According to Tom Gulitti, the arbitration hearing over the NHL's rejection of the $102 million, 17 year contract between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk has concluded today. The decision is now up to arbitrator Richard Bloch, who will decide whether to sustain the NHL's rejection or to overrule it within the next 2 business days.
I've written at length about this situation in recent weeks. I've asked for people to be calm. I've cited Article 50 as well as Articles 11 and 26 to figure out what's really going on as opposed to just following what "sources" say. I've even clarified that there are two outcomes last week when the NHLPA filed their grievance and put up a poll (most of you think the rejection will be overruled). Still, I think a summary of what has happened since Kovalchuk signed with the Devils should clear things up one more time and condense some of the nonsense out there regarding this story.
I'm not going to quote the entire Collective Bargaining Agreement for each point, but I will be referring to specific subsections and provisions. Feel free to download a PDF of the CBA from the NHL's own website here, and follow along for yourself and come to your own conclusions. If you find something in there that applies that I missed, please, please, please let us all know in the comments (and cite the CBA of course).
Here is a bullet-point list of all the relevant news so far, as reported by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice.
On July 19, the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk signed a $102 million, 17 year contract. The contract was sent to the NHLPA for registration, and the NHL had not yet approved it.
On July 20, two events happened. The team held a press conference to announce and present Kovalchuk as a Devil. Later that evening, word came out that the NHL rejected the contract.
On July 21, a public statement was released on the NHL's own website, stating that "The contract has been rejected by the League as a circumvention of the Collective Bargaining Agreement." This is a rejection made under Article 11.6(a)(i). Per Gulitti, Lou states that the contract does not violate the CBA; and Gulitti goes in further detail on the next steps. At this juncture, the next provision is whether the NHLPA files a grievance about the contract rejection as called out in Article 11.6(a)(y) or does nothing, allowing the rejection to stand per Article 11.6(a)(x). In either case, the PA had 5 business days to make their choice.
On July 26, the NHLPA did file a grievance to the NHL's contract rejection, so the provisions of Article 11.6(a)(y) were met. Per that provision, the arbitrator would have 48 hours to make a decision after the arbitration hearing. Yet, there was no arbitrator available. Article 11.2 calls out that an arbitrator can be selected per Article 17 ("Impartial Arbitrator") or Article 48 ("Systems Arbitrator") as necessary. Either way, we wait on the PA and the league to agree upon an arbitrator.
On July 30, both the union and league agreed upon an arbitrator: Richard Bloch. Gulitti at this point refers to Bloch as a Systems Arbitrator, which would suggest that the process on getting an arbitrator went through Article 48. No matter, it's still called out under Article 11 and everything up until this point has been called out in Article 11.6(a).
On August 4, the hearing between the NHLPA and the NHL began in Boston with Bloch. Today, the hearing concluded. Per Article 11.6(a)(y), Bloch will have 48 hours (I assume in terms of business days, so he has until Monday) to either decide to sustain the rejection (Article 11.6(a)(iii)) or overrule the rejection (Article 11.6(a)(v)).
At no point whatsoever did this hearing become about whether there was circumvention (Clarification Update: That is, the hearing isn't to decide whether there was circumvention; just whether the contract rejection is valid.) It has been reported as a rejected contract and all of the subsequent events as reported fall in line to what is called out in Article 11.6(a). Nowhere in Article 11 at all is Article 26 (P.S. No, the NHL can't just jump to Article 26; Article 26.10, 26.12, and 26.13(a) all have different requirements) or Article 50 called out for review; the decision in Article 11.6(a) boils down to two results: either the rejection is not valid and so the contract will be accepted as-is; or the NHL's rejection is valid, meaning the contract will be voided and Kovalchuk goes back to being an unrestricted free agent.
In other words: Either Kovalchuk is a Devil with a $6 million cap hit, requiring Lou to dump some contracts before the beginning of the 2010-11 season; or he becomes a UFA either to re-sign here under a different deal, or signs elsewhere, leaving the Devils to not necessarily dump contracts. Unless there's something huge that I'm missing or that wasn't reported, that's it.
Nowhere in Article 11 does it state that the arbitrator has to follow the wording of the CBA exactly. Yes, Bloch did resort to that in an arbitration case in the NFL a few years ago (thanks to richer44 for pointing this out). But he doesn't have to here, regardless of what little "leg" the NHL may have to stand upon. Basically, it all comes down to who made the most compelling case: the league or the union. Let me repeat: the league and the union both made cases, not the Devils. Some members of the Devils may have been a part of the hearing (But not Jeff Vanderbeek, per Gulitti, he's in Hoboken now for the second stage of the Jersey Tour); however, the issue is between the league and the union in arbitration.
Essentially, there is nothing for us to do but wait. Let's try to keep a cool head regardless of how Bloch rules. Let's not hold grudges, let's comment smartly, and let's just be patient until there it comes out. Bloch has 48 hours and he'll likely use as much time as needed to write his ruling. We'll all know in due time anyway.
Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts in the comments. Remember: If you think I got something wrong or missed something, then do say so - just cite the CBA, that's all I ask.