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NHL Reportedly Wants Compromise With Union Over Kovalchuk Contract

Sep 2, 2010 – 8:29 AM
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Bruce Ciskie

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While NHL media and fans wring their hands over the league's inability to rule on Ilya Kovalchuk's new contract with the New Jersey Devils, the league is apparently working behind the scenes to make a deal of their own.

Larry Brooks of The New York Post reported Thursday morning that the NHL wants to cut a deal with the NHL Players Association. It's a deal that the league hopes will put an end to these ridiculous long-term contracts that have become all the rage.

Brooks reports that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly sent a letter to the union late Wednesday night to outline the league's position and lay out this proposal.

The report says there are two things the league is demanding the union give them in order to approve this deal, along with long-term deals that were handed out last year to Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo and Chicago forward Marian Hossa. While Luongo's deal doesn't go into effect until this season, Hossa played the first year of his contract last year.
1. That the cap hit on future multiyear contracts will not count any season that ends with the player over 40 years of age. The cap hit would be based on the average salary of the seasons in the contract up to age 40.

2. That the cap hit on future contracts longer than five years would be calculated by granting additional weight -- perhaps the average -- to the five consecutive years with the largest average salary.
Brooks reports the league gave the union until 5 p.m. Eastern Thursday to accept these terms. Unless that happens, or the two sides negotiate a deal, the threat is that the NHL will do the following:
1. It will reject the Kovalchuk contract. The Post has learned that the final two years of the deal are for $3 million and $4 million, respectively. The final five years of the 15-year deal account for $10 million.

2. It will de-register Luongo's contract under which the goaltender will earn $3.618 million over the final three years of his deal. The goaltender is carrying a $5.333 million cap hit.

3. It will move to open a formal investigation of Hossa's contract under which the winger will earn $4 million over the final four years of his contract. Hossa is carrying a cap hit of $5.275 million per.
Obviously, the NHL is trying to take advantage of the fact the NHLPA still doesn't have a leader. While Donald Fehr has said he is interested, he still hasn't taken the job officially.

What's mystifying is that the NHL apparently went ahead and approved defenseman Chris Pronger's deal with Philadelphia, under which he will make around $1 million over the last two years. Perhaps the league watched Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals and chuckled at the thought of the Flyers being stuck with an aging Pronger on the books for seven more years.

Brooks' report sure is interesting. The league knows the union is a bit weak right now. Commissioner Gary Bettman and Daly are trying to strong-arm them into a deal they probably wouldn't do with Fehr at the helm. Perhaps someone in the union will force the NHL to sit down over this issue and work something out. Perhaps they'll just give in and deal with this issue in two years when the CBA is up.

Either way, the league is bound and determined to make a statement on retirement contracts. Some people will appreciate that, and others will wonder where this passionate fight was last summer when this trend started.

UPDATE: There have been some conflicting reports about whether the NHL is issuing the NHLPA an ultimatum, or whether it is the first in negotiations between the two sides on a future rule for long-term deals.
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