After a devil of a time, a contract rejection and some tense negotiating between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association, Ilya Kovalchuk is back to being a New Jersey Devil - and a rich one all over again.
Kovalchuk's $100-million (all currency U.S.), 15-year contract was approved by the NHL Friday after the league and NHLPA verbally agreed to amend their collective agreement governing long-term deals and how they adhere to the salary cap.
The amendments were necessary after an independent arbitrator rejected Kovalchuk's original offer from the Devils ($102-million over 17 years), saying the deal was front-loaded to the point of circumventing the league's salary cap.
The NHL took the arbitrator's decision and vowed to examine and possibly void other long-term contracts belonging to goaltender Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks, Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins and Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks. In the end, the league and NHLPA agreed to a solution: All four contracts would be grandfathered and new rules put in place to govern future deals over five years in length.
Details of the amendments were not made public. However, there have been media reports indicating "the cap hit for a player would be calculated on the average of his salary up through the age of 40." Also, "the cap hit on future contracts longer than five years will be calculated under a formula granting additional weight to the five years with the highest salary."
Some observers saw the resolution of the contract issue as a victory for the NHL, which had wanted to reduce the number of long-term player deals before they became commonplace. (Young stars Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings are next in line for lucrative offers.)
League officials had tried to get a cap on contract lengths in bargaining talks five years ago but were unsuccessful. When Kovalchuk's original New Jersey contract was rejected, the NHL was able to push for and get limits on future deals, something it failed to secure in bargaining.
However, Edmonton player agent Ritch Winter, who represents Hossa, was adamant in his belief the PA did an impressive job in its handling of the long-term matter.
"It persevered and protected $300-million worth of contracts," Winter said. "It took, out of [NHL commissioner]Gary Bettman's hands, the unchecked power he had to impose onerous penalties on players and agents. And it has created certainty. Now we know what we can sign.
"It's been a long time since we've seen the NHLPA score a hat trick, but that's what happened."
Some agents and general managers were worried that every contract with "a twist in it" would have to be run past the league office before being registered. Winter said not having Bettman involved in multiyear contracts was a "huge victory" for the players and their association.
Most, though, viewed the Kovalchuk settlement as good for both sides.
"There have been almost 6,000 contracts done since the lockout and what are we talking about here - four?" noted agent Allan Walsh of Octagon Hockey. "I think that's a very narrow issue to be declaring victory one way or the other.
"It really doesn't [have a great impact]" he added. "The [collective agreement]has two years left. There's only going to be one more contract cycle next summer. If there's no extension of the [collective agreement]in the summer of 2012, there will be little contract activity … because who knows what the new [collective agreement]will look like."
Kovalchuk, 27, held a news conference and posed for photos as a lifetime member of the Devils on July 1 after signing his first contract. He said he wanted to be set for life and was happy to stick with the organization that had acquired him at the 2010 NHL trade deadline.
When the NHL rejected the deal, agent Jay Grossman said it was possible Kovalchuk could play in Russia in the KHL. Instead, Grossman and the Devils reworked their contract, which now comes with an annual cap hit of $6.6-million.
Signing Kovalchuk has created a new problem for the Devils: They're roughly $3.5-million over the cap and must now unload players to accommodate their high-scoring forward. Some of the names mentioned have included Brian Rolston, Dainius Zubrus and Bryce Salvador.