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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    Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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    Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

    The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

    Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

    You can watch the play by clicking here.

    Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

    The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.

    ‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

    Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

    His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

    It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

    He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

    His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

    “It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”

    Golden Knights assign 2017 first-round picks Glass, Suzuki to junior

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    The Vegas Golden Knights continue to make roster moves during their inaugural training camp.

    On Friday, the expansion club assigned four players to junior. That includes 2017 first-round picks Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack.

    The Golden Knights made franchise history by taking Glass with the sixth overall pick and then selected Suzuki at 13th overall. Both players appeared in two preseason games for Vegas, each recording two points in the exhibition opener versus the Vancouver Canucks.

    “Nobody is going to rush (the rookies), that’s for sure,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun following the club’s 9-4 win over Vancouver on Sunday.

    “We are in a position where we want to make sure they are ready to play. They are going to be good players when they’re healthy and strong enough to play in the league.”

    Vegas has all three 2017 first-round picks — Glass, Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom — signed to three-year entry-level contracts.

    Mitchell signed PTO with Blue Jackets — shortly after getting cut by Blackhawks

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    When the Chicago Blackhawks announced their roster moves yesterday, John Mitchell was among the cuts.

    His professional tryout with the Blackhawks had come to an end, as it did for veterans Mark Stuart and Drew Miller.

    It can be an uphill battle to make an NHL roster for veterans on professional tryouts. But for Mitchell, he quickly received another opportunity to attend a camp and try to land a spot, signing a PTO with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    Mitchell, 32, has appeared in 548 NHL regular season games with 70 goals and 177 points.

    Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are still without forward and restricted free agent Josh Anderson, as the two sides are stuck in a contract impasse right now. It was reported on Thursday that his representatives have been in contact with Hockey Canada about the 2018 Olympics.