The Kovalchuk Rejection – My Initial Reaction

Vanderbeek Press ConferenceA day of anxious waiting and nervous joking for Devils’ fans ended after 5 p.m. today, when they learned systems arbitrator Richard Bloch (a New Jersey native) upheld the NHL’s rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102 million contract agreement with the Devils.

When the news first broke, I wanted to fire off an angry post about NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the decision. I was going to rant and rave about Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg, and the other players who signed similar deals.

But, when it comes down to it, Bloch made a decision that wasn’t much of a surprise, and the league finally made headway into putting these long-term deals to bed. Read after the jump for my continued reaction of the arbitrator’s ruling on Kovalchuk’s grievance.

While thinking about all the outcomes of today’s ruling, I explored what the consequences would be if Bloch ruled in favor of the NHL. The biggest issue is that Kovalchuk now becomes an unrestricted free agent. The Los Angeles Kings reportedly offered the left-winger a 15-year, $80 million contract before he signed with the Devils. The Kontinental Hockey League already said they will offer Kovalchuk a 17-year deal, giving him the choice of sign with any team he wishes.

The main problem with the ruling is the fact that Kovalchuk will become an unrestricted free agent. Now, the Devils must compete with other teams in order to re-sign the star left-winger. While I think both sides will go back to the drawing board and cut some years off the back end, which drives up the cap hit per season. That seems like the most likely situation, as Kovalchuk seemed to want to be a Devil for the rest of his career. While it’s not an automatic re-signing, I would assume Kovalchuk re-signing for less years, equal money is still the likeliest of scenarios to occur.

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When you break it all down, the reason for the rejection was the back end of the deal. Kovalchuk would have made $95 million in the first ten years of the deal, but only $550,000 per season over the last six seasons. In ten years, that may not even be the veterans’ minimum for a contract. It’s that large discrepancy in pay that will probably become one of the sticking points for Bloch’s decision.

This isn’t the end of Kovalchuk in a Devils’ sweater. Clearly, both sides will have to re-negotiate to get him back in the organization. Even if you’re upset that the league won, the contract did border on lines of insanity. There hasn’t been a release of Bloch’s decision, and I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about when those documents are released. For now, we only have this quote from league deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

“We want to thank arbitrator Bloch for his prompt resolution of a complex issue,” Daly said in a statement. “His ruling is consistent with the League’s view of the manner in which the Collective Bargaining Agreement should deal with contracts that circumvent the Salary Cap.”

As more news comes out, there will be more to react to. But, for now, I’m not surprised that Bloch rejected the deal. We’ll see the exact reasons why soon, but the Devils must now go back to the drawing board with Kovalchuk.

Photo Credit: Mel Evans/AP Photo

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