Kovalchuk and Ovechkin

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.

Related:

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

Video: The Stars had six skaters on the ice and still didn’t cover Tarasenko on breakaway goal

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Vladimir Tarasenko can be elusive to the opposition at five-on-five. Apparently that also applies to when the opposition has six skaters on the ice and their goalie still in the crease.

Tarasenko opened the scoring for the St. Louis Blues in Game 4 on Thursday, sneaking in behind the Stars defense for a breakaway goal on Kari Lehtonen. The Stars, by the way, had six skaters on the ice as the puck was turned over in the St. Louis zone.

Despite Dallas clearly having too many skaters, the play wasn’t blown down and Tarasenko found himself in the one-on-one situation. He made no mistake.

(Here’s a screen grab of the turnover inside the St. Louis end, leading to the breakaway. Six Dallas skaters.)

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 5.50.07 PM

 

WATCH LIVE: Sharks at Predators – Game 4

Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber (6) and center Colin Wilson, right, celebrate after Weber scored a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the second period in Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal playoff series Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. San Jose Sharks left wing Patrick Marleau is at left. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The Nashville Predators have a chance before the home crowd to even up their second-round series with the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. You can catch Game 4 between these teams on CNBC (9 p.m. ET) or the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for this game:

Ribeiro likely scratched, again, as Preds look to even series with Sharks

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

 

 

Gerard Gallant, Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz named finalists for Jack Adams Award

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The list of finalists for the Jack Adams Award has been released. Gerard Gallant (Florida Panthers), Lindy Ruff (Dallas Stars) and Barry Trotz (Washington Capitals) are the three nominees for the award, which goes to the head coach that “contributed the most to his team’s success.”

The winners will be announced June 22 during the 2016 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

Gallant was behind the bench for a Panthers team that included an interesting blend of youth (Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov) and experience (Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo), locked into a franchise-record 12-game winning streak and took the Atlantic Division with a 47-26-9 record — another new standard for the franchise. The Panthers’ season ended with an opening-round playoff loss to the New York Islanders.

After missing the playoffs last season, Ruff coached the Stars to top spot in the Western Conference standings with a 50-23-9 record and a team that includes top-end talent from the likes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and John Klingberg, playing a game of speed and skill. The Stars led the league in goals for (265) and goals-for per game (3.23).

Trotz, in his second season in Washington, helped the Capitals to a Presidents’ Trophy for the 2015-16 regular season, besting the second-best team, the Stars, by 11 points. The Capitals finished the season with a record of 56-18-8, setting them up as Stanley Cup contenders when the playoffs began last month. Armed with 50-goal scorer Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals also finished second in the league in goals for (248).

This is Gallant’s first nomination for the award. Ruff and Trotz are each three-time award finalists, with Ruff winning in 2006, as per NHL.com.

Last season’s winner, Bob Hartley, was fired by the Calgary Flames earlier this week. He’s not the first Jack Adams Award winner to be dismissed from his job the following year.

WATCH LIVE: Stars at Blues – Game 4

St. Louis Blues center Kyle Brodziak, right, fights with Dallas Stars left wing Curtis McKenzie in the first period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals against the Dallas Stars, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in St. Louis. (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)  EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
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The St. Louis Blues can move to within one win of the Western Conference final with a victory on home ice at Scottrade Center tonight. The Dallas Stars will be hoping to send this series back to Texas all even. You can catch Game 4 between these teams on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for this game:

‘Just worried about safety of friends and family’: NHL donates $100K to Fort McMurray fire relief effort

If the Stars don’t get some better goaltending, their GM will have some explaining to do

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty