Everybody in the hockey world was caught off guard on Wednesday afternoon when the NHL and the NHLPA extended the deadline for the league to make a decision in the Ilya Kovalchuk debacle. Why are the League and the PA cooperating in such fashion, most people asked.
Well, according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, it's because the NHL is serious -- very serious, it seems -- about making sure their message on long-term contracts gets through. The League has offered an "ultimatum" to the PA, according to Brooks, saying that they will allow the recently-submitted 15-year, $100 million Kovalchuk contract should the PA agree to certain new collective-bargaining conditions.
Those conditions, according to the Post, are as follows:
1. That the cap hit on future multi-year contracts will not count any seasons that end with the player over 40 years of age. The cap hit would be calculated on the average of the salary up through age 40 only.
2. That the cap hit on future contracts longer than five years will be calculated under a formula granting additional weight to the five years with the highest salary.
Basically, it's a slightly different set of rules for long-term deals, where long-term is defined as "longer than five years."
Existing contracts for Roberto Luongo and Marian Hossa are also subject to these conditions being accepted by the NHLPA. If the PA refuses to accept these conditions by Friday at 5 PM, the new deadline set for approval or rejection of the Kovy deal, the NHL will reject the Kovalchuk deal, void the Luongo deal and formalize the investigation on the Hossa deal. They have the right to take just about any action they want if they think a deal circumvents the CBA, and this suggests that, yeah, they do feel that way.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has refuted the idea that such an ultimatum has been given, but the League office is known for being less than truthful with this sort of thing. Of course they're not going to admit that there's been an ultimatum made.
That will obviously have a lot of wide-reaching consequences. First off, three elite players will be without contracts (although at this point, some Canucks fans might be happy with the Luongo contract coming off of the books).
Secondly, Marc Savard wasn't mentioned in Brooks' report. It's been rumored that Savard has been shopped around by the Bruins, but that the NHL's investigation into his contract has kept potential buyers away from the store. Since he wasn't mentioned, will teams be interested once again?
Thirdly, and most importantly, what does this mean for relations between the League and the union? Now that Donald Fehr is at the helm (officially or not), it's widely expected that the NHL won't just roll over and die like they have in the past. They have some leadership now and this thing is getting serious. It was just hyperbole a few weeks ago, but now, it does look like this is truly the first battle on the way to CBA negotiations in 2012.