As I suggested two weeks ago, the NHL had a good chance at winning the arbitration case on the Kovalchuk contract. The decision must have caught a lot of people by surprise since most were predicting the NHLPA would win.
A lot of people were convinced that the contract would stand up because it did not specifically circumvent the CBA. But they were ignoring the general circumvention provisions in the agreement. That is partly what did in the contract. But there was more:
- A contract that runs to age 44 cannot be defended in a league where only six players from more than 3,400 in the past two decades have played to the age of 42.
- The last five years at $550,000 is only $50,000 above the current league minimum and would clearly be well below the minimum in 11 years. A player who just several years earlier was earning $11.5 million per season would walk away from that salary.
- The contract has a no-movement provision for 11 years and then changes to a no-trade clause in the last 5 years.
The thinking among many agents and GMs in the days leading up to the decision was that because so many of these contracts, which are were heavily front-loaded and extended past players' careers end, had been approved over the past few years there was too much precedent to quash the Kovalchuk deal.
But I'm sure that New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello knew the deal would blow up. Why do you think Lamoriello was so circumspect during the news conference to announce the deal back on July 19? The announcement looked like a sham at the time and in retrospect it turned out to be one. Of all the GMs in the league, Lamoriello is the one guy who would know the insides and outs of the CBA as he was intimately involved in drafting it.