Agents say that the NHL can't block Kovalchuk's contract

kovalchukpresser3.jpgThrough the many twists and turns of the Ilya Kovalchuk contract squabble with the Devils, we’ve been wondering about what, exactly, the league can do about things. The NHL has already done their part in rejecting the deal and while we wait to hear from the NHLPA about when/if they’ll file a grievance with the league over that, Michael Traikos of The National Post has polled some NHL agents about what they think will happen and the response was vitriolic.

But several player agents said if the matter goes before an arbitrator, the league would soon find out that it “doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on.”

“I can tell you that during bargaining, that the league was not successful in negotiating rules to limit the length of contract a player can sign with a club,” said player agent Ian Pulver, who was one of the authors of the CBA. “So the NHL is going to have to show evidence that the club and the player were trying to defeat rules in the collective agreement, because they can’t certainly prove that a player will not play when he’s 44 years old.

“You have to have the evidence to support that. Saying ‘we think’ is not strong enough.”

Indeed, there is nothing in the language of the CBA that limits the number of years on a player contract. Neither is there any proof that Kovalchuk will not be playing in 2026-27.

What’s been abundantly clear through this whole mess that the league has created is that they’re again being stung by their own wild inconsistency. Contracts similar to Kovalchuk’s deal by Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Marian Hossa, Marc Savard and Chris Pronger were all allowed by the league. Whether they were allowed begrudgingly or not doesn’t matter, the point is they were OK’d by the league and that’s that. The league picking this deal at this moment in time, just two years before the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expires with the NHLPA, is not coincidental.
The owners, courtesy of Gary Bettman, are setting up their own argument to be had with the NHLPA in 2012 when the owners complain about the salary structure and how things have ballooned out of control, they can use this one instance to say, “Listen, we tried to get things under control here but you, the players, decided to make a big mess out of things. We want things to be stricter.” Never mind that history up until this moment with Ilya Kovalchuk dictates otherwise, this is where they are taking a stand and where they’re attempting to “change the game” for themselves. Unfortunately for the owners and for Gary Bettman, everyone sees right through this.
Further from Traikos’ piece:

The Devils have up until Monday to renegotiate a new deal with Kovalchuk, or allow the NHLPA to file a grievance and send the matter to an independent arbitrator. After that, the league might find out if it will have to live with its mistakes until the next CBA is negotiated.

“The fact that they’re not registering this contract when it clearly does not circumvent anything in the CBA is a condemnation of Gary Bettman and Bill Daly’s skills,” said one agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If they think this is a bad deal, then they failed to do their jobs.

“Why don’t they suck it up and be men and accept that they screwed up?”

Asking billionaires used to getting their way to fess up and take responsibility for a mistake is often like trying to get blood from a stone. These are the sorts of things CBA negotiations get ugly over, and this is just the beginning. The fact that the NHLs case against Kovalchuk’s deal is so poor makes it feel like this is all set up to make the players look badly. We’ve been down this road before in the NHL and fans and curious onlookers alike didn’t buy into that blame game before, and there’s no chance that it works this time.

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    Trade deadline: Caps only need to ‘upgrade on the fringes’

    NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Caps senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals speaks with the media prior to the game against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on January 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The way the Washington Capitals have been steamrolling their opponents in 2017, it was no surprise to hear GM Brian MacLellan say he doesn’t expect to make major changes ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline.

    “This year, I don’t feel that pressure or that need to do anything,” MacLellan said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir. “We’re not going to mess with lines or defensive pairs. If we can upgrade on the fringes, we might do it.”

    The Caps have already added some defensive depth, acquiring Tom Gilbert last week in a trade with the Kings.

    Gilbert is currently with AHL Hershey but could be called upon soon after Matt Niskanen was forced to leave last night’s win over the Flyers.

    MacLellan said today that Niskanen is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, adding that it wasn’t anything “serious.”

    “We’ll make sure he’s 100 percent before he comes back,” the GM said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic.

    The Caps’ next game is Friday at home to the Oilers. On Saturday, they’re in Nashville to take on the Predators.

    Gaudreau wasn’t demoted for missing team bus, says Gulutzan

    GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 08:  Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates up to a face off during the second period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 8, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    Calgary head coach Glen Gulutzan set the record straight about Johnny Gaudreau missing a team bus for an outdoor practice in New York earlier this month, and Gaudreau’s subsequent fourth-line demotion a week later.

    “I can tell you this — it wasn’t a big deal,” Gulutzan explained, per the Calgary Sun. “We were in a gong show that day — we were dressing in a hotel ballroom, it was a real mess.

    “He was with the trainer, so he came over with him. It was a 10 a.m. bus and I said, ‘hey do your thing, everyone else get there.’ So he jumped in a cab with (head therapist) Kent (Kobelka).”

    The incident occurred on Feb. 4, and made for quite the scene — Gaudreau, decked out in full gear, jumped out of a taxi at Central Park just prior to practice. He then played over 19 minutes the following night against the Rangers, tallying an assist, but two games later was dropped to the bottom line in an ugly 5-0 loss to Arizona.

    The initial assumption was Gaudreau got demoted because of an offensive zone turnover at the end of a lengthy shift. But given his history — last year, he was scratched after showing up late for practice following a reported “epic” Super Bowl party — there was some speculation he’d been subjected to another team punishment.

    Not the case, said Gulutzan. From the Sun:

    He insists no team rules were broken and no discipline was needed.

    Gulutzan and other team officials said exceptions weren’t made for the superstar, nor were there whispers on the bus about him getting preferential treatment.

    It’s been an up-and-down year for Gaudreau. He missed the entire preseason embroiled in contract negotiations before inking a monster six-year, $40.5 million extension.

    He’s oft been the subject of targeting this season, and missed 10 games with a broken finger from an Eric Staal slash. As a result, his production is down — just 11 goals and 39 points through 50 games — and has found the back of the net just once in his last 20 contests.

    That said, Gaudreau’s still shown off his incredible offensive talent. In Tuesday’s wild 6-5 OT win over Nashville, he racked up four assists, which included a helper on Mark Giordano‘s winner in the extra frame.

    Letang day-to-day, but Schultz hopes to play Saturday

    PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck in the first period during the game against the San Jose Sharks at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 20, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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    Justin Schultz is hoping to play Saturday when the Penguins host their rivals from Philadelphia outdoors at Heinz Field.

    The 26-year-old offensive defenseman was back at practice today after missing three games with a concussion suffered a week ago.

    “It’s good to be back,” Schultz told reporters. “The legs feel really good. Not cleared for contact yet. Hopefully I can be ready for the game.”

    Schultz is enjoying a career year with nine goals and 30 assists in 56 games, and the Pens may need him Saturday since Kris Letang is now “day-to-day with an upper-body injury,” according to head coach Mike Sullivan. 

    No word how Letang was injured. The 29-year-old managed to log 28:49 of ice time in Tuesday’s 3-1 win in Carolina, but he skipped practice today.

    Suffice to say, the Pens’ defense is in a real state of flux at the moment. Trevor Daley is expected to miss the rest of the regular season due to knee surgery, and Olli Maatta is out long term as well. Those two injuries likely hastened GM Jim Rutherford to pick up Ron Hainsey in a trade today with Carolina.

    “I’m familiar with him because I signed him in Carolina,” Rutherford said of Hainsey. “He’s a real character guy. He’s a good penalty killer.”

    Rutherford added that the Pens may be in the market for another defenseman still.

    Pittsburgh has two games left before the March 1 deadline, Saturday against the Flyers and Tuesday in Dallas.

    Related: Shattenkirk headlines list of UFA d-men who could be traded

    ‘Canes waive Bickell in hope of extended AHL stint

    WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Paul Postma #4 of the Winnipeg Jets and Bryan Bickell #29 of the Carolina Hurricanes head to the Carolina zone during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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    Busy day in Carolina — shortly after sending veteran d-man Ron Hainsey to Pittsburgh, the ‘Canes placed forward Bryan Bickell on waivers.

    Bickell, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis earlier this season, has been training and skating in advance of a comeback.

    He’s been out since Oct. 30, and missed the last 48 games.

    Today’s move is based on the assumption Bickell, 30, will need more than the standard two-week conditioning stint in the AHL, so the plan is for him to clear, then spend extended time in Charlotte.

    “I’ll tell you what: he’s done everything he possibly can to get himself ready and get back at it, so we’ll see where it leads,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the ‘Canes website. “It’s an unreal source of inspiration, and his attitude has been fantastic through this whole thing.

    “I give him nothing but credit there.”

    Per NHL.com, Bickell originally aimed to return to the ‘Canes following their bye week, targeting a home date against the Avalanche on Feb. 17.

    “It all depends too on what other guys are doing if they’re going on a huge streak,” Bickell explained. “I like to see them win. If they need me, I’m sure an extra week of me skating is not going to hurt me.

    “We’re just going to wait until after the next treatment and after the bye week and go from there.”

    Bickell’s treatment is a monthly intravenous of Tysabri, a drug which helps limit the effects of MS. The 30-year-old said he began feeling better upon taking the medication, and has steadily his skating workload to get up to NHL speed.