NHL's Contract 'Witch Hunt' Quickly Turning Into a Farce
Arbitrator Richard Bloch caught everyone's attention when, in his ruling on Ilya Kovalchuk's contract with the New Jersey Devils, he stated the NHL was looking into whether other teams may have circumvented the salary cap.
The NHL, according to Bloch, is taking aim at the 12-year, $64-million contract Roberto Luongo signed with Vancouver last September. He's set to make $10 million this coming season, with a salary cap hit of $5.33 million with the Canucks. He has an out-clause after five years and the team has one after seven years.
Also getting a second look is Marian Hossa's 12-year contract for $62.8 million with Chicago and Chris Pronger's seven-year extension for $34.5 million he signed last summer with Philadelphia, along with Marc Savard's seven-year, $28.05 million contract with Boston.
"Each of these players will be 40 or over at the end of the contract term and each contract includes dramatic divebacks," Bloch wrote in his ruling that rejected Kovalchuk's 17-year, $102-million deal. "Pronger's annual salary, for example, drops from $4,000,000 to $525,000 at the point he is earning almost 97 per cent of the total $34,450,000 salary.
"Roberto Luongo, with Vancouver, has a 12-year agreement that will end when he is 43. After averaging some $7,000,000 per year for the first nine years of the agreement, Luongo will receive an average of about 1.2 million during his last 3 years, amounting to some 5.7 per cent of the total compensation during that time period."
Bloch raised the possibility that these deals could be rejected: "The apparent purpose of this evidence is to suggest that the League's concern is late blooming and/or inconsistent. Several responses are in order: First, while the contracts have, in fact, been registered, their structure has not escaped League notice: those SPCs [standard player's contracts] are being investigated currently with at least the possibility of a subsequent withdrawal of the registration."
Could the NHL actually go ahead and reject the deals for Luongo, Hossa, Pronger and Savard?
It is interesting that the NHL was concerned about previous contracts but the Kovalchuk deal was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back."
Talk about a late hit!
The NHL has had more than enough time to "investigate" these deals. Sure there were reports a year ago that the NHL was looking into them but you have to wonder why crank up the investigation now?
It's not like the league's high-priced labor lawyers have had any ongoing scraps with the NHL Players' Association.
What have they been doing in New York for the last season?
And what happens if the league rejects the deals?
According to Bloch's decision, of the four contracts cited in the footnote, only Hossa has been paid under the disputed structure. Last season kicked off Hossa's 12-year contract. The upcoming 2010-11 season is the first year in the respective contracts for Savard, Pronger, and Luongo.
So are Pronger, Hossa, Savard and Luongo about to become free agents?
What a joke.
Under the collective agreement, NHL czar Gary Bettman could levy fines of up to $5 million; forfeiture of an unspecified number of draft picks; and, this is the kicker as it applies to the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, "a forfeiture of any NHL Game(s) determined to have been affected by a Circumvention."
Last your correspondent looked, Hossa played a significant role in Chicago's march to the Stanley Cup.
Bettman won't touch the Blackhawks. Chicago is the feel-good story of the past season -- the rebirth of a fabled Original Six team.
Flyers owner Ed Snider is in Bettman's inner circle so the commish isn't about to slap him around about the Pronger deal either.
Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs is the NHL Board chairman. His Bruins will not be roughed up.
And you can be rest assured the Canucks will also escape Bettman's long arm of the law.
It just shows how this witch hunt has, in all reality, become a farce.
Bettman has basically just thrown sand in the face of the players with the Kovalchuk decision. And it appears the league is trying to gain some foothold for the next round of collective bargaining talks in 2012.
Donald Fehr, who ran the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1986-2009 and led the 1994-'95 players' strike, may be sitting across the table from Bettman then.
You just know this is going to get ugly.