Friday, September 3, 2010

A behind the scenes look at the Kovalchuk negotiations

You must be this tall to get
your contract approved.
It's official: The Ilya Kovalchuk saga has stormed past ridiculous, made a left at debacle, and is now heading full speed towards farce. Two months since the start of free agency, six weeks after Kovalchuk's first contract with the Devils was signed and rejected, and one week since a second attempt was submitted to the league, there's still no resolution to this mess.

We thought we'd have an answer by now, as the league was set to render its verdict on Kovalchuk's latest deal on Wednesday. But instead, amidst reports that the league was now playing hardball and demanding changes to the collective bargaining agreement, we got a two-day extension. Now we're told to expect a decision some time today.

Or, maybe not.

If there are any hockey fans left who are still interested in this ongoing travesty, they can take some comfort in the knowledge that the league and the players are at least working hard on a solution. In fact, sources tell me that most of this week was taken up by frantic negotiations between the league, the Devils and the NHLPA. Based on what I've been told, I've put together a timeline of this week's events.

Monday, 9:00 a.m. - Gary Bettman arrives early and begins reviewing the Devils' newest contract proposal, but admits to finding it difficult to concentrate with Donald Fehr sitting ominously in the back of his office cracking his knuckles.

Monday, 1:15 p.m. - Lou Lamoriello explains to a frustrated Bettman that while he understands his concerns, he still insists on submitting the contract in Comic Sans font.

Monday, 4:45 p.m. - Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly attempt to consult with the league's Executive Vice President In Charge of Not Having One of Your Best Players Go To Russia Just so You Can Prove Some Sort of Point, before remembering that he's been on vacation all summer.

Tuesday, 1:15 p.m. – A smiling Bettman shows Daly a series of encouraging notes reading “Keep your head up, Gary” that some kind stranger has been leaving on his windshield throughout the negotiations, although his mood changes when Daly points out that it they seem to be in Scott Stevens' handwriting.

Tuesday, 4:30 p.m. - Both sides begin to work in earnest to avoid a second round of arbitration. Nobody wants to risk a repeat of Brian Burke's twelve straight hours of testimony from the last time, especially since the only question anyone got to ask him was “How are you?”

Wednesday, 10:45 a.m. - A potential breakthrough: Kovalchuk agrees to the league's demands that he confirm his intentions to play into his 40s by crossing his heart and hoping to die, but only if the league rescinds its controversial request that he also stick a needle in his eye.

Wednesday 1:30 p.m. - The league agrees to allow the contract to include a limited no-trade clause that kicks in towards the end of the deal and prevents the Devils from trading Kovalchuk to a southern US team, a concession they feel comfortable making given that none of those teams will still exist in ten years.

Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. - Bettman begins to consider threatening the NHLPA with the voiding of Roberto Luongo's 12-year, $64 million contract that was signed last summer. The idea was originally suggested to him by an anonymous stranger on the subway who bore an uncanny resemblance to Mike Gillis wearing a wig and fake moustache.

Thursday, 10:30 a.m. - With no agreement in place, a second arbitration hearing looms. The two sides begin the process of finding a new arbitrator to replace Richard Bloch, who is still recovering after his recent mysterious accident that left him battered, unconscious, and surrounded by shards of broken glass and grape jam.

Thursday, 11:30 p.m. - NHLPA negotiators attempt to ease league concerns over the length of Kovalchuk's contract by pointing out that while a 15 years may seem like a lot, you have to keep in mind that the way things are going at least three or four of those seasons will be cancelled by work stoppages.


  1. Here's the thing:
    Kovalchuk wants a contract in excess of $100 million (you know, because his fellow Russian got one.. and he's just as good... cough, cough).
    Devils want to keep him but can't afford to shell out that cash on a shorter term contract, so they're playing with the numbers.
    NHL knows this and is (berate me for saying it) fairly saying "if you want to offer him over $100 million to play, you'd better intend to pay it while he's still playing!".

    So, I know how everyone loves Bettman, but let's be honest, he's doing the right thing by challenging this. If NJ really believes Kovy's worth it, then sign him for that amount over a realistic time frame. If not, pay him less for that realistic time frame. If his ego won't accept that, wish him well in Russia. The end.

  2. I can't wait to find out how the next lockout will be the Rangers fault.

  3. Uhh, I think you're in the wrong room. Serious Debate is two doors down on the left. This is Sarcasm 101.

  4. dial it back a bit nuuuuuuuuugs, anon's got a point and me thinks there's always room in Sarcasm 101 for some straight up talk about the ridiculous.

  5. Funny because it all feels true. Thanks DGB!

  6. Anonymous- you should sign your comment. It's right on the money.

    The league is correct to require teams to take a cap hit that equals the money they are actually paying a player, otherwise the CBA does nothing to create parity. They should have stepped in on the Hossa deal when it was submitted.

    Edmonton, Buffalo, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Columbus can't afford to pay 10m per year to one player whether his cap hit is 10m or 6m. Yet Chicago can afford to pay out piles of money to Hossa, Kane, Toews, and Keith and still make a profit. I am all for free market systems, but this is about entertainment. To be entertaining and compelling, the league must have parity. When only five or six teams can realistically hope to win a championship because they are the only ones who can afford to pay multiple elite players, you eliminate drama and you eliminate fans.

  7. Does that ref looks like Brian Rolston or is it just me?

  8. Dammit, someone explain the jam jar!

  9. Best Caption Ever!!

  10. jam jar...certain people in NJ have a nervous tick around sticky containers of jelly and said containers may slip out of their hands. There is a link to the story in the last Kovy post :)

    As always DGB, very nice!!!

  11. @Razor Catch Prey - While I agree with your comment, I don't believe Edmonton belongs on your list of examples. They may have when the EIG ran the team, but Daryl Katz can actually afford to spend to the salary cap.