The Kovalchuk decision: What happens after it's over

Thumbnail image for kovalchuklouvanderbeek.jpgThe arguments have been said and heard in the Ilya Kovalchuk contract grievance hearing and both the NHL and Kovalchuk await the decision by systems arbitrator Richard Bloch, our minds turn to just what will happen next. Whether Bloch decides to side with Ilya Kovalchuk, his agent Jay Grossman, and the New Jersey Devils or with the NHL and Gary Bettman will be found out at the latest by Monday and at the earliest on Friday.

What can we look forward to though depending on the outcomes? Let’s have a look.

If the Devils/Kovalchuk win the case

If the arbitrator sides with the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk, his landmark 17-year, $102 million stands tall and the Devils get their man. It’s just that simple. Kovalchuk’s contract will become the new pariah amongst critics of salary cap-bending deals. Gone are the fingers pointed towards Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg and Marc Savard and Ilya Kovalchuk is your new “overpaid” ruler of the NHL. All that aside, the current collective bargaining agreement is upheld to the letter and teams looking to retain any of their superstar players before a potential labor armageddon in 2012 have the blueprint for how to keep a player set in stone. Kovalchuk’s contract is, by far, the biggest challenger to how far you can make the system work for you and having the arbitrator uphold this deal makes it the law of the land that signing a contract like this is OK.

The NHL losing the case will have a profound effect on how labor negotiations go come 2012, however. This contract and this situation will be held up by the NHLs owners, despite the profound apparent hypocrisy, as the reason why they need to “fix” things once again so they can make things work better for those owners who aren’t willing to/can’t sign players to “lifetime” deals. Long-term contracts are risky, of course, but the fallback option of being able to buy out contracts like these are there at the ready for teams to make use of. While there are ways to make it painful against the cap to do this (just ask the Islanders about Alexei Yashin) there is always a way to get out of these contracts… So long as the player isn’t 35 years-old when he signs it (Tim Thomas and Chris Pronger say hello).

If the NHL wins the case

Should the NHL come out on top in this dispute, Ilya Kovalchuk once again becomes an unrestricted free agent and the contract is thrown out the window. While this would open the door for other teams (read: the Los Angeles Kings) to get back into the hunt the likelihood of that happening seems pretty small. Consider this, Kovalchuk and the Devils went ahead with a press conference to announce that he’d be a New Jersey Devil. The chances that the Devils would walk away after losing this hearing and say, “Forget it, we don’t want you now” are impossibly small. More than likely, the Devils will have a contract re-worked within the parameters seen as “allowable” by the league. In other words, look for Kovalchuk and the Devils to do a contract similar to what guys like Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg and Alexander Ovechkin have. In other words, the Devils will just follow those league-approved examples of how to spread the money around.

The aftershock of this contract being rejected will be huge. While the league won’t be able to go back and start nixing other long contracts that are similar to that of Kovalchuk’s, the chances of seeing other teams attempt to lock down their elite players through similar means drops to virtually nil. After all, with that sort of ace in the hole for the league to use, what team would want to go through this whole process with their own players knowing full well that the league will have this case held up as a precedent to shoot down anything else.

A win for the league also sets the terms for the NHLPA’s argument against the owners in 2012. I know labor talk is scary and generally pretty boring, but this is the future we’ve got to deal with and it’s going to get ugly one way or another. Having the NHLPA get slapped in the face will only make their resolve stronger to win the next round of collective bargaining in 2012. Considering that they lost the last round and yet are still making out pretty well all things considered, getting their one way to actually “beat the man” and make money shoved back in their face will be a very sore point.

 

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    Lundqvist will start four of five remaining games

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    Henrik Lundqvist has had two tough starts since returning from injury.

    The 35-year-old allowed five goals in his first game back, a 6-3 loss to Anaheim Sunday, and five more in his second game, a 5-4 OT loss to San Jose Tuesday.

    But Lundqvist is still the No. 1 in New York, and for that reason he’s scheduled to start four of the Rangers’ five remaining regular-season games, with the hope he’ll be able to play his way back into form in time for the postseason.

    Lundqvist was not happy after Tuesday’s loss to the Sharks, even though the point the Rangers gained earned them a playoff berth.

    “I’m extremely disappointed right now,” he told reporters. “I’m glad we’re in, but I want to get the job done. I want the win. We found a way to lose this one at the end.”

    With the loss, Lundqvist’s save percentage fell to .911 on the season. If it finishes at that number, it would be the lowest save percentage of his NHL career.

    Antti Raanta‘s save percentage, meanwhile, sits at .922. In his last start, he shut out the Kings in Los Angeles.

    The Rangers host Pittsburgh tomorrow and Philadelphia Sunday. Next week, they’re in Washington Wednesday, Ottawa Saturday, and then they close out their schedule at home to Pittsburgh Sunday.

    Raanta will start one of the final two games.

    The Rangers are likely to face Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.

    Reinhart suggests benching him for an entire game might’ve been a stretch

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    Two days after Sam Reinhart was bolted to the pine for the entirety of Buffalo’s 3-1 loss to Columbus — his punishment for showing up late to a team stretch — Reinhart discussed the incident, and didn’t sound overly thrilled about how it played out.

    “It’s a coach’s decision. It’s a management decision,” Reinhart said, per the Buffalo News. “From my perspective, I would have rather battled it out with my teammates.

    “I don’t think five minutes in the morning is going to influence my preparation for a game, but it was a team stretch and I should have been there on time.”

    Reinhart also had this to say:

    Discipline of this nature is pretty common, though the way Reinhart’s played out was a bit more dramatic. Rather than park him in the press box as a healthy scratch, the Sabres — who didn’t have an extra forward, as Kyle Okposo was out sick — dressed the 21-year-old, then sat him for the entire 60 minutes.

    The Buffalo News said the move “would seem to send a deeper message than merely being scratch,” adding that “there has been friction between players and [Sabres head coach Dan] Bylsma throughout the season.”

    In the club’s defense, Reinhart is hardly the first young player to be punished for lateness. Nikita Zadorov had repeated issues with punctuality and, after being suspended, was eventually traded to Colorado. Evander Kane was parked for a game last season after sleeping in and missing a practice.

    Of course, each situation is unique and some will argue showing up five minutes late for a stretch isn’t on par with what Zadorov and Kane did. Which is fair. That could be why Bylsma said the club might consider a policy change.

    And that could by why Reinhart’s teammate, Jack Eichel, tried to put things in perspective.

    “We’re obviously not going to hold it over his head here,” Eichel said, per the News. “He didn’t really do too much wrong.”

    North Dakota’s Poolman turns pro, signs with Jets

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    Another day, another North Dakota departure.

    Having already lost freshman Tyson Jost (signed with Colorado) and sophomore Brock Boeser (signed with Vancouver), the school has now learned that junior blueliner Tucker Poolman has signed an entry-level deal with the Jets.

    Poolman, 23, was taken by Winnipeg in the fifth round (127th overall) at the ’13 draft. From the Free Press:

    UND’s top defenceman was playing between 25 and 30 minutes per game and was the fourth-highest scoring blue-liner in the NCHC. He finished the season with seven goals, 30 points, 14 penalty minutes and a plus-18 rating in 38 games.

    Poolman’s final campaign ended on a sour note. He suffered a shoulder injury during the NCHC championship game and was unable to play in North Dakota’s season-ending loss to Boston University in the NCAA championships.

    Coming to America: Jackets assign Carlsson to Cleveland

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    His Swedish season over, defenseman Gabriel Carlsson is coming to North America to play some hockey.

    The Columbus Blue Jackets announced today that Carlsson, the 29th overall pick in the 2015 draft, has been assigned to AHL Cleveland.

    From the press release:

    Carlsson, 20, recently completed his second full season with Linköping HC in the Swedish Hockey League where he collected two goals and two assists for four points with six penalty minutes and a +8 plus/minus rating in 40 games.

    Linköping was eliminated from the SHL playoffs on Tuesday.

    Carlsson is listed at 6-4 and 191 pounds.