There is both a delicious helping of irony and hypocrisy surrounding Ilya Kovalchuk's current contract squabble, which centers on a massive 17-year deal worth $102 million with the New Jersey Devils, a deal the NHL shot down Tuesday.
The way the contract is structured, Kovalchuk would have made $6 million per year for two years before seeing his salary jump to $11.5 million for the next five years. The 27-year-old Russian sniper would have then sailed into the sunset with a bunch of $500,000 seasons, capping his career off at the age of 44 by the time the contract expired in 2026-27.
Realistically, of course, there's no way Kovalchuk would even still be in the league at that age, much less playing professional hockey anywhere else.
As far as the NHL is concerned, this contract doesn't pass the smell test. To the league, the deal is a textbook case of artificially lowering Kovalchuk's annual average salary to $6 million in an effort to circumvent the salary cap.
But this isn't the first time the NHL has taken offence to contract extensions, and the fact the NHL failed to act previously should be a factor in the Kovalchuk saga. It also speaks to the hypocrisy oozing from the NHL's headquarters in New York City.
The league had previously said it was investigating the Philadelphia Flyers' seven-year, $34.5-millon deal with Chris Pronger, the Vancouver Canucks' 12-year, $64-million deal with Roberto Luongo and the Chicago Blackhawks' 12-year, $62.8-million contract with Marian Hossa.
In those cases, each player's compensation tails off dramatically as the contract progresses, like Kovalchuk's.
Pronger will be 41 when his deal is done, while Luongo will be pushing 40 and Hossa will be 42. In other words, they will be long in the tooth and, like Kovalchuk, all likely gone from the NHL before their deals expire.
But in all three cases, the NHL allowed the deals to pass as the league found it difficult to prove the teams offered the contracts with an understanding the players would retire before their contracts expired, hence having the salary come off the team's cap.
And the same should be said in the Kovalchuk case. The NHL might not like the Kovalchuk deal for its perceived run-around of the salary cap, but the contract is legal if we go by past precedent. You just know the Devils checked everything out before they dropped this summer bombshell on the hockey world.
New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello did not break any rules. There is no "smell test" written into the language of the collective bargaining agreement.
The fact it was Lamoriello who signed Kovalchuk to a $102 million deal is where the irony comes in.
Lamoriello, you see, is a loyal NHL soldier. This is the same Lamoriello who was a hawk in collective bargaining talks with players in 2004, and it's the same Lamoriello who was part of the decision-making process to sacrifice the entire '04-'05 season for the better glory of reeling in rising salaries.
There's no doubt the NHL's braintrust wants to close the loophole that rewards players with declining pay in their twilight seasons to keep the annual salary cap hit down.
After all, the NHL lost an entire season in an effort to keep salaries in check and create a level playing field. It's plainly obvious the business model isn't working, and long-term, "career deals" that allow contracts like Kovalchuk's are one of the reasons.
The NHL Players' Association fired Bob Goodenow after the union caved and agreed to a salary cap. There's an argument to be made that someone in New York should take the hit for allowing this loophole to have gone unseen in the last round of collective bargaining talks.The NHL paid millions in dollars in fees to high-priced outside counsel and now Bettman and company are scrambling to fix this mess five years after the fact.
As for what happens now, you know the NHL will be in discussions with the Devils and Kovalchuk to come up with a package that the NHL can accept.
It says here, though, that Lamoriello should simply re-file the same deal, and then have the NHL explain why it held its nose when the deals for Pronger, Luongo and Hossa passed the smell test.