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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    Kassian has ‘no hard feelings’ towards Canadiens

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    Zack Kassian never played a regular season game for the Montreal Canadiens. But unless he is held out of Edmonton’s lineup on Saturday, he’ll face his old team as a member of the Oilers.

    The Habs acquired Kassian from the Canucks in the summer, after the 25-year-old forward essentially wore out his welcome in Vancouver under the team’s new management. However, an October car accident that Kassian was involved in set forward a number of events that appears to have ultimately changed Kassian’s life for the better.

    He told reporters that car accident might’ve been the best thing to happen to his career.

    After the accident, he was placed in Stage 2 of the Substance Abuse program and suspended without pay. He was reinstated in December and immediately waived by the Canadiens. A couple of weeks later, he was traded to Edmonton.

    And, after opening up about his struggles with alcoholism, he’s since been recalled to the NHL, appearing in eight games for the Oilers, scoring twice and adding four points.

    “I’m not looking for any redemption,” said Kassian, as per Sportsnet.

    “Me, I got an opportunity to play for the Edmonton Oilers and I’m very thankful for that. I’m not mad at Montreal by any means. If anything I’m mad at myself for screwing up that opportunity. I’m just looking to move forward. Obviously it will feel nice if I get a goal [Saturday] or even better if we get a win but there’s definitely no hard feelings.”

    Video: It took only 4:33 of the first period for Hurricanes to build 3-0 lead on Jets

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    The Carolina Hurricanes got off to a spectacular start on Friday. Conversely, their opponent, the Winnipeg Jets, got off to a horrendous start.

    Before Friday’s game was even five minutes old, the Hurricanes had built a three-goal lead. Phillip Di Giuseppe opened the scoring at 1:43 of the first period. By the 4:33 mark, when Jordan Staal scored, Carolina was up three, forcing a goalie change for the Jets.

    Connor Hellebuyck was pulled after allowing three goals on six shots.

    Update: It’s 4-0 Hurricanes . . . 10:04 into the game. Yup. Could be a long one tonight in Winnipeg.

    Scrivens and slumping Habs face daunting task against McDavid and suddenly high-flying Oilers

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    Connor McDavid is kind of good.

    In the two games since his return to the Edmonton Oilers, he’s kind of — just kind of — had an impact. Five points in two games — that counts as an impact, right? Oh, and did you see this goal in his return earlier this week?

    Since McDavid’s highly anticipated return Tuesday against Columbus, the Oilers have outscored the opposition 12-3 in two games. Small sample size? Yes. Against teams currently not in playoff positions? Yes.

    But that’s still very impressive and with him in the lineup, there appears to be a sense of optimism in Edmonton.

    Enter the free-falling Montreal Canadiens. Enter goalie Ben Scrivens, who only made his debut for the Habs at the end of December and will face his old team, the Oilers, on Saturday.

    In four games with the Habs, Scrivens has been scored on 15 times.

    The Habs, without Carey Price, have been in a tumble down the Eastern Conference standings for a long time now. And, really, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.

    Now, the Habs and Scrivens are tasked with facing McDavid and the suddenly high-flying Oilers.

    And Canadiens fans probably aren’t the cheeriest right now, as their team has gone from on the verge of NHL history in October to becoming an afterthought in the playoff picture in February.

    In each of their last seven games, the Habs have failed to score more than two goals in regulation. So it would seem that if Montreal is to get a win, Scrivens will need to be as close to perfect as possible.

    No pressure.

    “Unfortunately, it seems like my whole career has been playing behind teams that don’t have that confidence, except for my time in L.A.,” Scrivens told reporters.

    “It’s a challenge as a goalie but all you can do is worry about your job. I can’t go out there and start trying to break pucks out and do anything I’m not supposed to be doing. My job is to try and stop pucks and try and stop as many as I can.”

    With the way McDavid and the Oilers have been scoring since the break and his return, it appears that will be a monumental task for Scrivens.

    And with the Habs in a 1-8-1 slide in the past 10 games, the timing probably couldn’t get any worse.

     

    Stars put Spezza on injured reserve, recall Faksa from AHL Texas

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    Sitting three points out of top spot in the Central Division and on the eve of an important divisional clash on home ice with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Dallas Stars have placed center Jason Spezza on injured reserve retroactive to Thursday, the club announced on Friday.

    Spezza, 32, was injured during Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Stars can move back to within a point of Chicago for the division lead with a regulation win on Saturday.

    In 52 games this season, Spezza has 18 goals and 40 points, which ties him with Patrick Sharp for fourth on the team in total points.

    With Spezza out, the Stars recalled 22-year-old forward Radek Faksa from the Texas Stars in the AHL.

    Faksa has 15 goals and 26 points in 28 games this season with Texas. In 18 games with the NHL Stars, he has one goal and three points.