KK Members Blog

KK Members Blog

Koval-stuck? The NHL’s “investigation” and who wants what

08/11/2010 at 4:16pm EDT

As you know by now, Judge Bloch has ruled that Ilya Kovalchuk is a free agent. Why? Well, his contract is invalid, so back to the bargaining table he goes. Much has been made of this fact, and pundits are theorizing intently as to whether he signs again in New Jersey, or heads somewhere else. Is LA still interested? Is Russia a serious option? Toronto? (I just had to mention Toronto because, well, they come up in reference to every free agent of any importance). While the hockey world speculates on Ilya-gate and the next move of the Kovalchuk camp, I would like to focus on the tidbit regarding “investigations” that came out of this ruling. Namely, that the NHL is looking into four other contracts and investigations are ongoing. Gary Bettman and Bill Daly are out on the streets in Vancouver, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston, intimidating witnesses and interrogating suspects.

That’s right, it’s Law and Order: CIU (Contract Investigations Unit).

What could come of these investigations? Probably nothing, let’s start right there. Any notion that the Stanley Cup will be taken away from Chicago because Hossa’s contract was ineligible is moot. If that did happen though, Flyers fans would be pretty happy. Except, wait, the Pronger contract is being investigated. That would mean the second-last team to be eliminated would get the Cup. But don’t get your hopes up, Habs fans, that’s a pipe dream, and one hell of a long pipe.

So, what then? Why bother investigating contracts that are already in place and have already had ramifications league wide? Well, I’m not sure. But what I can tell you is that there are different feelings about these contracts. Namely, some of the teams that signed them are probably hoping they get voided.

Chicago? Well, they just traded half their roster, and that Hossa contract is one reason why they’re so close to the cap. But they did win the Cup. You don’t think Bowman would be pleased if Hossa was declared a free agent and Chicago suddenly got cap space with a glut of free agents available? He’d be dancing a jig.

And Luongo in Vancouver? Mike Gillis is probably in church as we speak, praying that Bettman et al decide to void the Luongo deal. Why? Well, the terms are crazy, both money wise and length wise, Luongo’s play has deteriorated and Cory Schneider looks ready to go. Don’t you think RoLu would probably get less money after a second terrible playoff exit? I think the Canucks would have the upper hand in any negotiation.

Everyone and their grandparents know that Boston has been trying to deal Marc Savard since game seven against Philadelphia ended. So don’t think for a second they are hoping the NHL leaves that contract in tact. Savard signed his deal, then got a concussion courtesy of Matt Cooke, and then Boston self-destructed in the playoffs. They have lots of young talent and are up against the cap. Boston would surely like to see Savard on a shorter-term, cheaper deal, or as a free agent. At this point, the word on the street seems to be they’d give him away.

And lastly, Chris Pronger. Everyone’s favourite defenceman. His contract takes him into his 40s, and while it is a little cheaper and shorter than these other potentially circumventing outlaws, he’s still eating away at that cap. I have to believe that of all the teams, Philadelphia is most hoping Pronger’s deal is left alone. He’s still effective and the team is competitive. But I’m sure they’d probably take the opportunity to sign him to a shorter deal if one was afforded.

So, what can we glean from all of this “investigation” nonsense? Well, first, the league is way, way behind schedule. Secondly, they really can’t do much without appearing biased, and third, if they change or void any deals people are immediately going to cry conspiracy. Why? Well, voiding these deals and making them ineligible changes the average salary, lowers the costs to teams, and awards teams that made stupid decisions in the first place.

So I say leave the deals in place, let the teams that signed them suffer long-term, and let’s just put this aside until the battle royale of a CBA negotiation that we all know is coming soon…

…but I’m not the NHL, and after the Kovalchuk ruling, and the trickle of information regarding these “investigations,” I have to believe the NHL is going to do something. As a fan though, I’m confused. What’s the point? We’re heading for a lockout, or strike, or whatever you want to call it, and we all know it. And if these contracts really are an issue, why weren’t they dealt with and rejected when they were signed?

The NHL has egg on its face. Again. This whole episode is making it look junior compared to its major league sports brothers and sisters. What kind of professional sports league investigates contracts signed over a year ago? This sort of activity seems to be a recurring pattern, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. The NHL constantly looks archaic and incompetent compared to the NBA , or Major League Baseball, or just about any other league.

In successful organizations, when things don’t go well, or profits don’t grow, or publicity gets bad, they make a leadership change. Heck, on Law and Order, they routinely change the characters when they become stale or ineffective. Last time I checked, the same guy has been running the league for more than fifteen years, so I ask you this:

Isn’t it time for a change?

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