You really can’t make this sh*t up…Numerous reports have been circulating around the Internet that the league rejected the Devil’s most recent contract proposal to sign premiere left wing Ilya Kovalchuk over two weeks after the initial seventeen-year deal was rejected by arbitrator Richard Bloch. Reports are saying the length of the most recently proposed deal was anywhere from 10-15 years. Others indicate this was not the first deal the league has rejected. Since league representatives and the Devils have remained mum on the entire situation, we as fans can only speculate on what’s really going on behind the scenes and why this treacherous saga has continued as long as it has with its end seemingly shrouded in more mystery than the truth behind the Roswell crash or existence of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.
To speculate, one has to ask why a deal can’t be worked out that mutually satisfies both parties (Devils/Kovalchuk, NHL). Is it because The Devils or league are being too stubborn? Is the league on a witch hunt for the Devils? Does Gary Bettman want Kovalchuk to play on a team with a larger hockey market, if he wants to have Kovalchuk, let alone the game’s premiere talents in the league at all? Has the league finally had enough of what are being called “front loaded” contracts that stretch over a period of time? Most of these possibilities are more than likely to be untrue and are beliefs or conspiracy theories frustrated Devils fans developed in the heat of rage.
The origins behind Part II of the Kovalchuk Saga go back to the initial seventeen-year deal. Although I may have said else wise whether it was on Facebook, Twitter, or in previous write ups, I regret to admit the league and Richard Bloch’s decision to reject the deal was justified. Although the Devils likely meant well when the deal was signed, the contract was a definitively front loaded deal. Now with reports that the league has rejected framework of proposed deals by the Devils subsequent to the first one, the universal question amongst Devils fans and possibly hockey fans in general is what the framework of this “magic deal” ought to be.
The first and easiest part is determining the length. To sum it up, seventeen years was ridiculous and the Devils clearly chose that number to ably give Kovalchuk the $100 million he wanted, while having a manageable cap hit throughout its duration. Although nobody can say Kovalchuk won’t play until he’s forty-four, his age when the initial deal were to expire, I stated in a previous write up the statistical probability behind him playing at that age is less than one percent. You can argue from various standpoints why the initial deal shouldn’t have been rejected but it was and now it’s time to move on. I see no reason why the Devils can’t award Kovalchuk a career contract the league won’t have any issue with. 12-13 years is reasonable, and is about the average length of every long term contract that’s more than ten years. Kovalchuk will be 39-40 when the deal expires and there are plenty of people that have and still play at that age so I don’t want to hear the league whine about any uncertainties of that nature.
The biggest obstacle that’s kept the Kovalchuk Saga afloat is how to properly distribute the salary. If past reports are correct, the framework of the most recent deal the league shot down distributed $84-91 million over ten plus years. Whether Kovalchuk lowered his asking price, bonuses were involved, or the deal offered a sum of money up front (like what the Rangers did when they attempted to sign Joe Sakic in 1997, although that could be literal front loading so call me on it if that’s the case), the deal wasn’t valid in the league’s eyes. One thing we could use to reach a compromise are the contracts of Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, Chicago’s Marian Hossa, Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger, and Boston’s Marc Savard, all of which are currently being “investigated” by the league. Despite these ongoing investigations, It’s my opinion the league used the Devils as an example in rejecting a legitimate front loaded contract and are using these contract investigations as a method of intimidation to at least make teams think twice about signing players to similar long term deals. If the contracts were approved in the past, why not use them as guidelines to work out a deal for Kovalchuk?
The key is in the numbers and percentages of these contracts and how they differ from the numbers that pieced together the rejected seventeen-year deal. Marian Hossa’s twelve-year contract pays him $63 million. He receives 87% of the $63 million in the first seven years of the deal, which makes up 58% of the contract’s term length. Chris Pronger’s seven-year deal pays him $31.2 million. He receives 97% of the $31.2 million after the first five years, after which 71% of the contract’s term length has been completed. Marc Savard’s seven-year contract pays him $28 million. After the first four years, he receives 91% of the $28 million, after which 57% of the contract’s term length has been completed. Roberto Luongo receives $64 million over twelve years. After eight years, he receives 89% of the $64 million, after which 66% of the contract’s term length has been completed. In Ilya Kovalchuk’s seventeen-year contract, where he would have received $102 million, he would have earned 93% of the $102 million in the first ten years after completing only 58% of the contract’s term length. Before the annual salaries drop to under $2 million in the contracts of the four players I mentioned, the average percentage of money that was paid off amongst the four players is 91% with an average of 63% of the contracts term lengths having passed. If you apply the average percentages of paid off salary and years completed in Kovalchuk’s rejected seventeen-year deal, he’d have received $92 million after the first 10-11 years, leaving $10 million to be distributed over the final 6-7 years.
In terms of percentages, could 91% in relation to salary distribution and 63% in relation to completed term length be the magic numbers? Although these numbers were averaged out of contracts that are “under investigation” in the event the Devils work out a deal based off these terms, it would be unreasonable for the league to reject the contract because the salary distribution over the period of years is within the bounds of contracts being investigated, which were previously approved by the league, and are still valid deals, which is something the Devils and NHLPA could use as leverage in the event of a second arbitration hearing, which at this point I believe would only happen in a case of extremes.
Getting back to what I was saying earlier, 12-13 years could be the length to shoot for. If Kovalchuk did indeed lower his asking price between $84-91 million (we’ll use $87 million over thirteen years in this hypothetical situation), he’ll receive $79 million after the first eight years of the contract, leaving $8 million to be distributed over the final five years, which averages out to about $1.6 million per. It would give Kovalchuk a $6.7 million cap hit per season, only $700K more than the cap hit in the seventeen-year deal. I’m not one to speculate, but if I were to distribute the $87 million salary over thirteen years based on the “magic terms” I described above, I would structure it as follows:
2010-2011: $9.4 million
2011-2012: $10.7 million
2012-2013: $11.7 million
2013-2014: $11.7 million
2014-2015: $11.5 million
2015-2016: $10.5 million
2016-2017: $8 million
2017-2018: $5.5 million
2018-2019: $3 million
2019-2020: $2 million
2020-2021: $1 million
2021-2022: $1 million
2022-2023: $1 million
At first sight, the deal does appear front loaded but I made sure to put in some distinguishable differences from the contracts I mentioned above. Although Kovalchuk’s highest annual payment would earn him $11.7 million, note the greatest fluctuation on a year-to-year basis throughout the deal is $2.5 million, compared to fluctuations that exceed $3 million in the other deals. Kovalchuk also receives a salary under $2 million in the final three years, which is the average number of years the players of the four other contracts I used earn salaries under $2 million. I would also give Kovalchuk an NMC and NTC that remains active throughout most or the entire contract, giving him the final call in the event he or the Devils look into moving him. I wouldn’t call it the perfect contract, but based on the numbers I’ve accumulated, could be the magic terms the Devils and NHL could agree upon to end this treacherous drama. Could this truly be the remedy to the ongoing saga or did I just waste your precious time and describe another deal the league would simply shoot down a third time?