Another chapter has been added to the Ilya Kovalchuk saga as the NHL Players' Association has filed a grievance on behalf of the Russian superstar who had his controversial 17-year, $102 million contract with the New Jersey Devils rejected by the league.
The Players' Association announced their intentions in a statement on Monday.
"The NHLPA has filed a grievance disputing the NHL's rejection of the Standard Player Contract between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk. Under the terms of the CBA, the NHLPA and Mr. Kovalchuk are entitled to an expedited resolution of this matter. The NHLPA will have no further comment until this matter has been resolved by an Arbitrator."
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement on the grievance on behalf of the league.
"We have received formal notice that the NHLPA is grieving the League's rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk's contract with the New Jersey Devils. Although there is no defined timetable at this point, we intend to work with the Players' Association to ensure an expeditious resolution of this dispute. The League looks forward to the opportunity to establish its position before the arbitrator. We will have no further public comment pending completion of the process."
While the 27-year old Kovalchuk made headlines for signing what would have been the longest contract in NHL history, the NHL made some of their own announcing that they had rejected the deal on the grounds that it "deliberately circumvented" the league's salary cap.
The next step is for an arbitrator to rule on the outcome. Should the arbitrator rule in favour of Kovalchuk and the Players' Association, then the deal will stand; however if the arbitrator sides with the NHL, then Kovalchuk would once again become an unrestricted free agent, allowing him to sign with any team.
Unfortunately for hockey fans, the resolution will not be immediate as there is currently no arbitrator in place. Once both sides agree upon an arbitrator, that person would then have 48 hours from the time that they are hired to rule on the case.
Should Kovalchuk once again become a free agent, he will have no shortage of suitors. The Los Angeles Kings and the New York Islanders have both reported interest in the Russian sniper while SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL have also reportedly offered him an enormous multi-year deal to return to Russia. Kovalchuk has also already turned down a 12-year extension worth $101 million from the Atlanta Thrashers before being dealt to the Devils in February just prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.
The Devils and Kovalchuk also have the ability to re-structure the deal in an attempt to avoid the process.
The sticking point in the process appears to be how front-loaded the contract was. Under the terms of the deal, Kovalchuk was set to earn $95 million over the first 10 years of the deal and then just $7 million over the last seven seasons, including a league minimum $550,000 for the final five years of the deal. Kovalchuk would be 44-years old when the pact was set to expire. To put that in perspective, newly hired Devils head coach John MacLean turned 45 this past November.
The NHL may well be in for a big fight as over the past few seasons they have reluctantly approved long-term, front-loaded deals to Marian Hossa, Chris Pronger, Henrik Zetterberg and Roberto Luongo. It is largely believed that the NHL has decided to take a stand with Kovalchuk as the first shot across the bow by the League as they prepare to re-negotiate the collective bargaining agreement which expires in 2011.
Kovalchuk had 41 goals and 44 assists in 76 games split between the Devils and Thrashers last season. The 2004 Rocket Richard Trophy winner is considered one of the elite goal scoring talents in the league with 338 goals and 304 assists in 621 games.
Originally selected first overall by the Thrashers in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Kovalchuk was acquired from Atlanta along with Anssi Salmela and a 2nd-round draft pick for Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier and a 1st-round and a 2nd-round draft pick in 2010 NHL Entry Draft.