Source TG Fire And Ice
There have been so many deadline days during the Ilya Kovalchuk saga, I’ve lost track. We’ve got another one coming on Friday. The question is, will it be the last?
After the NHL and NHL Players’ Association mutually agreed to a 48-hour pushback of Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline for the league to approve or reject Kovalchuk’s 15-year, $100 million contract with the Devils, the new deadline is 5 p.m. on Friday.
We went through this drill a couple of days ago, but now we know the stakes are much broader than just a decision on Kovalchuk’s contract. The NHL and the NHLPA have been negotiating to more clearly define guidelines governing long-term contracts such as Kovlachuk’s. The result—if those negotiations reach a positive conclusion—would be an ammendment to the existing collective bargaining agreement and the approval of Kovalchuk’s contract under the pre-alterered CBA.
Although there was a report by ESPN’s Scott Burnside that the sides are “close” to reaching an agreement—and that report might very well turn out to be true—a league source said at 9 p.m. tonight that it was still too early to tell if the sides would be able to complete an agreement by the 5 p.m. deadline or if they would have to push back the deadline again. The sides continued to talk into this evening.
If there is progress, but no agreement, then the sides could agree to push back the deadline again. Even if they do reach an agreement, however, the uncertainty of the NHLPA’s leadership situation might come into play with no executive director in place, though former MLB union chief Donald Fehr is acting as lead adviser in this case. Still, an amendment to the CBA must be approved in a vote by the NHLPA’s 30-player executive board (20 votes in favor would be needed) and getting that done before 5 p.m. Friday could be tricky with players scattering for the extended Labor Day weekend.
The question then might become if the sides could simply settle for an agreement in principle until the NHLPA player representatives can hold their next conference call next week and if that agreement in principle would be enough for the NHL to approve Kovalchuk’s contract (under the previous CBA guidelines) on Friday? Or would the NHL want to wait until the NHLPA officially votes on the amendment before going forward with a decision on Kovalchuk’s contract.If so, that would mean pushing back the deadline again until Tuesday or Wednesday. (A conference call is planned to further discuss installing Fehr as executive director, and, according to ESPN.com’s E.J. Hradek there’s still no guarantee a vote on Fehr will take place that day).
The NHL Board of Governors would also have to approve the CBA change, but that, according to one source, such an alteration would get overwhelming support from team owners, who, like league officials, would like to put some kind of limit on long-term contracts.
The possiblity also exists that, though they have been working in earnest, the sides will be unable to agree decide to give up on the issue rather than push on beyond Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline. Then, the NHL would have to make its decision on Kovalchuk’s contract Friday without the benefit of a CBA amendment to fall back on.
The report that the league had issued the NHLPA an “ultimatum” to accept its terms on a CBA amendment by 5 p.m. Friday or it would reject Kovalchuk’s contract and move to de-register Roberto Luongo’s conrtact and open an official investigation into Marian Hossa’s contract was off base in some areas (using the five highest-paying seasons of a contract to determine cap hit has not been discussed), but there is no question that Kovalchuk’s contract is a major negotiating chip in this process. Still, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said via e-mail that, “no ultimatum has been given to anyone.”
Discussions between the NHL and NHLPA about possible guidelines for long-term contracts began shortly after arbitrator Richard Bloch’s Aug. 9 ruling that upheld the NHL’s rejection of the 17-year, $102 million contract Kovalchuk signed with the Devils on July 19. That was well before the Devils submitted Kovalchuk’s second contract last Friday, but the new deal did bring the issue to a head and some urgency to the matter.
A source said the NHLPA began preparing a grievance on Tuesday in anticipating that the NHL might also reject Kovalchuk’s new deal and was prepared to go to another arbitration hearing. Still, the players’ union also would like clearer guidelines on long-term contracts to avoid further conflict and confusion on the free agent market and continued to work Wednesday with the NHL torward a resolution.
When it became clear that the sides would not reach an agreement by the 5 p.m. Kovalchuk deadline, they mutually agreed Wednesday afternoon to push back the deadline to Friday and continue negotiations. It was hardly a gun-to-the-head ultimatum situation.