How the rejected Kovalchuk deal was different and similar to other 'fishy' contracts

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kovyandparise.jpgThere are two basic sides in the argument for or against the decision to invalidate Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract with the New Jersey Devils.

Many of the people who side with Kovalchuk and the NHLPA point to other curious contracts handed out, like the one Marian Hossa signed with Chicago (that will bring him into his 40s) or the one Henrik Zetterberg signed with Detroit. On the other hand, people who agree with the league’s point say that Kovalchuk’s deal was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Expecting him to play at age 44, they say, is absurd.

Whichever side you fall on, there’s no doubt that you’ll find some fishy numbers in many of these contracts.

Taking the details from Joe’s post about what would have been Kovalchuk’s deal plus the year-by-year salaries of Chris Pronger, Zetterberg and Hossa, I made a side-by-side comparison for the visual learners out there. I did this on the fly, so it might look a little “off,” but should be a nice visual aid for anyone else who wants to compare and contrast.

CapGeek.com was a valuable resource in this study, as usual. (Click to enlarge.)

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Kovalchuk’s deal vs. Pronger’s

How they’re alike: Both feature years with minimum wage salaries at the end, each one includes a pivotal season or two where the salary drops considerably – but not completely – before the bottom falls out.

prongervshossa.jpgHow they’re different: Though the Flyers assumed otherwise, Pronger’s deal is a 35+ contract which means his cap hit remains whether he retires or not. Pronger will obviously be much older when his contract begins. Pronger’s contract starts at its peak while Kovalchuk’s biggest years kick in starting in Year 3.

Kovalchuk’s deal vs. Hossa’s

How they’re alike: A big chunk of both deals see the players taking absurdly low salaries that many assume those guys will never actually play for (more on that after the jump). Both have a midpoint where there’s a serious though not extreme drop in salary before the bottom falls out. Hossa was a little older when he signed his deal, but they end pretty close age-wise.

How they’re different: Kovalchuk’s deal declines in a more staggered way, though: ($11.5M to 10.5 to 8.5 to 6.5 from 16-17 to 19-20). Hossa’s starts out the biggest while Kovalchuk’s biggest years begin in Year 3. While $1 million isn’t much for Hossa to play for, it’s slightly more conceivable than Kovalchuk’s minimum wage seasons.

Kovalchuk’s deal vs. Zetterberg’s

How they’re alike: Their biggest money doesn’t come right away. Both are structured somewhat similarly to Marian Hossa’s contract.

How they’re different: Zetterberg’s drop-off is arguably more arbupt (from 7 to 3.35 to 1). Like Hossa’s deal, it’s at least a bit more conceivable to imagine Zetteberg playing for $1 million than it is to see Kovalchuk playing for $550K.

After the jump, I’ll share a few more of the sticking points … but also why the Devils might have reason to feel wronged.


hzetterberg40.jpgAs Joe mentioned, the sticking point seems to be that the deal would assume Kovalchuk would play until he was 44. Another big factor is that those “wink wink retirement years” are even more slap-you-in-the-face obvious that the other curious contracts. Here’s how I look at the last few years for each player.

Pronger: One mid-range year ($4M) and two inconceivable years if it wasn’t a 35+ ($525K).

Hossa: One mid-range year ($4M) and four inconceivable years ($1M).

Zetterberg: One mid-range year ($3.35M) and two inconceivable years ($1M).

Kovalchuk: One mid-range year although his contract staggers down for four years ($3.5M) and six inconceivable years.

In summation, Kovalchuk’s deal is something of a Frankenstein Monster of the other bad contracts. It adds even more inconceivable years (basically as many as Hossa and Zetterberg probably won’t play combined) to the longest contract handed out and would end with him at the oldest age.The one saving grace is that it at least drops a little less abruptly than some of the other ones, going from $11.5M to $10.5M to $8.5M then $6.5M and finally hitting that mid-range year at $3.5M.

Such a mind-blowing combination gives some credence to the conspiracy theorists who wonder if Lou Lamoriello was “sending a message” with this deal and assumed it wouldn’t actually be approved. I’m not sure I believe that’s true, but it did feel like the Devils GM more or less slapped the league with a glove and challenged Gary Bettman & Co. to an arbitration duel.

Don’t be surprised if we provide another exhaustive study once a new Kovalchuk contract appears.

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    With Lehtonen’s strong finish, is Niemi done in Dallas?

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    The Stars have spent the last two years working with their oft-criticized two goalie setup.

    Could the experiment soon be over?

    Over the last month, the club has played Kari Lehtonen almost exclusively — he’s been the goalie of record in 10 of 12 games, including six straight — and has performed well. On Monday, he was named the NHL’s second star of the week, and has a .926 save percentage in March.

    According to the Morning-News’ Mike Heika, this might be foreshadowing Antti Niemi‘s departure.

    I think they have lost all faith in Antti Niemi and they want to see if Lehtonen is worth keeping next year.

    I’m still not sure if this is proving they should keep him, but it makes the decision to get two new goalies more difficult.

    A lot will depend on whether or not they acquire a goalie in trade before the NHL buyout window (which opens June 15) closes June 30. If they make a trade or two, that will possibly push them to buy out Lehtonen and Niemi.

    I think it would be tough to buy out both and have no goalies in house on July 1.

    The guess here is Niemi will be bought out for sure.

    Niemi is in the second of a three-year, $13.5 million deal, one that carries a $4.5 million cap hit. Per CapFriendly, a buyout would cost Dallas $1.5 million against the cap through 2019.

    This season has been a struggle for the 33-year-old. He’s posted an 11-11-4 record with a 3.35 GAA and .892 save percentage, and that came after a fairly mediocre first year in Dallas. Though he won 25 games and appeared in five playoff contests, Niemi never posted a save percentage above .905.

    If the plan is to keep Lehtonen and move on from Niemi, it’s fairly safe to assume GM Jim Nill will acquire a goalie to work in tandem with the former.

    And this is where things could get interesting.

    This summer’s UFA goalie market will be flush. Ryan Miller, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason, Brian Elliott, Mike Condon, Scott Darling and Chad Johnson are all currently without contracts for next season, and the prospect of joining the Stars has to be enticing. There is playing time to be had, and Lehtonen — who turns 34 next season — only has a year left on his deal.

    Report: U.S. women to vote on deal to avoid worlds boycott

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    USA Today, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, is reporting that USA Hockey has struck a tentative four-year deal with members of the U.S. women’s national team that would avert a boycott of the upcoming world championship in Plymouth, Michigan.

    The players are expected to vote on the deal today. No financial details were reported. The players have been seeking a living wage.

    The U.S. is scheduled to play Canada on Friday at USA Hockey Arena.

    Read more:

    USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage

    U.S. women say they’ll boycott worlds

    Selanne: Ducks want Kariya back in fold, but he’s ‘very bitter about hockey’

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    Paul Kariya hasn’t played hockey in over seven years, since a series of concussions forced him into retirement.

    He’s been out of the limelight, too.

    After sharply criticizing the league during his retirement announcement — he said every hit that ever knocked him out was an illegal one — Kariya has virtually disconnected from the hockey world, save the occasional report alluding to his bitterness towards the NHL.

    But there have been efforts to connect with him.

    Including those from the team he rose to prominence with.

    In a recent interview on Ray Ferraro’s Pulp Hockey podcast, Teemu Selanne — Kariya’s longtime running mate in Anaheim — shed some light on how the Ducks would welcome Kariya back… and how Kariya’s consistently rebuffed the idea.

    More:

    “It was kind of a shame how his career ended. He’s very bitter about that. He always thought that the NHL was not looking after the players the way they should. So that’s why he doesn’t want to be involved with hockey at all, and he almost kind of like disappeared from the hockey world, which is very sad.

    “What he has done for hockey, and especially here in Anaheim and California, it’s unbelievable. He was an unbelievable hockey player, and I had a great time with him. It hurts me that he doesn’t want to be part of hockey, because I think he has a lot to offer and give. Hopefully one day he will come back, for some reason. I know the Ducks have really tried hard to get him back and into the program.

    “But he’s very bitter about hockey, which is very sad.”

    Drafted fourth overall by the Ducks in ’93, Kariya was the franchise’s first true superstar. He scored 50 goals and 108 points in his sophomore campaign and, the year following, finished second in Hart Trophy voting for league MVP.

    In 2003, he led Anaheim to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. That series, of course, is perhaps best remembered for the lethal hit Kariya took from Devils d-man Scott Stevens.

    The Stevens hit was just one in a series that derailed Kariya’s career. There was the infamous Gary Suter crosscheck to the head in ’98 — Suter received a two-game suspension — and the last one, an elbow to the head from Patrick Kaleta.

    Kaleta avoided suspension entirely.

    Many have wondered where Kariya would’ve ranked among the greats had he stayed healthy. He finished with 989 points in 989 career games, and was still a really productive player at the end — despite the concussion problems, Kariya, then 35 years old, scored 18 goals and 43 points in 75 games during his final season in St. Louis.

    With the annual Hall of Fame debates and the recent NHL 100 list, Kariya’s name has come up quite a bit. Which again circles back to Anaheim.

    Selanne’s number is already in the rafters (Kariya wasn’t in attendance for the ceremony), and the organization has close ties with alumni, as both Scott Niedermayer and Todd Marchant both have front-office gigs. So one would think Kariya, who served as team captain for five years, would be embraced with open arms.

    PHT reached out to the Ducks for comment on Selanne’s remarks. They replied that Kariya is always welcome in Anaheim, and he’s aware of that.

    Keller debut garners praise from coach Tippett

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    Clayton Keller didn’t score — in fact, he didn’t even register a shot — but his NHL debut last night in St. Louis garnered high praise from Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett.

    “He looks like a good player,” Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “He’s got good skill. He’s certainly not worried about getting into any confrontations. He plays hard along the wall. He’s not a big guy, but he competes hard. He looks like a hockey player. He’s got great hockey sense. You watch how he manages a game between line changes, just managing the puck, it was a good start for him.”

    The Coyotes lost the game, 4-1, but Keller finished with an even rating in 12:21 of even-strength action. The 18-year-old also logged 1:48 on the power play.

    Keller grew up in suburban St. Louis, so debuting against the Blues at Scottrade Center was doubly special.

    “It’s pretty cool growing up coming to games here,” he said. “It was really special to have the first one here.”

    Related: Coyotes ready for prized prospect Keller to go pro