In sports, everyone is a winner—some people just win better than others. Like the NHL, which by rejecting Ilya Kovalchuk's contract did the right thing; unfortunately they've been doing the wrong thing for so long, they just come off hypocritical.
Let's look at those numbers again on the agreed-upon 17-year, $102 million dollar contract with New Jersey:
2010-11: $6 million
2011-12: $6 million
2012-13: $11.5 million
2013-14: $11.5 million
2014-15: $11.5 million
2015-16: $11.5 million
2016-17: $11.5 million
2017-18: $10.5 million
2018-19: $8.5 million
2019-20: $6.5 million
2020-21: $3.5 Million
Sometimes the CBA appears to be intentionally circumventable, and this was one of those times. There's an arcane rule that states the deal cannot decrease in any single year by more than 50 percent of the lowest of the first two years of the deal. So the Devils made sure it doesn't go down by more than $3 million in any year, but still somehow managed to pay out $98.5 million in just the first 11 years.
This was just too blatant for the NHL's liking, and late last night they announced the contract is null and void, and Kovy's a free agent again.
It's an admirable move, because it's obvious to anyone with rudimentary math skills that he's not going to play out the last few years of the deal, which would have run until he's 44. It's a quick and dirty ploy to lower the salary cap figure, which averages out to $6 million. But we have to ask the league, why put your foot down now?
Was Marian Hossa planning to play until he's 42 that much more acceptable that Kovalchuk's 44? Was Henrik Zetterberg's average cap hit of $6.08 million that much more agreeable than Kovalchuk's $6 million even? Is Chris Pronger's expectations of receiving $525,000 to play his final two years that much more believable than Kovalchuk taking $550,000 for five?
Of course not. All those deals, plus Luongo's, Franzen's and Savard's, are complete jokes. And yet, those deals were signed, sealed and delivered, and the NHL didn't do anything about it. So now, when the NHL actually makes the correct decision by rejecting Kovalchuk's contract, it just makes them look capricious and unorganized.
Which they are, of course. There never should have been this loophole in the CBA. But there is, and until now they failed to enforce the language which allows them to reject deals meant to circumvent the cap. Either they should have been rejecting these deals from the beginning, or they need to let it go and fix it in the next CBA.
A scary thought is that this won't be able to be fixed next time negotiations come around. Owners love the loophole because it lets them sign a star player for much less of a cap hit. Players love it because it helps them get big bucks from teams who might otherwise not be able to fit them in under the cap.
Gary Bettman, long accused of incompetence, may show his impotence here. If the NHLPA decides to fight this one (which they will if the Devils don't get a new deal done quickly), things could turn ugly. And since there's almost no way for the league to prove either New Jersey's or Kovalchuk's intents when agreeing to this deal, and it's not technically illegal under the CBA, we could be in for a fight.
So, good job, NHL. By getting it right for once, you managed to piss everybody off.