The battle lines between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have been drawn in the ongoing Ilya Kovalchuk saga, but Bruins center Marc Savard could be the focus of a new skirmish depending on how the Kovalchuk situation plays out.
In a radio interview with Team 1200 in Ottawa on Thursday, Savard’s agent, Larry Kelly, promised legal action against the league if it chose to void the seven-year, $28.05-million extension Savard signed with the Bruins in December.
"You can imagine the lawsuit that would ensue," said Kelly.
Earlier this summer, Kovalchuk’s original 17-year, $102-million deal with the Devils was rejected by the league for circumventing the salary cap and that ruling upheld in arbitration. New Jersey’s latest effort at signing the Russian star, reportedly for $100 million over 15 years, is currently under review. The deadline for a decision was extended until Friday at 5 p.m. as the league and the NHLPA try to find common ground on contract terms.
On Wednesday, Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported that the league had given the NHLPA an ultimatum to accept changes to the CBA, or else the league would reject this Kovalchuk contract as well, and also void Roberto Luongo’s deal and open proceedings to investigate Marian Hossa’s similarly structured front-loaded deal. Savard’s contract, which also featured a heavily front-loaded payout and was revealed to be under investigation by the league in arbitrator Richard Bloch’s Kovalchuk decision, was not mentioned in the Post story.
Specifically, the Post report stated the league wanted cap hits on multi-year deals to count only the salaries for seasons before players turn 40 and for cap hits on contracts longer than five years to use a new formula that gives added weight to the five years with the highest salaries.
"If the league were to arbitrarily do something, it would be a very, very serious issue," Kelly told the radio station. "Because, as you are aware, Marc Savard had a huge, a very serious concussion last year. He came back to play in the playoffs to help his team, but he was not anywhere near the player he had been. If Marc is without a contract now and is a so-called free agent after he has missed the free-agency period, you can imagine the lawsuit that would ensue."
The fact that most teams have already allocated the bulk of their cap space would certainly make it hard for Savard to land a similar deal if he was suddenly made a free agent now, more than two months after the start of free agency on July 1. But it’s also interesting to note the implication that Savard’s value may have declined because of the effects of the concussion he suffered after signing that extension. Legal means might be the only way to recoup the income lost if that deal were to be voided and Savard had to settle for something less on the open market.
It may not come to that. The league has still not ruled on the latest Kovalchuk contract and even if that is rejected, there’s no guarantee the NHL would go after Savard’s deal as well.
"We haven’t heard anything from the league," said Kelly. “We feel that our contract is fine, that it complies with the collective bargaining agreement in all respects. It was not rejected on its face. It was registered, so I’m not expecting any major problems."
That’s not to say there aren’t major problems in general with the impasse between the league and the NHLPA, which Brooks reported delayed a vote on confirming Donald Fehr as its new executive director in a conference call with the 30 player representatives on Wednesday night.
"I think it’s a difficult time right now for the Players’ Association because they’re a bit of a rudderless ship," said Kelly. "They haven’t appointed the new executive director. I think it’s really hard on the young staff that’s there trying to deal with these things."
And adding to the difficulties is the presence of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on the other side of the negotiating table. Kelly believes that Bettman is a "commissioner" in name only, and in reality is strictly the voice of the owners. Kelly made his case for appointing a truly independent commissioner to help resolve issues between the owners and players as the league teeters toward another work stoppage when the current CBA expires in 2012.
"I’d like to see a number of systemic changes," said Kelly. "I’d really like to see hockey go to a true commissioner, where you have somebody that’s there that has the best interests of the game in mind, rather than the situation that they have now with Bettman, who’s the president of the league. He’s clearly on the owners’ side on every issue … I really think it should go to a commissioner, and with a commissioner you just have somebody who’s totally independent and I think it would be a much less acrimonious situation."
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