by PuckStopsHere on 09/03/10 at 01:23 AM ET
As we watch the Ilya Kovalchuk affair we are seeing that Gary Bettman has tremendous power over the NHL. Multiple NHL players signed high money front-loaded contracts which had them playing well beyond the age where most players retire. Gary Bettman and the NHL accepted them. This became a problem in Gary Bettman’s eyes with the Ilya Kovalchuk contract. In this case Gary Bettman served as the district attorney in deciding which contracts to fight. He used his power to select an arbitrator in Richard Bloch, who was strongly likely to rubberstamp the NHL position. Essentially it made Bettman the judge and jury.
Bettman’s choosing of drawing a line with the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk and not on the previous contracts is a very questionable act.
Ilya Kovalchuk has a reworked 15 year $100 million contract that has been submitted to the NHL now. This is where Gary Bettman jumps even further in his power grab. He has threatened that the contract will be thrown out, unless the NHLPA accepts his version of re-writing the CBA. Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports that the Kovalchuk contract will be accepted and any of the existing contracts that are under investigation unless
1. That the cap hit on future multi-year contracts will not count any seasons that end with the player over 40 years of age. The cap hit would be calculated on the average of the salary up through age 40 only.
2. That the cap hit on future contracts longer than five years will be calculated under a formula granting additional weight to the five years with the highest salary.
If this is not accepted:
1. It will reject the Kovalchuk contract.
2. It will move to immediately devoid the Luongo contract.
3. It will move to immediately open proceedings for a formal investigation into the Hossa contract.
There is a lot of latitude taken by Bettman in choosing the consequences for non-acceptance of his way. Luongo’s 12 year $64 million contract runs until he is 43 years old. Although the NHL accepted it in September of last year, the Gary Bettman is threatening to void it today. The first year of the contract is this upcoming season. Marian Hossa has a 12 year $59.3 million that lasts until he is 42 years old. The problem is that he has already played the first year of the contract and was an important part of the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks. Can you seriously consider voiding a contract after a player helped his team win the Stanley Cup while playing under it? Absent from this discussion for reasons that are unclear are Marc Savard’s seven year $28.05 million contract that lasts until about a month before his 41st birthday and Chris Pronger’s seven year $34.45 million contract that lasts until he is 42 years old. The selective way in which contracts are chosen to target is problematic.
Gary Bettman strikes me as a power hungry fantasy hockey commissioner in this situation. He has been inconsistent in the interpretation of a rule. Now that he chooses to stand for a rule interpretation, he is not allowing what had been allowed in the past. Further he is threatening to re-open the past in an attempt to have it conform to his new interpretation. He is still selective in which parts of the past he is re-opening and he appears willing to re-open significant situations that helped to decide the Stanley Cup.
It isn’t clear how much of a mandate Gary Bettman has for his position. Clearly several teams have signed players to front-loaded long-term deals where it is reasonably expected that the player in question may retire before it ends. These teams may have their contracts re-opened and will not like this. Other teams with financial muscle who might like to sign such contracts in the future may not like it either. Essentially, Gary Bettman’s support comes from the small markets who are struggling to survive. In many cases, these are the markets that came into existence under his rule.
It also isn’t clear why the NHLPA would want to accept Bettman’s terms. The player’s share of revenues does not change with or without Ilya Kovalchuk or any other player signed. The presence of these high money contracts merely increases the money paid to escrow by the other players. Except for the few players who have these contracts, the NHLPA members lose money with these contracts.
From a business stand-point, the NHL is not doing any favors to itself by rejecting another Ilya Kovalchuk contract. This would probably chase Kovalchuk off to the KHL. It’s not in any league’s best interest to send one of their most talented players to the competition. It only serves to legitimise the competition.
Gary Bettman is trying to force the NHL to conform to his wishes and he is willing to open up his own past decisions to re-write things. Running Ilya Kovalchuk out of the league and re-opening the Marian Hossa contract, despite the fact Hossa was a key member of the Stanley Cup champions while playing under this contract. It is not a situation that makes a league or its commissioner look competent. Worse, what happens with high profile players in Roberto Luongo and Marian Hossa potentially becoming free agents in time for training camp?
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