NHL wins contract grievance case against Ilya Kovalchuk; Kovalchuk a free agent once again

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kovalchuklouvanderbeek.jpgIn a stunning turn of events today, systems arbitrator Richard Bloch has handed down a stunning decision today, rejecting the NHLPA grievance against the NHL over Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102 million contract making Kovalchuk an unrestricted free agent once again.

In an unprecedented situation, the NHL has won the day and the question that hangs in the air here is: What sense does it make? Numerous other contracts have been crafted the same way as Kovalchuk’s contract with the Devils was yet his is the deal that gets bounced by the league. Picking when to start a fight and decide what’s good and what isn’t is the remarkable part of all this and the NHL may have picked a case where they stood to win in an easier battle than with other contracts. After all, the final four years of the now nullified deal with the Devils was set to earn Kovalchuk the league minimum all in an effort to drive his cap hit down. From a common sense perspective it looks like a clear means to get around the rules of business.

The problem here with common sense is that the law of the land in the NHL has deviated away from that previous to this one contract. Other deals see the money fall off the table towards the end of a contract in an effort to get the cap number reduced but those deals were approved by the league. What made this contract different? You have to suspect that the number of years in order to make it happen are a leading cause as there’s no other contract in the NHL as long as 17 years. Sure, there’s Rick DiPietro’s 15-year contract with the Islanders but at no point does the money disappear on it. That contract, by the books, is a straight-forward deal.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement on the proceedings today:

“We want to thank Arbitrator Bloch for his prompt resolution of a complex issue. His ruling is consistent with the League’s view of the manner in which the Collective Bargaining Agreement should deal with contracts that circumvent the Salary Cap.”

What’s next for the once-again-free-agent Ilya Kovalchuk is that he’ll most likely try to work out a new contract with the Devils that better fits the confines of the structure of previous deals that were completed and approved by the league previously. Whether this means Kovalchuk ends up taking less money or years or both remains to be seen. Using Marian Hossa’s contract with the Blackhawks would be a good starting point to reconstruct a deal. While Hossa’s deal stretched the CBA to the limits, it was still approved.

garybettman2.jpgIt’s also possible that the highly questionable years in Kovalchuk’s deal could be lopped off, thus making his cap hit a lot harder to take for the Devils. There’s also the possibility of tweaking the money so Kovalchuk isn’t making nearly the league minimum in the last four years of the deal. After all, Kovalchuk says he’s going to play that long and the Devils are willing to pay him for that long, putting your money where your mouth is is a good way to back that up.

Since he’s a free agent once again, it’s possible that the Los Angeles Kings could re-enter the bidding process given that their contract offer for the Russian superstar was something a bit more within the confines of what’s allowable in the NHL. Given the future labor ramifications this result in the hearing might have, it’s also possible that Kovalchuk just aims for a short-term deal with any team that might want to make a run for him knowing full-well that the NHLPA and the owners are going to be in for a labor blood war in 2012.

As for the Devils, there’s a possibility that they could be fined by the NHL or docked draft picks for circumventing the salary cap. Fines range up to as much as $5 million dollars and could be used against the salary cap itself so as to more effectively punish the team.

We’ll have more analysis on top of this as the night and the days progress, rest assured this is just the start of what figures to be a long and very ugly future as the league and the players union are concerned. For Ilya Kovalchuk, it’s back to square one as far as finding a new team to play for is concerned.

Rebuild on hold? Red Wings reportedly eye Girardi, Hainsey, Daley

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For the first time in ages, the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. To some, the sliver lining was that this might send a message to management to truly commit to a rebuild.

Perhaps GM Ken Holland & Co. aren’t quite ready for that.

Look, one or even a couple of potential free agent signings won’t disqualify the Red Wings from going younger. Still, the rumored defensemen they’re targeting aren’t exactly spring chickens.

Three names floating out there are Trevor Daley, Dan Girardi, and Ron Hainsey.

Daley was mentioned by The Athletic’s Craig Custance, MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, and the Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James. Khan and Custance both mention Hainsey and Girardi, too.

Even in one-case mentions, the “veteran” theme continues, with Brian Campbell‘s name coming up while forward Thomas Vanek seems like at least a remote possibility to return to Detroit.

Let’s look at the ages of the defensemen mentioned, noting that Daley is older than some might have expected.

Daley – 33
Girardi – 33
Hainsey – 36
Campbell – 38

In the case of Daley and Girardi, you could also argue that each blueliner also has a lot of “mileage” for their age. Girardi, in particular, plays the sort of grinding, shot-blocking style that might have accelerated his troubles with the Rangers.

As great as experience might be, even for a “final push,” this sends a troubling signal. In Mike Green (31), Jonathan Ericsson (33), and Niklas Kronwall (36), the Red Wings already have an aging group of defensemen. Kronwall and Ericsson are dealing with injuries that may hinder them for the remainder of their careers, too.

When you also note that Holland exposed 25-year-old goalie Petr Mrazek instead of 33-year-old Jimmy Howard, the picture isn’t especially pretty.

Maybe the Red Wings can have their cake (push for a playoff rebound) and eat it too (start to transition to youth), yet it’s not necessarily the aggressive move toward a rebuild that many likely hoped to see.

At least there’s time for Holland to prove these early worries wrong.

Note: In other Red Wings news, the team signed Ben Street to a one-year extension.

Blue Jackets sign Schroeder after trading for him

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Not long after acquiring him in a minor trade from the Minnesota Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Jordan Schroeder to a two-year contract.

The team confirms that it is a two-way deal for 2017-18 and then becomes one-way in 2018-19.

Schroeder is guaranteed $350K for the first year of that contract and then $650K in 2018-19, according to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

The 22nd pick of the 2009 NHL Draft receives a fitting contract: he’s been a “tweener,” bouncing around the NHL and AHL. He hasn’t been able to make much of an impact, Schroeder at least provides some organizational depth.

That could come in handy, as Portzline indicates that Sam Gagner – not so surprisingly – is expected to garner a lot more attention this time around in free agency. Perhaps Schroeder could serve as insurance for Gagner?

NCAA star Spencer Foo chooses the Flames

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NCAA standout forward Spencer Foo decided to sign with the Calgary Flames, as The Sports Corporation and team confirmed. The signing might not be official until free agency kicks off on Saturday, July 1, but he apparently made his decision.

After managing 25 points in each of his first two seasons with Union College, Foo exploded in 2016-17, racking up 26 goals and 62 points. You can see some of his highlights in the video above.

He didn’t go drafted, so this could be a case of another scorer blossoming late.

Foo is an Edmonton native, so playing close to home in Calgary likely factored into his decision. He was connected to the Edmonton Oilers in earlier rumors while MLive.com’s Ansar Khan indicates that his final choice came down to the Flames or the Detroit Red Wings.

Calgary is already classifying him as a RW. Perhaps he’ll be that long-desired fit for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan? There’s another positive aspect for the Flames, as this might help to soften the blow of giving up a bundle of assets in the Travis Hamonic deal.

The Sports Corporation tweeted out a photo of Foo, 23, in a Flames jersey:

Which NHL teams face toughest, easiest schedules in 2017-18?

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For NHL schedule nerds, Tuesday felt a bit like Christmas.*

On the Forecheck’s Dirk Hoag is mostly retired from hockey blogging, but he still puts out his beloved “super schedule,” and he combined with Alex Daugherty to do a 2017-18 version, which you should absolutely check out here.

Hoag and Daughtery listed all 31 teams’ total miles traveled and also their number of back-to-back games for next season.

Here are the top five teams for most miles:

1. Avalanche – 48,639
2. Flames – 47,931
3. Blackhawks – 47,926
4. Coyotes – 46,856
5. Oilers – 46,815

Note: the Panthers are the sixth-ranked team and face easily the most travel among East teams with 44,395, up from 41,891.

Now, here are the bottom five for travel time:

31: Penguins – 34,041
30: Devils – 34,052
29. Sabres – 34,175
28. Red Wings – 34,759
27. Maple Leafs – 35,689

The Los Angeles Kings tend to be frequent flyers, but not here; they face the least travel of any West team with 39,915.

That’s not the entire picture, however. These teams face the most back-to-back sets:

1 (tied) – Penguins and Senators with 19
3. Hurricanes – 18
4 (tied) Blackhawks, Blue Jackets – 17
6 (tied) Blues, Islanders, Sabres, and Devils – 16

While these teams face the fewest.

1. Jets – 9 (Winnipeg faces 43,296 miles of travel.)
2. Canucks – 10
3 (tied) – Avalanche, Oilers, Predators, Ducks, and Rangers – 11

Oh, and in their inaugural season, the Vegas Golden Knights travel 42,128 miles and must endure 12 back-to-back sets, so they deal with a pretty middle-of-the-road haul.

***

As you can see, plenty of teams see their low travel rates balanced out by high back-to-back game totals. The Penguins are a good example of that.

Then again, some teams just suffer tough draws. As much as conspiracy theorists love to harp on the Blackhawks, they face the third-most travel miles and deal with 17 back-to-back sets.

On The Forecheck’s full list can be seen here, yet they are not the only outlet to do some interesting schedule analysis. Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy put together a list of rested/tired games for each team:

Though he also narrowed it down in a way that might make the biggest difference: a rested home team facing a tired road opponent.

Long story short, it’s difficult to really boil down who has the toughest schedule based on one metric. It’s a subjective matter, as you can weigh these “rest/tired” factors, go broad with sheer back-to-back sets, and even lean on jet lag more than anything else.

Still, if you’re the type to wear a tin foil hat, the lists above could really help you cook up some theories about the bad hand your team allegedly drew.

(Opinion: it does seem like Chicago faces more than just salary cap challenges next season, however.)

* – Or whatever holiday resonates. So, Festivus?