deal.  Not any other deal, mind you, just this one.

I feel bad for most of the parties involved. As a fan, I feel bad for my fellow fans who want closure. As a consumer of hockey media, I feel bad for Gulitti and other reporters, who want to report what's happening instead of going with "sources."  As a supporter of the team, I feel bad for the Devils, both who would love to know whether they have to dump salary soon and whether their team will have a potential-50-goal-scorer or not.  As someone who knows hockey is a business, I feel bad for the Devils marketing staff who would have appreciated being able to promote Kovalchuk along with their Jersey Tour stops and other initiatives, and possibly sell some more tickets for 2010-11.  I feel bad for Kovalchuk, who apparently wants to be a Devil, wants to be a Devil for a while, but still doesn't know if he has to come to New Jersey for training camp in a few weeks.

But not the NHL.  Since the arbitration ruling, the NHL has been the dominant one in this drama.  Even right now, the decision to accept or reject the new deal is in the NHL's hands and they have decided to sit on them. Whether to go through it thoroughly or to pick out a flaw to justify a rejection, I don't know.  It's their right to do so, but this is nothing short than just petulance in my view.

Anyway, I hope this explains why I feel the second Kovalchuk contract shouldn't be a problem, and I hope you don't mind some venting about the whole situation.  There will definitely be some closure tomorrow, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't at least a little annoying that the NHL has been silent.   Please let me know your thoughts about this whole mess in the comments, and do remember to follow the rules as always. Thanks for reading.

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