Today’s must-read piece on the Ilya Kovalchuk contract squabble between the NHL and the NHLPA comes from the New York Post’s Larry Brooks. While many people familiar with Brooks’ NHL writing might find him to be a bit polarizing and some may enjoy when he gets chewed out by a coach during post-game interviews, one thing he always does have is an inside line with is how things affect the NHLPA. In his column today, Brooks unloads on NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and warns the NHLPA that this is just the beginning when it comes to butting heads with the league over contracts.
Bettman’s ill-advised quest to impose a one-size-fits-all cap onto 30 teams with varying needs and constituencies is in tatters. The Kovalchuk contract, which meets every legal standard outlined in the collective bargaining agreement, is merely the latest example of a powerful team acting creatively in order to keep as much of its personnel intact as possible.
This case isn’t about big market vs. small market, not with the Devils ranking between 13th and 16th in league revenues, though that’s the umbrella under which the commissioner fights every battle. This one is simply about Bettman stamping his feet in a temper tantrum and using his power to force a moribund NHLPA to gear up and fight a fight it may or may not be prepared to wage.
We’ve gone over everything involving the Kovalchuk saga and even outlined our own brand of scathing warning to everyone involved, so seeing Brooks put things together to cast doom and gloom doesn’t surprise us at all. In fact, it’s something we’ve been waiting to read since this whole debacle started. That said, Brooks doesn’t just hammer on the commissioner, he also offers up some scolding for the Players Association as well.
The players, as an entity, might want to pay attention to this throwing down of the gauntlet by Bettman two years in advance of the next round of collective bargaining. They sure weren’t paying attention last week when, we’re told, no more than 10 players showed up for the union’s meeting in Los Angeles.
They might want to pay attention to the need for strong leadership and stop listening to those on the periphery, and that includes agents with their own agendas, who want the executive director to live in a state of appeasement.
Brooks also mentions that his sources tell him that Donald Fehr’s interest in running the NHLPA is waning and that just leaves the NHLPA where they were before when they bounced Paul Kelly out as the leader of the union: Without leadership and wandering in the darkness. Meanwhile, the NHL has already started their battle with the players by shooting down Kovalchuk’s contract. This is just what a game that’s been fighting to get back into the big picture as far as popularity goes needed: A wildly distracting doom and gloom side show that will play out like a special sort of brand torture for the fans.
Sure, we’ll get two more years of hockey to enjoy, but to think things will get settled quickly and efficiently would be foolish. Just remember, the season after the Rangers won the Stanley Cup, when the game was probably at the height of it’s popularity and public notoriety, the NHL locked out the players and the 1995 season was a shortened one because of it. Maybe everyone getting their stuff figured out before it gets down to crunch time might be a good idea for the sport and its consumers alike.