NHL challenging the NHLPA over legal contracts is nothing new

kovalchuklouvanderbeek.jpgBelieve it or not, there’s actually some history with the NHL and the NHLPA when it comes to bickering over the legality of contracts. I know, this is really mind-bending news to get on a Sunday morning but it’s true and the New York Post’s Larry Brooks is once again spending his Sunday skewering the NHL over their decision to challenge Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102 million contract with the New Jersey Devils.

This time, he has another fascinating read telling us about how the NHL challenged the contracts of Rob Blake, Joe Sakic and Pierre Turgeon in 2003. The contracts then were sent to arbitration because they were trying to pay those players during the eventual labor stoppage in 2004-2005 through signing bonuses. Much like with the Ilya Kovalchuk case, there are some very obvious similarities.

Signing bonuses were legal under the old CBA just as long-term, front-loaded contracts are legal under this CBA. Indeed, the league routinely registered contracts containing signing bonuses without protest, just as the league routinely has registered long-term, front-loaded contracts.

Suddenly, though, the NHL had problems with the Sakic, Blake and Turgeon contracts. The testimony given by Bill Daly, then the league’s senior VP and now its deputy commissioner, under questioning from arbitrator Joan Parker, is instructive and on point as it relates to the Kovalchuk issue.

Parker asked Daly what standard the league applied to determine whether a signing bonus would be considered illegal.

“The standard is . . . we have an internal discussion about it, that there’s an intent on behalf of the contracting parties to guarantee a part of the contract. And the standard we have been applying is a significant part of the contract for a potential [2004-05] work stoppage,” Daly said.

“It’s a materiality test. . . . There are a number of different [contract/signing bonus] structures we’ve seen. When it’s generally reasonable we have registered contracts in that scenario. When it’s clear on its face that the parties were expressly attempting to essentially guarantee part of the contract during a work stoppage, at least in our mind, we have rejected the contracts.”

What this boils down to is that the teams and the players are more than well aware of what the current situations are and were in these cases, it’s just that there’s nothing in the collective bargaining agreement there to stop anyone from doing anything about it. As arbitrator Joan Parker noted in 2003:

“The difficulty Daly had in articulating the standard by which the League challenged the Blake, Sakic and Turgeon [contracts] is troublesome, particularly because several provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement suggest that Clubs and players have substantial flexibility to negotiate compensation packages as they wish.”

How did the league fare in their squabble with Blake, Sakic and Turgeon? Brooks tells us and then hits it out of the park.

Joan Parker ruled for the NHLPA and against the NHL in the case of Sakic, et al, rebuking the league for attempting to gain collective bargaining goals through arbitration.

Seven years later, the league has reapplied its beautiful-mind litmus test to front-loaded contracts, trying to win something now it could not win last time in collective bargaining.

The standard is simple. If Bettman doesn’t like it, the league tries to stop it. Only the arbitrator has the power to stop Bettman.

A bit dramatic, yes, but it’s important to note how strong the arbitrators role in this whole mess with Kovalchuk actually is. A decision in favor of the NHL would set a dangerous precedent because it would essentially be putting a previously unknown qualifier in the current collective bargaining agreement and essentially set the table perfectly for a monstrous labor battle in 2012. Things should prove to be interesting as the Kovalchuk contract hearing is slated to begin this week.

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    Braun out with upper-body injury; Zubrus to make Sharks debut

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    The San Jose Sharks will be missing a top-4 defenseman tonight when they host the defending champs from Chicago.

    Justin Braun has an upper-body injury. His status is considered day-to-day.

    “Brauny has been one of our unsung heroes here through the first quarter of the season,” coach Peter DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “He’s played some outstanding hockey. So, we’re going to miss him, but it’s a great opportunity for Mueller and Tennyson and one of these guys to establish themselves. It’s a great opportunity for us to reward Dillon for how well he’s played.”

    Against the Blackhawks, Brenden Dillon will take Braun’s spot on the top pairing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic; Paul Martin and Brent Burns will stay together on the second pairing; and 20-year-old Mirco Mueller will skate with Matt Tennyson.

    Mueller has played just four games for the Sharks this season. In his last game, Thursday in Philadelphia, he received only 9:13 of ice time.

    Also tonight, new Shark forward Dainius Zubrus is expected to debut on the fourth line.

    Related: Sharks sign Zubrus, because DeBoer

    Johansen calls trade rumblings ‘weird,’ says relationship with Torts is ‘great’

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    One day after reports surfaced of Ryan Johansen being at the center of trade talks, all parties involved from Columbus did what they’re supposed to do — downplay the situation.

    You can read the denials in full over at the Dispatch, but here’s the gist:

    — Johansen said the rumors were “weird” and that he’s “never seen it before.” He also said there were no issues between him and head coach John Tortorella, calling the relationship “great.”

    — GM Jarmo Kekalainen wouldn’t address the report, nor would Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.

    — Johansen added he hasn’t spoken to any of Columbus’ management about the trade rumblings.

    So there’s that. What’s next?

    At this stage of the game, it’s hard not to think about another Overhardt client, Kyle Turris.

    Turris, you’ll recall, spent four (mostly) stormy years with the Coyotes before his trade out to Ottawa was orchestrated. Turris eventually told GM Don Maloney “this is not going to work out” with the club, and he was gone.

    So, consider the similarities now:

    — Turris was 22 at the time of the trade, with four years and 137 games under his belt.

    — Johansen is 23, with five years and 291 games.

    — Both had contentious contract holdouts with their respective clubs.

    — Both are Overhardt guys.

    — The Turris trade happened after the Coyotes went from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett as head coach.

    — Johansen is already on his third head coach (Scott Arniel, Todd Richards, Tortorella).

    For now, these are all coincidences (or a forced narrative, depending what you think of the author).

    And, of course, the one big — big — difference between the two is that, at the time of his trade, Turris wasn’t as good or established a player as Johansen currently is. Therefore, logic suggests any Johansen trade would be a lot more blockbuster-y and, therefore, probably more complex.

    And as we know, complex deals aren’t easy to pull off.

    Flyers’ Gagner to miss another week after Malone hit

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    The nasty blow Sam Gagner took in Monday’s game against Carolina will keep him on the shelf for a little bit.

    On Wednesday, Flyers GM Ron Hextall said the club expected Gagner to be out around a week with injuries suffered on the hit, delivered by ‘Canes forward Brad Malone (per the Inquirer).

    Gagner suffered a fairly significant facial laceration, which forced him from the game entirely. He didn’t practice on Tuesday and, in a corresponding move, the Flyers called up Colin McDonald from the AHL to fill Gagner’s spot on the roster.

    This is the second facial injury Gagner’s suffered in recent years. He’d previously had his jaw broken by an errant Zack Kassian high stick, while he was with the Oilers and Kassian the Canucks.

    Prior to getting hurt, Gagner had two goals and five points in 18 games, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.

    ‘It’s absolutely not true’ — Lemieux denies report of ‘big falling out’ with Crosby

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 5:  Sidney Crosby #87 and Mario Lemieux #66 of the Pittsburgh Penguins share a few words during a break in action against the New Jersey Devils in their NHL opening night game at the Continental Airlines Arena on October 5, 2005 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Devils won 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Well, that didn’t take long.

    Just hours after Matthew Barnaby went on the radio and said he’d heard that Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux had had a “big falling out,” Lemieux came out and denied it.

    “It’s absolutely not true,” said Lemieux, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s silly.”

    Today marked the second time in less than two weeks that the Penguins have been forced do some damage control.

    Last week, the Penguins insisted that they weren’t actually “mad at each other,” as Evgeni Malkin had put it after a bad loss to New Jersey.

    “He did not mean we are mad at each other,” said Crosby. “He meant we are frustrated.”