Thoughts after a sad day in Penguins Country.
A little more than a week ago, Ilya Kovalchuk signed an unprecedented 17-year, $102 million contract to remain with the New Jersey Devils. Kovalchuk was the crown jewel of this free agent class and was expected to break the bank. But the Devils defied both league precedent and perhaps even broke with their own tradition by inking Kovalchuk to a deal that essentially paid him $95 million over the first ten years of the contract.
And therein lies the rub, or so they say.
Just a few days after signing the contract, it was declared void by the NHL on the grounds that the deal was a blatant attempt to circumvent the salary cap. Or so sayeth the NHL.
Reaction to the decision focused almost immediately on other long-term deals doled out in previous years to players like Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Roberto Luongo and everyone’s buddy Marian Hossa. Each of these deals exploited a loophole in the CBA by tacking on a year or two (or more) to the end of a new contract, usually at a significantly lower salary than the previous years in the deal. Since the player’s salary cap hit is equal to the average salary per year of their current deal, this practice had the effect of lowering the player’s cap hit.
What raised eyebrows about Kovalchuk’s deal were the last six years, each of which paid Kovalchuk well under $1 million per year in salary. While the deal was similar in form to those issued to Zetterberg, Franzen, Luongo, etc., none of them went quite to this extreme to get the cap hit down.
It may be justified to that end, but this decision creates problems on a few fronts. First, a by-product of the current CBA was a system that allowed teams to retain their star players, and this loophole was merely a product of the system the owners signed their names to back in 2005. It was almost laughable how quickly and easily it was exploited – a notion that Devils GM Lou Lamoriello may have even hinted at during the press conference announcing the signing with comments that very well may have given the league the extra ammo it needed to void the deal.
Second, on its face, it’s another potential case of arbitrary justice being meted out by Count Bettman. Other similar deals were allowed to go through with little more than a stern look from The Commish. By voiding this one, the NHL has to realize it can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube here. The league has again become its own Justice Stewart here – it can’t define “cap circumvention”, but it knows it when it sees it.
This stuff gets boring and it does so quickly, so I don’t want to drag this on. The NHLPA has filed a grievance to appeal the NHL’s decision, but this likely could take some time to resolve, and there are several ways this could end. Kovalchuk could just restructure the deal and stay with New Jersey. He could sign elsewhere. He could go to Russia. Who knows?
It’s ultimately a loophole the owners will look to close in the next round of CBA talks. Or will they? Lamoriello clearly intimated in his press conference that the structure of the Kovalchuk deal came more from ownership than his office. Like I said, a number of issues are at play here.
I will say I won’t be terribly upset if King Shero tries to sneak one of the deals to Sidney Crosby on his next extension. Not sure if it can happen given the timing of Sid’s deal (can’t talk extension with Shero until July 1, 2012, and that may be the day the current CBA expires). But it’s something worth keeping an eye on as Shero may need to get creative to keep the Big Three centers together beyond these current deals.
GET SATHER IN MY FANTASY FOOTBALL LEAGUE
$1.625 million per year for Derek Boogaard.
$6.5 million per year for Wade Redden.
$5 million per year for Michal Rozsival.
$7 million per year for Chris Drury.
Now rumors of a two-year deal for Alexander Frolov.
And yet Marc Staal – the player with perhaps the biggest upside in the organization - sits there as a restricted free agent with no new contract.
Lifetime contract for Sather, Rangers ownership. Do it.
(Hat tip to IHaveKasparaitis for mentioning this on Twitter.)
ONE MINUTE REMAINING IN THE PERIOD
John Barbero began his stint as the Penguins’ PA announcer in 1972, three years before I was born. Unfortunately, like most things Penguins, I was only able to claim to be familiar with him from about the mid-1990s on, so that gave me a solid 10-15 years listening to him announce goals, promotions, arena events, and NHL goal judge Leo Rrrrrrrudzkiii.
Over the course of 15 years of going to Pens games at Mellon Arena, Barbero’s voice became one of the many things that made Mellon Arena so unique. As you walked past the gate into the corridor at 6:30, you could hear his voice booming over the PA with some random Pizza Hut announcement.
You made your way through the concourses, picked up a beer and marched through the crowds on the way to F1 or C12 or D23, or wherever your seats may have been. As you entered the arena and sat down in your seat to watch warm-ups, with that smell of stale popcorn and pretzels, nacho cheese, cinnamon almonds and Zamboni fumes in the air, you waited for that familiar PA voice to give you the healthy scratches.
You booed when you heard his voice deliver the news that it was another game officiated by Devorski or McCreary or Brad Watson.
You stood and removed your hat when he politely asked you to do so for the national anthem, but not before working up a cheer for Jimerson.
And when a Pens player scored a goal, you waited for that signature call, knowing it was almost as much to hear that as it was watching the puck dent the twine. You knew it because it always started the same.
“The PITTSBURGH goal,
His ____ of the SEA-son,
If you were in the arena, you were one of 17,132 fans shouting out the number and name with him. If you were watching at home or in a bar somewhere, chances were that you were doing the same thing.
Those thousands of fans will never forget him.
Godspeed and God bless, Mr. Barbero.
You will be missed.