Kukla's Korner

You’re Just Figuring This Out Now?

You gotta love the way the NHL’s investigation branch works (here’s s hint—they’re not quite as efficient as the guys on CSI). They’re just catching on to the fact that these ridiculously long contracts with significantly cheaper final years may have been designed as, shockingly, a way to circumvent the cap. First, everyone’s favorite whipping boy Marian Hossa was under the microscope, then word came out today that Chris Pronger’s new deal with the Flyers is under review.
Well, jeez guys, don’t you think you should have done this before actually approving the contract?

If you’ve got some time to kill and want to learn the ins and outs of NHL contractual logistics, you can read the entire 472-page PDF of the NHL CBA. It’s loads of fun and just slightly less dry than an advanced thermodynamics textbook. If that’s not up your alley, then here’s a pertinent section regarding contract approval. By the way, SPC stands for Standard Player Contract.

Section 11.5 part D

(d) From the date which is seven (7) days prior to the commencement of the
Regular Season, through the end of the League Year, the League shall approve and
register, or reject, an SPC by no later than 5:00 p.m. New York time on the day following
Central Registry’s receipt of such SPC (provided it was received by Central Registry by
5:00 p.m. New York time; SPCs received by Central Registry after 5:00 p.m. New York
time will be deemed to have been received on the following day for purposes of this
provision); at all other times the League shall have five (5) days from the day following
Central Registry’s receipt of an SPC (provided it was received by Central Registry by
5:00 p.m. New York time; SPCs received by Central Registry after 5:00 p.m. New York
time will be deemed to have been received on the following day for purposes of this
provision) to take such action. If no action is taken by the League, either to approve and
register, or to reject, an SPC during the applicable time period set forth in the prior
sentence, such SPC shall be deemed to be approved and registered.

In layman’s terms, contracts submitted for approval during the season will be reviewed within a day. During the off-season, the league has five days to review it. The league has the power to accept or reject a contract pending review.

So it’s not like those sneaky GMs came up with a master CBA-circumventing plan, pressed a button, and magically made it happen. The league has reviewed each and every project, from Rick Dipietro’s 15 years of hip rehabilitation to Vincent Lecavalier’s 11-year commitment to wackiness. Pronger and Hossa? They were reviewed and approved too.

The media’s been pretty on top of the CBA-circumventing method of this particular contract structure. Tack on a year or two at a much lesser salary, the overall cap hit suddenly shrinks, and no one is the wiser. Some have called this tactic brilliant and some have called it disingenuous, but the bottom line is that everyone knew about it for some time now. It’s not like Bill Daly suddenly woke up on Monday with an epiphany that Marian Hossa may not have actually intended to play out his entire contract.

If the league really wanted to make an example out of Hossa or Pronger or whoever else they’re investigating, they should have rejected the contract. Whether or not the rejection would stand to NHLPA investigation is another issue. This what the CBA says about regarding de facto reasons for rejecting a contract:

Section 11.6 Part A-1

If an SPC or an Offer Sheet is rejected: (A) because it results in
the signing Club exceeding the Upper Limit, or (B) because it does
not comply with the Maximum Player Salary or (C) because it is or
involves a Circumvention of either the Club’s Upper Limit or the
Maximum Player Salary

In short, that section states that the rejection of a contract is purely a numbers issue. If the numbers work, it’s a rubber stamp. Now, the league can reject a contract for reasons other than what’s mentioned above. In those cases, the NHLPA has a set time to dispute the rejection, and then a few different things could happen, including going to arbitration.

Is it possible to argue for a valid contract rejection because evidence points to the terms not being negotiated in good faith? If there are any contract lawyers reading this, feel free to put something in the comments. I would think that it’s a valid argument to say that a contract could be rejected because the intentions weren’t honest, but how can you prove that? Perhaps the league felt like they would lose in an arbitration hearing regarding this, so they’re letting it pass but shining a spotlight on it as a shot across the bow of the PA.

I suppose this is all leading to the inevitable clash during the next round of CBA negotiations. The quick and simple way of dealing with it is to add in a term limit of, say, seven years and be done with it. The more flexible way to do it is to have certain items that would trigger a review. For example, IF a contract is greater than seven years and IF the contract’s final year is less than half of the average value and IF the player in question is over 31, then it gets sent to a review process.

Would the PA go for those? Probably not, and that’s where the dreaded CBA battle will be. I don’t think it’s a show stopper like the installation of the salary cap but it’s sure to create some testy negotiations.

 

Filed in: NHL, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: cba, chris+pronger, marian+hossa

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