Ilya Kovalchuk saga comes to an end

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
9:58
AM ET

So is there anyone who isn't at least moderately happy at the end of this Ilya Kovalchuk marathon of extensions?

Anyone?

The New Jersey Devils (or, at the very least, their owner) are happy because Kovalchuk is a Devil essentially for life with the NHL agreeing to uphold the 15-year, $100 million deal that had been under scrutiny until late Friday night.

The rest of the Fab Four whose contracts were under investigation -- Roberto Luongo, Marc Savard, Marian Hossa and Chris Pronger -- are happy because the NHL agreed to let those contracts stand as part of the negotiations that wrapped up Friday evening. Those players' teams are happy, and so are the fans of those players, and pretty much everyone who's not a fan of arbitration hearings.

In agreeing to let these five contracts go forward, the NHL is happy because it got the NHL Players' Association to agree to change the existing collective bargaining agreement as it relates to long-term contracts.

Ilya Kovalchuk
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe NHL approved Ilya Kovalchuk's 15-year, $100 million deal with the Devils on Friday.

Under the new guidelines, the salary cap hit of any deal five years or longer that takes a player into his 41st year is calculated on all the years leading up to the year in which the player turns 40. The remaining years, traditionally when the value of the contracts has fallen off the map, would act as their own separate cap hit.

The new ruling means we've seen the end of these so-called "cheat deals" that front-load contracts that take a player well into the retirement zone with payments falling completely off the map to drive down the average cap hit. The league had been warning GMs about those deals for a couple of years, and it finally drew a line in the sand this summer right outside the Prudential Center in Newark.

And the NHLPA is happy, too. The union didn't have to fight through separate grievances on the Savard, Hossa, Luongo or Pronger deals. Plus, what the NHLPA gave the NHL in allowing the new CBA wording will have almost no impact on the rank and file of the union.

How many players would be in line for these kinds of deals? A handful, less than 2 percent of the NHLPA's constituency at the most.

After enduring hand-wringing over why Donald Fehr wasn't rushed into his new post as executive director of the NHLPA, rumors of "ultimatums" being issued by the league and reminders about how weak-kneed the union was/is because it has no leader, it all seemed to get worked out.

Imagine that.

Because of the backdrop and the length of time it took to get from there to here, there is a temptation to want to suggest all of this is somehow bigger than it is.

We could call it "The Labor Day Accord." Call Oliver Stone for the movie rights.

Except it's really not that big a deal; it's more like two guys fixing a flat tire, working on the tire not because they were forced to or were making a statement or trying to get one over on the other guy, but because the tire was flat. And the car needs to move forward.

Asked if this amounted to a "big day" for the NHLPA, a source close to the negotiation told ESPN.com: "I don't know if I'd go that far. But I think we both did a good job of finding a common ground that works well for both sides. And I guess given the past PA/league relations, that's a good thing to see."

Given where this could have headed -- Kovalchuk jetting off to Russia, agent Larry Kelly following through on his threat to sue the NHL if it messed with the Savard contract he helped craft with Boston, the shadow of the NHL's "investigations" into the other contracts obscuring compelling stories coming out of training camps in less than two weeks -- this isn't a bad place to be come Labor Day weekend.

By the time the real negotiations start on the next CBA sometime in the next two years, maybe this little piece of détente will be long forgotten. Or maybe this will be one of those moments that becomes a touchstone when push comes to shove. Maybe this will be one of those moments that keeps the two sides from racing merrily over the same cliff they managed to find in the summer of 2004.

If nothing else, these few days may be remembered as one of those rare times when all parties involved, except those trying to get away early for the holiday weekend, ended up happy.

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