Two events that have unfolded/are unfolding in the NHL off season gives a fella pause.
Sometimes suffering through the doldrums of the summer Hockey off-season is a bit like being adrift out on the waters in your brand new C&C 131, waiting for a breeze to come along and pick up your sails.
So if you were otherwise bored, you could easily sit around and subscribe to Conspiracy Theories, like the Kovalchuk Ultimatum and Niemi, The Shark...
The Kovalchuk Ultimatum
According to NY Post writer Larry Brooks, the NHL has issued what I like to call “The Kovalchuk Ultimatum.” Within the article, it is claimed that the NHL will ‘grandfather’ all current contracts, but wants an alteration to the current CBA that limits the counting of any future contract money past age 40 and the dollars in any years after the first five in the Salary Cap. There is an apparent deadline of Friday, 3 September for a final answer on this issue.
But IF you got caught up in conspiracy theory, you might pause at a few spots along the path taken to this point with the following line of reasoning…
Lou Lamoriello needs a player like Kovalchuk to get his team over the first/second round hump in the playoffs, so…
Lou signs Kovalchuk to a deal making him a Devil for life, but…
He still needs to be able to sign Parise next year, so puts in the ‘back end switcheroo’ to lower the overall Cap Hit a lot and promptly gets the first contract contested and voided;
AND Management/Team Owners have had it out for players throughout the history of hockey…
Lou is old school, and even apparently said he doesn’t like the kind of long term deal he concluded with Kovalchuk;
But then promptly forwards another, very similar contract to the NHL who apparently rejects it, simultaneously providing an ultimatum for the NHLPA to ratify changes to the Salary Cap structure, effectively ending the ‘old backend switcheroo;’
THEREFORE, Lou was working with the NHL to undermine the contract process at the expense of players to end these anti-old school contracts, right?
There was no collusion to force an alteration of the CBA before its scheduled renegotiation that was plotted, planned and executed by Lou Lamoriello on behalf of all other owners, the NHL, and Gary “The Evil Empire” Bettman himself.
‘How can you be sure because my logic above makes perfect sense?’ you ask.
Maybe to a paranoid tabloid reader. You are correct that Lou and the Devils need a player like Kovalchuk to get them over the hump come the post season. And they need Kovy AND Parise. After that, your conspiracy theory begins to take on water.
You are absolutely right Lou Lamoriello, GM of the New Jersey Devils, is old school. To his credit, he is a measure of the vanishing breed of folks who are all in for something they feel is important – in this case, putting together a winning Hockey club. That is why if you listened to the press conference, you heard him say ‘the name on the back is never bigger than the logo on the front,’ and once the deal was done, the Devils no longer care about anything except fitting that player into a system that can win.
You are allowed to scratch your head over why Mr. Lamoriello submitted a second contract that was similar to the first one. Heck, I did for a minute. But in 26 years in the military, I have thought long and hard on some tough issues and rubbed most of the hair off of the top of my head, only to find out the correct answer was something much easier.
But rather than surmising a grand scheme to end the long contract in the NHL by hacking off Mr. Bettman, ruminate on this: it is human nature to take the path of least resistance.
In contract negotiations, your competing input and sources of friction are: the current CBA; the player’s wants; expressed through his agent; the team’s balanced needs for that player plus taking care of the rest of the team; the NHLPA to ensure a player’s rights under the CBA are protected; back to NHL management to approve the whole process; and an independent arbitrator if there is an appeal of a decision against the contract. Like 40-grit sandpaper quality friction, that all is. Meet the CBA’s requirements and you only have the player, his agent and the team actively engaged in the process and all of the rest only passively doing their part. Aaaaah… Less resistance. And curiously enough, something ‘old school,’ which their accompanying experience knows.
I will hand you a mask and snorkel now as the crew abandons your sinking, conspiratorial ship.
Niemi, The Shark
In your descent with The Kovalchuk Ultimatum, your timing couldn’t be better as now you enter shark-infested waters. That’s the waters of Niemi, The Shark.
In a fit of final protest as you dog paddle around, asking for some floaties, I hear you say, “Wait! Wait! What about Niemi to the Sharks.”
“Huh?” I stupidly ask.
Paddle. Paddle. Follow me on this:
The Sharks lose to the Blackhawks in the Conference Finals; dang it – it was their turn to go for The Cup, and they have to GET those guys so they can go onward and upward next season…
But star goaltender Evgeni Nabokov announces on 7 July he is leaving to play for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL… Ruination!
‘Hey, wait a minute,’ they say – ‘There’s extreme Cap issues in The Windy City, so we can fix ourselves AND attack them at the weak point, all at the same time…’
So on 9 July, they send a rather large offer sheet for Niklas Hjalmarsson, which the ‘Hawks are goaded into matching on 12 July…
That contract for Hjalmarsson stalls pre-Arbitration talk with Stanley Cup winning goalie Antti Niemi who goes to arbitration on 29 July and is awarded less than $3M per year…
Which the Cap-strapped Blackhawks walk away from for a less-than-$2M-per-year contract with free agent Marty Turco, in turn…
Leaving Niemi to be signed by the Sharks on 2 September.
You see? Hjalmarsson’s offer sheet was a ruse to get Niemi under contract who will play for revenge against his old team, beat them, and put the Sharks in the Stanley Cup Finals next year.
Now throw me a line, haul me in and give me a towel, you unhelpful twit – it’s cold in the water…
Three things I say to this one. First off, had Chicago not matched Hjalmarsson’s offer sheet, the Sharks would have taken him and paid the contract because they likely saw him as a future replacement to Rob Blake.
Second, when you lose your star goalie, you need a replacement and Niemi was available.
And third, if they did pick up Niemi to spite the ‘Hawks after they walked away from that Arbitration award, good on ‘em. In case you haven’t really noticed the game, Hockey is combat in a cold place. And ‘All’s fair,’ they like to say.
So here, just hold this anchor I am handing you so you can go down with your theories to the cold depths of, well, you know. You strike me as the kind who watches a terrorist attack unfold against your own troops on CNN and provide running commentary on how the militants could have been successful.
…Not even mildly entertaining...
…Of course, they would be brilliant if San Jose could have seen all of the dominoes falling exactly that way. And Lou does remind you of a wily old fox, doesn’t he…
…Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh. COME ON, BREEZE! Just a little puff of air would be nice.
Just to nudge us through to mid-September….
Take me to On Goal Analysis