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The Ilya Kovalchuk Contract Saga Is No Longer About Ilya Kovalchuk’s Contract

Wondering how the Ilya Kovalchuk–contract saga could get even more complicated? Here's how: The deadline for the league to decide whether it will approve the Devils' latest proposal has been pushed back to tomorrow, but according to Larry Brooks, the league isn't using that time to consider whether the contract is acceptable under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

Instead, they've issued an ultimatum to the Players' Association: They'll allow the Kovalchuk deal, and grandfather in the long-term contracts signed by Roberto Luongo and Marian Hossa, but in exchange, they want two changes to the CBA. Those proposed changes, via the Post:

1. That the cap hit on future multiyear contracts will not count any season that ends with the player over 40 years of age. The cap hit would be based on the average salary of the seasons in the contract up to age 40.
2. That the cap hit on future contracts longer than five years would be calculated by granting additional weight — perhaps the average — to the five consecutive years with the largest average salary.

And what will the NHL do if the NHLPA doesn't accept these givebacks? Again, from the Post:

1. It will reject the Kovalchuk contract. The Post has learned that the final two years of the deal are for $3 million and $4 million, respectively. The final five years of the 15-year deal account for $10 million.
2 It will de-register Luongo's contract under which the goaltender will earn $3.618 million over the final three years of his deal. The goaltender is carrying a $5.333 million cap hit.
3. It will move to open a formal investigation of Hossa's contract under which the winger will earn $4 million over the final four years of his contract. Hossa is carrying a cap hit of $5.275 million per.

This no longer has anything to do with the Devils, or with Kovalchuk. The NHL is willing to accept his contract as currently structured, or they're willing to reject it as currently structured. The deal is both legal and illegal, depending on outside factors. It's an awfully risky move by the league: If the NHLPA agrees, everybody wins, at least a little. Kovalchuk gets paid (and Luongo and Hossa will continue to get paid), and the league closes a loophole that ought to be closed anyway. But if the NHLPA doesn't agree — after all, these changes would make it harder for players to sign big-money contracts in the future, since the cap hits on such contracts would rise — the league could see one of its best players flee to Russia, if only for a year, during his prime. (It's worth noting that other reports have described the proposed CBA changes not as terms of an ultimatum but as points the two sides have been negotiating since the arbitrator sided with the league.)

It's at this point that we remind you, once again, that they canceled an entire season to produce this CBA.

NHL wants givebacks to approve Kovalchuk's contract, others [NYP]
NHL's ultimatum: Amend CBA or reject Kovalchuk, Luongo deals? [Puck Daddy/Yahoo]

Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images