Arbitrator Richard Bloch has reportedly sided with the NHL in the Ilya Kovalchuk contract dispute, striking down the 17-year contract Kovalchuk signed with the New Jersey Devils several weeks ago. Liz Mullen at Sports Business Journal first reported the news.
Breaking--Arbitrator rules in League's favor in Kovalchuk case, source says. #NHL
Since, the NHL has also announced the news via Twitter. Statements from both the League and the NHLPA are expected soon.
With the ruling, Kovalchuk becomes an unrestricted free agent once again. He's free to sign with the Devils once again, or he could potentially head to Russia or another NHL team.
That's not the big part of this, however. The NHLPA will, quite obviously, not be happy with the ruling, and this could very well be the first battle in a long series of battles in the run up to negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. The current one expires following the following the 2011-2012 season.
The NHL decided to take a stand on these long-term mega contracts, and the new CBA will likely include a distinct rule on these. For the time being, Devils fans will likely opine about the double standard -- sure, Kovalchuk's contract was long and it clearly exploited a loophole in the CBA, but other teams in the league were able to hand out similar deals without consequence.
With the Kovalchuk contract, at 17 years, $102 million, the NHL has drawn a line in the sand. To many fans, especially those in small markets that wouldn't be able to afford these mega contracts, thus eliminating the justification for the 2004 NHL lockout, this news is a welcome sight.
It'll be interesting to see what the NHLPA and the Devils have to say on the matter.