If an article posted by the New York Post's Larry Brooks turns out to be true (and so far, I have no indication to believe it's not), then the NHL is set to give the Players' Association an ultimatum regarding the treatment of long contracts given to NHL players which will impact the contracts of Ilya Kovalchuk, Roberto Luongo, Marian Hossa, and any future free agent trying to sign a long-term deal. The demanded changes are as follows:
- The salary cap hits for contracts that go beyond age 40 will not take years after 40 into consideration when calculating the average cap hit. The Kovalchuk, Luongo, and Hossa contracts would be grandfathered under the old rules, so it would only count for future contracts. For example's sake though, if it were to affect the current deals, it would make Marian Hossa's cap hit $6.13 million instead of the current $5.275. Luongo's would go from $5.33M to $6.7M.
- For future contracts, if the deal is longer than five years, the highest five years' worth of salary will carry additional weight when calculating the average cap hit. No additional details on how exactly this will be calculated are available yet.
Additionally, Brooks reports that if the NHLPA fails to respond to these demands or if the two sides cannot meet a common ground by Friday at 5 PM (Eastern), that the league will reject the newly proposed Kovalchuk contract, will move to void the Luongo contract and will "immediately open proceedings for a formal investigation into the Hossa contract." Finally, and most ominously, Brooks reminds us that the NHL's CBA gives the league broad power to punish clubs and players who are found to have violated the CBA. Join me after the jump for an analysis on what all of this means.First of all, I like the concept of the new rules and would agree with their implementation. I applaud the league on trying to actually define the line they're trying to draw in the sand as it pertains to long player contracts which are designed to lower players' salary cap hits artificially. However, the methods in use here are an obvious strongarm tactic designed to reassert the NHL's position and dominance when it comes to CBA talks in light of the NHLPA's announcement that they have named Donald Fehr as their executive director. This move is partially to test Fehr's mettle in preparation for the 2012 collective bargaining battle to come. I find it funny that the concept for the new Kovalchuk deal has been with the league since last Friday, but they're giving the Players' Association only two days to meet their demands on the new contract rules and limitations. Like I said, I like the concept of the new rules, just that the timing of everything is suspect, especially considering the teams' player reps are starting to gear up for the upcoming training camps.
I find it interesting that the league is threatening to refuse the new Kovalchuk deal and cancel the Luongo deal, but have so far only threatened to "open proceedings for a formal investigation" into the Hossa deal. I mentioned in a previous post that the league going back and de-registering the Hossa deal would open a can of worms for them in terms of what it would mean for the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup victory that the league will not want to deal with. I firmly believe that no matter what the NHLPA does, the league will do nothing except continue to rattle their sabers about the Hossa deal. The league's decision-making has been questionable in the past, but this would be an instance of cutting off their own nose just to spite their face. Cancelling the Hossa contract would force the league to address the question of the validity of Chicago's cup championship. The last thing any sports league wants is to answer questions about whether records should contain asterisks.
As far as the league's powers, remember that in the original Kovalchuk case, the league levied no punishment against the Devils or Kovalchuk. Brooks pointed out their ability to do so as a reminder that if the league's hand is forced and the NHLPA refuses to come to a common ground here, they will likely punish the insubordination of the players. I'd be interested to see if the head office would punish the Canucks for Luongo's contract or simply go after Canada's Gold Medal-winning goalie from February's Olympic Games.
Going back to my first point, I think that what the league is asking is reasonable, I just don't think their methods of doing so are. This probably isn't a fight that the NHLPA should take on, regardless of whether a new systems arbitrator would find in favor of the league on the new Kovalchuk or Luongo deal. The players will be expected to give concessions like these or worse in the next round of collective bargaining, and I believe that doing so early like this would help grease the wheels for the players when it comes to getting concessions of their own. Fortunately, I think Donald Fehr is very capable of handling this situation in the best way to ensure that the players come out of it looking like the good guys. I think the NHLPA is currently winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the fans and Fehr should be able to make sure that they come out of this smelling like roses.