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OFFICIAL: NHL Approved Ilya Kovalchuk Contract with New Jersey Devils

"Hello. I'm finally a member of the New Jersey Devils. And will be for quite a while. How are you doing?" (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
"Hello. I'm finally a member of the New Jersey Devils. And will be for quite a while. How are you doing?" (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Finally, the NHL has approved the $100 million, 15 year contract between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk. Dan Rosen of put up the article at 2:53 AM last night saying the league gave their approval; it is now officially registered.  The saga is finally over; there can be no doubt - Ilya Kovalchuk is a New Jersey Devil, and will be for quite a while.

Once again, something involving the Devils leads to a rule change.  The NHL and NHLPA agreed to amend the Collective Bargaining Agreement  from 2005 with new rules on "long-term" deals.  From Rosen's article, there are two changes:

1. While players and clubs can continue to negotiate long-term contracts (five years or longer) that include contract years in a player's 40s, for purposes of salary-cap calculation the contract will effectively be cut off in the year of the contract in which the player turns 41.


2. In any long-term contract that averages more than $5.75 million for the three highest compensation seasons, the cap charge will be a minimum of $1 million for every season in which the player is 36-39 years of age. That $1 million value will then be used to determine the salary cap hit for the entire contract. If the contract takes the player into his 40s, the previous rule goes into effect.

Kovalchuk's contract (and Roberto Luongo's, Marian Hossa's, and Marc Savard's contract) are not subject to these rules. They are "grandfathered" - for lack of a better word - in under the prior rules.  So Kovalchuk's cap hit will remain at approximately $6.67 million.  No matter how you view the NHL after this whole saga, they wanted these rule changes and they got them. All they had to do was hold up the Devils and Kovalchuk, not clearly define their own rules, take advantage of a still-leaderless NHLPA, and set multiple (my count is 7) deadlines but not actually keep them.

While Lou Lamoriello got what he wanted, the next challenge is now.  He's got about a month to clear off $2,698,333 from the salary cap.  Mind you, he actually needs to clear up more than that so whoever departs can be replaced by another player - be it a prospect or a minimum-salary signing.  If you must know who I think the Devils should try and trade, then please read this post.  It may be from July, but the principles are still the same.

Thanks for reading.  Please leave your thoughts on this signing and the new rules in the CBA in the comments.  After jump is a timeline of this entire saga, just to hammer home the point of how long this actually took.

An Attempt At a Timeline of the Ilya Kovalchuk Free Agency Saga

July 1: Ilya Kovalchuk becomes an unrestricted free agent, available for any team in the league for a contract.

July 5: Everyone gets excited with this tweet by Jay Grossman, who is Ilya Kovalchuk's agent. That Kovalchuk was looking to decide where he will play. Unfortunately, as we know now, no decision was actually made.

July 10: Larry Brooks makes this prophetic tweet: that the Devils offered Kovalchuk a 17 year deal worth over $100 million.   As we know now, Brooks didn't turn out to be wrong.

July 14: At this point, all news about Kovalchuk were seen as, if not were, rumors.  By this point, the two teams reportedly to be in serious discussion were the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils.  There was a brief moment the Islanders showed interest, but that was just it.  Interest. 

July 19: It's done. Ilya Kovalchuk chose to sign with the New Jersey Devils.  Here is Puck Agency's (Jay Grossman's firm) post announcing the deal; and here is Kevin's breaking-news post.   It is revealed later in the day that the deal was for $102 million over 17 years (good call Brooksie), confirmed in this post by Tom Gulitti.  The Devils announce a press conference for the signing, something they have not done in the past.

July 20: The Devils held their press conference, which was full of intriguing quotes from those involved.  However, the good times came to an abrupt stop when reports came out that evening that the NHL had rejected the contract.  Needless to say, Devils fans were confused and unhappy about all this. At least, I was.

July 21-July 26: In this time gap, I called for calm, Devils fans started getting (more) familiar with the CBA (I made my attempts here and here, of course, they mean nothing now), and the NHLPA had to decide whether to file a grievance against the NHL's rejection of the Kovalchuk contract.   They had 5 days under Article 11 and on July 26, they did just that.  An arbitration hearing would be held to determine whether the rejection would be upheld or not. Of course, the hearing would not be held immediately since there was no arbitrator in place.

August 2: The NHL and NHLPA agree to an arbitrator: Richard Bloch. The arbitration would begin on August 3.

August 5: The arbitration ended and Bloch would have up to 48 business hours, or until August 9, to make his ruling.

August 9:  Richard Bloch sustained the NHL's rejection of the $102 million over 17 year contract between Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils.  Bloch's rationale was that while there was nothing the length of the contract, the breakdown in salary, and the use of no movement and no trade clauses on their own; combined, it suggested that there was intent for Kovalchuk to not fulfill all 17 years of the deal. Therefore, Bloch ruled the contract was in violation of Article 26.3.  The contract was voided, and Kovalchuk went back to being an unrestricted free agent. If you want to read Bloch's full decision, Eric Macramalla has a copy of the decision at his site, Offside.

August 13:  After hearing about the NHL telling the Tampa Bay Lightning that Vincent Lecavalier's contract extension was acceptable; I decided to go ask someone who would know something about this whole mess. So I asked Bill Daly about what the new "line in the sand" is in the NHL.  He gave me this now-prescient quote:

John Fischer: Excellent, thank you.  Before I put anything up; I just want to make sure I have this right: There won't be any public statement of what the limits are; but all the clubs know what they are.  Moreover, they consult the league if there is a concern in advance of offering or registering a SPC.  Is this correct, or is there something wrong or missing?

Bill Daly: Yes, with one caveat.  At this point I wouldn't rule out the possibility that we may further discuss with the Union to see if "bright lines" can be established.  Absent those "bright lines," it will be on a case-by-case, with existing guideposts established, the GMs understanding our concerns and sensitivities, and always with the ability of the Clubs to reach out to us to dicuss [sic].

August 23: After further negotiation, as reported by Tom Gulitti, the Devils and Jay Grossman went to the NHL offices to discuss a potential framework for a new deal.  While no deal was actually submitted or proposed.

August 25: It was revealed that whatever framework was proposed by the Devils and Grossman was rejected. Gulitti has that short report here.

August 26: I didn't include the multiple rumors of Kovalchuk going to play in the KHL because the only one that had any merit was this one.  Dmitry Chesnokov wrote at Puck Daddy that Kovalchuk set a "deadline" of his own - that if there was no deal made by Friday, he'd go play in Russia for the season.

August 27: The New Jersey Devils submitted a second contract to the NHL.  At the time, details were short, but Darren Dreger tweeted that the deal was for $100 million over 15 years.   The NHL would have up to 5 days to approve the deal.  Not 5 business days, 5 calender days.

August 30: Tom Gulitti, among others, reports from sources that the NHL would make a decision on the contract on Tuesday, August 31. 

August 31: Nothing happens.

September 1: The 5 day deadline comes and at 5 PM, it is announced that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to extend the deadline.  Seriously. I called this "garbage," while Larry Brooks dropped this bombshell at the NY Post.  In retrospect, Brooks turned out to be right that this was more than just approving Kovalchuk's contract.

September 2:  Brooks takes the NHL/NHLPA angle by the horns, notes that Chris Pronger's deal was found to be OK by the league.  Again, in retrospect, Brooks turned out to be right.  Meanwhile, all involved wait.

September 3: The reports came out in the afternoon that the NHL will accept the Kovalchuk deal, while the NHL and NHLPA will agree to amend the CBA.   I kept on this yesterday in this post, and Jay Grossman did tell the AP that it was a done deal.  Even Ilya Kovalchuk said so, per Pavel Lysenko.  Of course, nothing in this whole saga went smoothly; there had to be more delays. First from 5 PM to 7 PM; then, per Dan Rosen's twitter from here on out: 7 to 8 PM; 8 to 9 PM; 9 to 10 PM, 10 PM to 1 AM (??), and then to 3 AM.  At 2:53 AM, it was all finalized and approved. 

And here we are.   The one loose end that has yet to be tied up is whether the NHL will penalize the Devils after the rejection of the first contract. As silly and petulant as this may sound, we are dealing with a league that has shown in recent days to not being above being silly and petulant.  Since Larry "The Not-Everson" Brooks has been right so far, I'll defer to his recent tweets that the NHL has until 5 PM on September 17 to decide on a penalty; and the penalty can only be on the Devils and only for a fine and/or loss of draft picks.  That's pretty mild, if true.  I'd still be unhappy about it since Bloch ruled that there was no bad faith involved; and the NHL would have taken a month and a half to do what they could have done on August 10.  That said, I don't think the Devils would mind paying just a fine at this juncture - they did just commit $100 million to Ilya Kovalchuk.

The next step: Clearing cap space for the Devils.  I'll give an updated overview on this later this weekend.