Source Vancover Sun:
VANCOUVER — The National Hockey League is clearly trying to draw a line in the sand, but may not have a legal leg to stand on in its rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk's 17-year, $102-million US contract with the New Jersey Devils, one prominent agent said Wednesday.
J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, whose large roster of clients includes Vancouver Canucks forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Mason Raymond, said he doesn't see how the league can win what appears to be an almost certain showdown with the NHL Players' Association over its rejection of the deal.
"I have already done quite a few contracts that were front-end loaded and there is no language in the CBA addressing the term of contracts," Barry said. "So I am not sure what grounds they intend to rely upon."
Barry has negotiated front-loaded contracts in recent years for the likes of Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Mattias Ohlund, but none of those deals flatline in the final years quite the way Kovalchuk's does.
The Russian sniper is scheduled to receive just $550,000 a season in the last five years of the deal, which expires in 2027 when Kovalchuk will be 44. Conversely, Kovalchuk is to receive $11.5 million a year for five years beginning in 2012-13.
"Obviously, there is no contract that has ever had the maximum and the minimum in the same deal and there is no contract that has had five minimum salaries going out the back end and there is no contract that takes a player past age 42," Barry said.
Other than saying it is examining its options, the NHLPA has not yet responded to the NHL's decision on the Kovalchuk deal. But it's almost certain to launch a grievance unless the Devils and Kovalchuk restructure the deal. If a grievance is filed, an independent arbitrator would be appointed to rule on the contract and that ruling would be binding.
Barry doesn't think the NHL could win its case.
"To me the only grounds they can possibly use is that he is not going to play those years and this is somehow a cap circumvention," he said. "That would be their only argument because there is no limit on term in the CBA."
The NHL clearly does think the Devils are attempting to circumvent the salary cap, but New Jersey certainly isn't the first NHL team to go down that road.
The league announced its decision on its website late Tuesday, just a few hours after Kovalchuk appeared at a Newark, N.J. news conference to officially announce his signing.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued the following statement on Wednesday morning: "The contract has been rejected by the League as a circumvention of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Under the CBA, the contract rejection triggers a number of possible next steps that may be elected by any or each of the NHLPA, the Player and/or the Club. In the interim, the player is not entitled to play under the contract, nor is he entitled to any of the rights and benefits that are provided for thereunder. The League will have no further comment on this matter pending further developments."
The league had previously served notice it wasn't comfortable with the recent rash of front-loaded contracts and investigated, but later approved, contracts for Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, Chicago's Marian Hossa and Philadelphia's Chris Pronger.
Luongo signed a 12-year, $64-million contract extension with the Canucks last season. That deal will pay Luongo $10 million in 2010-11, about $6.7 million from 2012-13 through 2017-18, about $3.3 million in 2018-19 and about $1.6 million in 2019-20 before declining to $1 million for the final two seasons. Luongo will be 42 when the deal expires.
The Canucks are believed to have made the argument to the league that goaltenders traditionally have longer shelf lives than other positions. Dominik Hasek and Dwayne Roloson are the most recent goalies to play into their 40s.
Gilles Lupien, the agent who negotiated Luongo's deal, did not want to wade into the controversy surrounding the Kovalchuk contract.
"I don't want to comment on another agent's work," said Lupien, who suggested that if the NHL is unhappy with these kinds of contracts then it should negotiate changes to the collective bargaining agreement.
The Devils, who employ the former head of the NHL contract registry, Stephen Pellegrini, said they knew they were pushing the boundaries of what is allowed when they announced the deal.
"There is nothing we have done wrong. This is within the rules," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said Tuesday. "This is the CBA. There are precedents that have been set, but I would agree that we shouldn't have these (type of contracts).
"But I'm also saying that, because it's legal and this is something ownership felt like doing for the right reasons, then it was done."
• Barry said he has had no discussions this week with Canucks assistant general manager Laurence Gilman regarding restricted free agent Mason Raymond, whose arbitration hearing is set for Monday in Toronto.
"We're preparing for arbitration on Monday and we'll see what happens," Barry said. "Sometimes after you exchange your briefs there's a discussion about settlement. The brief exchange would not be until Saturday morning."
Gilman also said he does not anticipate a settlement before Monday's hearing.
"As it stands today, we are preparing for arbitration," Gilman said.
Raymond's salary cap hit last season was $833,333, including bonuses. He's believed to be seeking between $2.5 and $3 million.
A decision on winger Jannik Hansen's arbitration case, which was heard Tuesday, is expected Thursday.
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