The Devils organization, its fans and Ilya Kovalchuk will once again spend a day waiting to hear a definitive decision on whether or not an agreement between team and player will be accepted by the NHL.
While a general uneasiness fills this day, I believe that, by 5 p.m. today, Kovalchuk will officially be a New Jersey Devil for the next 15 years.
Why would I exude such optimism on this contract? The Devils and Kovalchuk both worked with the league during its formation, and the league differs sharply from the one rejected by the NHL and systems arbitrator Richard Bloch earlier this summer. With a better structure in place, the deal should pass the test of the league. After the jump are my reasons for believing the contract will pass.
Reason 1: The “Back End”
If you remember from the first contract, one of the sticking points was the front-loaded nature of the deal. In that 17-year deal, Kovalchuk would have made 97% of his money in the first eleven years of the contract. Those final six years he would have averaged $550,000, which Bloch viewed as a substandard rate. I conceded this point to him while arguing about his rejection of the contract.
But the new 15-year , $100 million contract works out the kinks in the back end. Over the first ten years of the contract, Kovalchuk will make $90 million dollars. In the last five years, Kovalchuk still brings home $10 million. There are a few years of $1 million dollar salary, which can potentially harm the contract. But it should be noted that the Devils will pay Kovalchuk $7 million dollars over the final two years of the deal. Bloch believed that the low level of payment in the first contract created a “retirement” contract, and the Devils would save money. In this deal, when Kovalchuk is over 40, he’ll be bringing home a nice contract. I believe those final two years aren’t there just to appease the league. That $7 million serves as an incentive to play until the end of the contract.
The back-end of this deal far surpasses those of similar long-term contracts. Marian Hossa makes close to $55 million in the first seven years of his 12-year, $63 million dollar contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. In the eighth year, he makes $4 million, a clear transition point from the $7.9 million he made during the first seven seasons. In the last four years of the deal, he makes a combined $4 million.
The same occurs with Roberto Luongo, who makes $57 million in the first eight years of his 12-year, $64 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks. In the ninth year of the deal, Luongo’s salary falls to $3 million, a clear transition from the $6 million he makes from years two through seven. After that, Luongo will make about $4 million in the last three seasons combined.
The back end of Kovalchuk’s deal compares favorably to those two deals above. If anything, it promises to pay out more than those two in the final years of the deal. That in itself makes this deal better structured than others that have passed in the past.
Reason #2 - Age
The Devils rejected 17-year contract brought Kovalchuk to age 44, an almost unheard age for professional hockey player. The new deal, with two years less, brings the contract to 42. While that’s still “old” in sports terms, it makes the potential for Kovalchuk to play more realistic. This is a player who has never sustained a major injury, and generally avoids getting into the dirty areas along the ice where injuries are likely to happen (the corners or the front of the net, for example). It’s not ridiculous to think that Kovalchuk can play until he’s 42 years old.
Once again, let’s pose this against Luongo. As a goalie, Luongo takes a beating from shots, crashing offensive players and his movement throughout the game. You could reason that Luongo would have a shorter shelf-life than Kovalchuk because of the demands of his position. Yet, the league approved his deal, which brings him to the same age. Hossa’s contract also brings him to the same age.
This is an era where we’re seeing older players still lacing up their skates. Mike Modano will play this year at age 40, and we’re seeing guys like Martin Brodeur and Nicklas Lidstrom playing at their highest level as they approach 40. With upgrades in nutrition and fitness, players are enjoying longer careers. The age factor, now at 42, should make the contract more favorable for league approval.
Either way you slice it, this is a more favorable contract than the first. The league has approved several similar deals, and while it’s currently investigating the deals of Luongo and Hossa, among others, it hasn’t rejected them. The Devils are increasing the cap hit per season ($6.66 million per season, which is ironic), meaning they’ll have to cut more salary if the contract is approved. They’ve addressed the issues along the back end and even shaved two years off the contract. If this contract doesn’t pass league review, then I don’t know what contract will.
Ilya Kovalchuk Photo Credits: Al Bello/Getty Images and Ed Mulholland/US Presswire