With a couple of days to let things breathe, here's a thought on how the Ilya Kovalchuk ruling will affect NHL business:
Didn't really understand the magnitude of this until Tuesday, but check out Article 26.8 (a) of the NHL's CBA.
"In order to retain his status...each Certified Agent shall annually certify to the NHLPA that during the prior year he has not violated" circumvention rules. "The Agent shall make this annual certification by signing and submitting to the NHLPA the form...by no later than July 10 of each League Year. The NHLPA shall represent to the NHL that each Certified Agent on the list it shall attach to its representation has submitted said form, properly executed, to the NHLPA."
Now here's Article 26.8 (c): "In order to retain his status as a General Manager or CFO or Club President, each General Manager or CFO or Club President shall annually certify to the NHL that during the prior year he has not violated" circumvention rules. Again, "The General Manager, CFO and Club President shall make this annual certification by signing and submitting to the NHL the form...by no later than July 10 of each League Year. The NHL shall represent to the NHLPA that each Club executive or official on the list it attaches to its representation has submitted said form, properly executed, to the NHL."
Can you imagine the gritting teeth as everyone signs these forms? Even before the Kovalchuk decision, the agents must have been steaming.
"I can't believe the NHL got that (in the CBA)," one lawyer said.
Prior to Monday, those forms were like a 16-year-old's promise to obey the speed limit. But, as we move into a forever-altered contract landscape, these passages carry new meaning.
Article 26 also indicates the NHL and NHLPA are bound by any rulings the arbitrator might make about intentional circumvention. And the potential penalties are severe: fines up to $5 million for a team or $1 million for a player; loss of draft picks; forfeiture of games; and suspensions for any player/agent/club employee involved.
In theory, arbitrator Richard Bloch could have hammered the Devils and agent Jay Grossman. He cleared them, possibly because they were copying contracts that (to date) have not been rejected. But, will the next violator(s) get the same love-tap?
Doubt it. After this ruling, how can any team or agent claim they weren't trying to circumvent the cap? And that's the hammer Commissioner Gary Bettman wanted.
Unless someone stupidly left a smoking gun of a paper trail, the feeling is he's not focused on the Luongo/Hossa/Savard/Pronger deals. Even though one or two teams would love it, it's not in Bettman's m.o. Why would he give cap/financial relief when he was against those contracts in the first place, especially when those clubs are crunched against the max?
"Commissioner, Charles Wang here. We'd like to grieve Rick DiPietro's contract."
"Uh, Mr. Wang, I warned you not to sign that deal. Besides, DiPietro's salary structure is nowhere near Kovalchuk's."
"I know. Can you try anyway?"
Bettman was annoyed when his "investigation" into last summer's cap-busters was considered a joke and ignored. Until he can get this loophole closed in the next CBA, he's armed with a giant bazooka against the next person who tries it.
But there's a problem.
"This ruling tells us that Kovalchuk's deal is illegal," says player agent Anton Thun. "It doesn't clarify what is legal."
Asked whether or not this means the end of Hossa/Luongo-styled contracts, another agent said, "I'm not sure. There are a lot of considerations to think about."
The GMs? They're wondering, too.
One said: "I think this will be the end," while another took Bloch's ruling to mean "they are not dead," but that age 42 "would be the limit."
That uncertainty is a good thing for Bettman. Teams and agents will be wary of an annoyed commissioner, particularly now that precedent is set. Will anyone be willing to risk another trip to an arbitrator, since the next one may be more inclined to deliver penalties?
If anything, it could give the league office more control, since both sides may want to check earlier in the process.
Bloch's decision may just be the biggest victory of his tenure.
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