Decision Day For Kovalchuk Contract

Kovalchuk Press Conference 2Today is the day Devils’ fans have been anxiously waiting for.

By the end of the business day, systems arbitrator Richard Bloch will decide whether or not to uphold the NHL’s rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102 million contract he signed with the New Jersey Devils July 19, 2010.

The decision carries significant weight for both the Devils organization and Kovalchuk. But the announcement will also create a domino effect throughout the league, and could potentially impact several organizations and players. Read after the jump to see what potential outcomes can come from the announcement.

Bloch will decide whether or not to uphold the NHL’s rejection of Kovalchuk’s contract. He could also rule as to whether or not the contract falls under “cap circumvention”, bringing more outcomes into the equation. Several credible reports, however, have said that Bloch will only rule on the NHL’s rejection. His decision, which he has been weighing since hearings on the case ended last Thursday, boils down to a “yes” or “no” answer. Both decisions contain several consequences, some of which impact the Devils and Kovalchuk directly, and others that could affect the league.

If Bloch agrees with the rejection…

Then the contract is immediately voided, and Kovalchuk becomes an unrestricted free agent. While it wouldn’t set off a league-wide spending spree, some teams may jump back into the Kovalchuk sweepstakes. We already know the Los Angeles Kings aggressively pursued the left-winger, even offering him an $80 million contract. For a young team with higher expectations for this season, the Kings have largely stood still during the offseason. Having another shot at Kovalchuk gives that franchise a chance at bringing in a proven scorer who can fill the seats and keep people interested in hockey. It would also be a huge offensive upgrade to the team.

The Kontinental Hockey League will also continue to pursue Kovalchuk aggressively. We already know that KHL president Alexander Medvedev will offer the left-winger a 17-year contract. He’s also willing to let Kovalchuk pick the team he wants to play for, which gives him complete control of his decision. While the KHL has never seemed to be a major threat to sign Kovalchuk, they still present a possibility if Bloch rules in favor of the NHL.

Kovalchuk would also have the ability to re-negotiate the contract with the Devils. During his press conference, it seemed as if Kovalchuk wanted to stay in New Jersey the entire time. He seemed to genuinely like the organization, which could mean he’d willingly re-negotiate. The Devils and Kovalchuk would have to remove some years from the deal, leading to a higher cap hit per season. If the contract is officially rejected, I see this as being the most likely scenario.

Kovalchuk Press Conference

There’d be one Devils’ player who could breathe a sigh of relief if Kovalchuk’s contract was rejected and he didn’t sign with New Jersey. Brian Rolston, who seems to be the one most likely to go if Kovalchuk’s contract is accepted, wouldn’t need to be traded. His contract presents the biggest issue if Kovalchuk comes to the team, and it’s been widely speculated that Rolston would have to go. Even Darren and I have discussed the possibility of him being the number one candidate for trade. The Devils wouldn’t need to worry about an increased cap hit, making Rolston safe.

Agreeing with the rejection would carry economic weight for the team as well. Let’s face the facts – Kovalchuk puts fans in the seats. Team owner Jeff Vanderbeek admitted to that during the press conference. With Kovalchuk playing for the Devils, there’d probably be an uptick in ticket sales throughout the regular season. Without him, the Devils wouldn’t suffer terribly, but there would be a decline in ticket sales. People want to see exciting offensive talent, and Kovalchuk brings that to the ice every game.

This decision can also affect future CBA negotiations. As we already know, the league wants to ban these types of deals. The deals Marian Hossa (Chicago) and Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit) signed are examples of teams taking advantage of a loophole within the current CBA. The league understands that these deals allow general managers to get creative with cap hits, and the league wants to eliminate this. Upholding their rejection will allow the league to come to the bargaining table with hard evidence that these deals don’t belong in the game. It gives them a huge bargaining chip, one which could possibly eliminate these deals altogether in the next CBA.

If Bloch overturns the league’s rejection…

Then the NHL will immediately accept Kovalchuk’s contract, making him a Devil. That would set the wheels in motion for other moves within the organization. First and foremost, Devils’ G.M. Lou Lamoriello would need to begin looking to trade some players. Rolston would be the first to be shopped. Lamoriello is one of the game’s most intelligent G.M.s, and finding someone to take Rolston and his contract would be pure genius.

It would also give the players a big bargaining chip for future CBA negotiations. There may be players who don’t like these deals, but these deals benefit them. Most pro athletes look to maximize the money they make and find long-term job security with a team. These types of deals allow both to happen. While they may be willing to limit years on these deals, the players could bring this decision to the table as evidence that these deals belong in the game.

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Either way you slice it, Bloch’s decision won’t be a simple “yes” or “no” answer. There are consequences that come with each side of the decision. We’ll have to continue waiting to find out just which consequences will show themselves today.

Continue to check Running With The Devils throughout the day for coverage of the Kovalchuk decision!

Photo Credits Jennifer Brown/The Star-Ledger

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