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NHL Rejects Ilya Kovalchuk Contract with New Jersey - Why? & Why Now?

Not so fast, the NHL has said "No" to the Ilya Kovalchuk deal for some reason. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Not so fast, the NHL has said "No" to the Ilya Kovalchuk deal for some reason. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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An evening bombshell has struck the New Jersey Devils organization, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jay Grossman, and the NHL as a whole.  As reported in a variety places, such as here at TSN: the NHL has rejected the $102 million, 17 year contract the New Jersey Devils and Kovalchuk agreed upon yesterday.  The reason: it circumvents the salary cap.

Really.  That's all.  At least right now, that's all there is officially reported.

TSN went up live with it 9:54 PM EST.  Gulitti had this report up a little earlier this evening; with Lou refusing to comment (probably because it's full of expletives) and Jeff Vanderbeek saying he didn't know about this.  The most recent clue I found was on Twitter; the Sporting News' Craig Custance tweeted this 4 minutes ago as of this writing:

Why was Kovy's deal rejected? Was told league has issues w/it going until he's 44, that it's 17-years long and has 6 "bogus" yrs.

That surely can't be it given that the Marian Hossa deal (here from CapGeek) given last year by Chicago was accepted by the league. Same logic: high salary early, low salary at the end, and an incredibly long deal.  How does that deal among others not circumvent the cap but this one does?

The Associate called me to let me know of his frustrations and he raised an excellent point. We're learning about this evening.   Well after the announcement of Kovalchuk re-signing with New Jersey and after this afternoon's press conference. Why in the world did they wait until this evening to reject this deal?  Was the contract acceptable at 1 PM EDT and prior; but now it's rejected?

Yes, the NHL had 5 days to approve the contract.  However, the Devils made it known to all who would listen that they would publicly announce this deal with their first ever press conference to announce a player signing.  No one at the NHL thought to call up Lou or Jeff or someone to say, "You may want to wait until this is approved" or "We're not approving this yet." No one at the league thought to take a few minutes and give one of their franchises a heads up before going public, taking the pictures and answering the media?  Did someone just want to embarrass Lou and/or the New Jersey Devils? Why would the NHL do something like this given that the Kovalchuk signing was a very big deal when announced?

Someone dropped the ball in a big way. Be it by the Devils or the league itself.

I am just waiting to hear what the justification for this rejection is given that the NHL has accepted similar deals in the past and why we're finding about this now - after the press conference.  Even St. Louis Blues defenseman Erik Johnson (who could get one of these kind of deals before he goes RFA) is asking the pertinent question:

Haven't we seen some contracts similar to Kovalchuks that were accepted by the league? Why now?

Exactly. Why now?  Why, at all?

Leave me your guesses in the comments. Please link to actual news reports if you have them, I have zero tolerance for rumors at this point.  I want facts.

UPDATE #1: Maybe this won't be a big deal? Per John Shannon of Sportsnet:

To clarify..The Kovalchuk contract can be restructured and re-filed within 5 days or grieve it within 5 days.

Perhaps the deal is re-done, re-submitted, and re-signed and then everyone lives happily ever after.   Maybe the deal is knocked off by 2 years so it'll end when Hossa's does. That's the ideal at least.

UPDATE #2: So what happens now? Tom Gulitti updated his post on the rejection news with this important tidbit.


According to the CBA, the NHLPA has the right to file a grievance on Kovalchuk’s behalf within five days of the deal being rejected, but the contract remains voided until an arbitrator makes a ruling. The arbitrator must issue a ruling withing 48 hours of the filing of the grievance.

According to Article 11.6a (iii), if the arbitrator sustains the league’s rejection of the contract, the contract will immediately “be deemed null and void” and the player will revert to his previous status as a UFA.

If the arbitrator rules that the rejection was [in]valid, then the league must immediately approve the contract and register it.

At least there's clarity on what will happen next. Either the rejection is upheld and Kovalchuk goes back to being a free agent; or the deal stands as-is.  I would think the PA is going to step in here, but of course, this will wait. 

Not to be too gloomy, but suppose the rejection is upheld. Do the Devils re-sign him to a different deal? Or just say, "Forget this," have Parise and Elias as your top two left wings, use the extra cap space for 2011-12 for Parise's extension, and fill in minor spots as needed?   As bitter as this tastes, I don't think that's so terrible. But that's me.

Still, don't fret now: This ain't over.  (Note: I think Gulitti made a typo in the ending sentence. The league wouldn't be approving something if the arbitrator thought it was a valid rejection.  Only if it's invalid.)