Ask a Lawyer: Could Ovechkin and/or Kovalchuk legally get out of their NHL contracts?

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With all the rhetoric emanating from each side of the NHL’s labor dispute, we’ve decided to bring in an actual lawyer to answer a series of questions. Hopefully it will prove useful to you, the reader, because it’s costing us $500 an hour. Please welcome to ProHockeyTalk, sports legal analyst Eric Macramalla.

PHT: Greetings, Eric. Both Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk have threatened to stay in the KHL should a new NHL CBA effectively reduce salaries on current contracts. Ovechkin thinks “it would be possible to annul [his contract with the Capitals] through the court.”

Could these guys actually legally get out of their contracts?

EM: Not really — but sort of. (And yes, it is these types of nonsensical answers that make people hate lawyers.)

First, as I covered here, if the players and owners agree on a rollback and that agreement is dropped in the CBA, then that pay reduction is lawful. So that means Ovechkin or Kovalchuk wouldn’t be able to say that their cut in pay is somehow unlawful, and by extension, grounds to invalidate their contracts. However, they might still be able to get out of them.

An NHL contract, which is called a “Standard Player Contract” or an “SPC”, provides at Section 14(b) that a team has the right to terminate a contract if that player shall “fail, refuse or neglect to render his services hereunder or in any other manner materially breach this Contract”.

Not rendering services would include not showing up for work. So while Ovechkin and/or Kovalchuk wouldn’t be in a position to challenge the validity of their contracts, they could elect not to return to the NHL, thereby setting in motion a series of events that would end with their clubs terminating their contracts.

Before termination, that same SPC at Section 4 says that a team can suspend a player without pay for not discharging the obligations under his contract. Again, that would include not playing for the team.

Their teams could also look to sue for breach of contract, which would entitle them to an award of monetary damages. They wouldn’t, however, be able to sue to force the players to come back and play.

There is one more issue. The NHL and the KHL have an understanding that each league will honor the contracts of the other league.

“[NHL deputy commissioner] Bill Daly confirmed in writing what our practice has been, namely, we respect their contracts and we expect them to respect ours.” commissioner Gary Bettman said.

So there would be pressure on the KHL not to allow Ovechkin and/or Kovalchuk to play in its league. However, it would just be that – pressure. As it stands, there would be no real legal recourse for the NHL if it wanted to force the KHL to bar the players from playing.

In conclusion, if Ovechkin and/or Kovalchuk were really disenchanted with the new CBA, they could take steps to walk away from the NHL.

Something tells me, though, that’s not going to happen.

Eric Macramalla is a partner at a national law firm and TSN’s sports legal analyst. He has covered the legal side of all major sports stories, including the NFL and NBA lockouts, the Saints Bountygate, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens perjury trials, the Ilya Kovalchuk dispute and the Jerry Sandusky case. You can follow him on Twitter at@EricOnSportsLaw and his sports law blog is located at www.OffsideSportsLaw.com.

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Ask a Lawyer: Would the NHLPA ever try to decertify to end the lockout?

PHT Morning Skate: Should the Flyers be worried about Claude Giroux?

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–Penguins defenseman Kris Letang had his day with the Stanley Cup, and he decided to bring it to a children’s hospital in the Montreal area. Even though he missed the playoffs with an injury, the hospital visit put things in perspective for him. (Canadian Press)

Jordan Eberle may not be a member of the Edmonton Oilers anymore, but that didn’t stop him from having a good time at his wedding with some of his old teammates. Country music star Brett Kissel also made an appearance during Eberle’s big night. (Sportsnet)

–Flyers center Claude Giroux has seen his production decrease over the last three seasons, and CSN Philly is wondering if it’s time to worry about the captain. Some of the CSN Philly writers are a little more optimistic about his odds of bouncing back than others. (CSN Philly)

–The Montreal Canadiens want fans to stop using printed tickets, so they’ve decided to charge season-ticket holders a $150 plus taxes fee to have a ticket booklet sent to them. Obviously, some fans aren’t thrilled about the additional charge for “hard” tickets. “They don’t think about this stuff. And if you read the letter, you’ll see that they just jammed it at the bottom of the letter with this nice little surprise. (Montreal Gazette)

–CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty looks at which available free agents would be the best fit for the Boston Bruins. Haggerty believes that taking a chance on Eric Gelinas could be worth the risk, but he also feels like a reunion with Jarome Iginla or Jaromir Jagr could make some sense. (CSN New England)

–The Chicago Blackhawks held a press conference on Saturday, but there was a catch. Only children were allowed to ask questions to players like Patrick Kane, Connor Murphy and Nick Schmaltz. Questions ranged from “How do you feel with the other team on the ice?” to “What is the best prank you did on a player?” Cute stuff. (Chicago Tribune)

Fleury celebrates Stanley Cup day as a Penguin, but admits he’s ready to move on

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Marc-Andre Fleury celebrated his day with the Stanley Cup on Saturday.

His time in Pittsburgh has already come to an official end, having been selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. He’s already said ‘thank-you’ to the fans of Pittsburgh, but the events of this weekend, in his mind it seems, close the chapter for good on this stage of his career.

“I think this was my last day as a Penguin, I would say,” Fleury told NHL.com.

“I have members of my family who had their Penguins hats who told me this was the last time those will come out. So I think after today, I can turn the page and get ready for Vegas.”

The former first overall pick captured three Stanley Cup rings with the Penguins. While he wasn’t the No. 1 goalie last year — or in the 2017 final, either — he played a significant role in Pittsburgh’s success through the first half of this year’s playoff before Matt Murray returned from injury.

He earned praise for how he handled the situation toward the end in Pittsburgh. After the final, reports surfaced he had agreed to waive his no-movement clause, which left him exposed in the expansion draft.

At age 32, he still has two more years left on his current contract, with an annual cap hit of $5.75 million. He’ll no doubt garner plenty of attention this upcoming season as the experienced starter on the Golden Knights’ roster.

But Saturday was for Fleury to enjoy one last championship won with the Penguins.

Hall urges Hischier to ‘develop at his own pace’

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The New Jersey Devils won the lottery and selected Nico Hischier first overall. With that comes even greater expectations on the player heading into their first training camp.

We’re less than two months away from the opening of training camps across the league.

But on a team that has worked this summer to bolster its offense, the addition of the 18-year-old Hischier could have an immediate impact in that department in October. Certainly, fans in New Jersey will hope so.

Taylor Hall knows all about the pressures of being taken first overall.

The Oilers selected him at that spot in 2010, but dealt him to New Jersey last summer, removing a very talented forward from their roster in order to gain something back defensively.

Devils coach John Hynes has already tried to lessen the burden on Hischier. Hall, it appears, has taken a similar approach.

“He’s just got to relax and develop at his own pace,” Hall told the Toronto Sun. “That’s not always the easiest thing to do with all the expectations people put on you for going No. 1, but I’ll help him any way I can.”

The Metropolitan Division featured four 100-plus point teams last season. New Jersey wasn’t one of them. Where the Devils need to make the most improvement in order to break back into the postseason conversation is with their offensive attack,finishing 28th in the league in total goals for last season.

Hischier should help — if not exactly next season then beyond 2017-18. The Devils also acquired Marcus Johansson from Washington and the signing of Brian Boyle should help solidify depth up the middle.

“It’s exciting times for us, bringing in the likes of Nico, Brian Boyle and Marcus Johansson,” said Hall. “We’re certainly trending in the right direction.”

Habs may lean more on Montoya to keep Price refreshed

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The Montreal Canadiens committed money (a lot of money) and term to Carey Price with his contract extension at the beginning of this month.

He is the backbone for this team, for its success.

He’s also about to turn 30 years old next month, with 509 career games in the NHL, entering the league in 2007-08. For as great as he has been, the Habs may place added responsibilities on the shoulders of their back-up, a title currently held by Al Montoya.

In an interview with the Habs’ website, the club’s goaltending coach Stephane Waite said that, in his mind, the days of starting goalies playing 65 to 70 games are done. It’s too tall an order in today’s NHL.

Price has, on three occasions, breached the figures in that approximation during his career. He approached the lower end of that with 62 starts in 2016-17. Montoya, meanwhile, had 18 starts and 19 games, posting a 8-6-4 record (20 points for Montreal in the standings) and a .912 save percentage.

He was the victim of one awful game, allowing 10 goals to Columbus on Nov. 4. But seriously, the entire Habs team was awful that night, essentially leaving their No. 2 goalie out to dry in an embarrassing effort from everyone.

Beyond that, Montoya was able to put together some nice starts, including shutouts against Pittsburgh and Edmonton, two teams well-equipped with dangerous offensive talent.

“We’re not afraid to put Al in goal against any team in the league,” said Waite.

“We don’t look at who he’ll be playing, we just look at the schedule that we make at the beginning of the season. Our priority is to give Carey the right days off at the right times.”

The Habs signed Montoya to a two-year extension in January. That’s a vote of confidence in their back-up.

Maintaining that confidence with a good season would certainly help the Habs accomplish the objective of keeping Price rested and refreshed.