Usually Labor Day marks the end of summer; the temperature always seems to suddenly dip and a chill starts to tingle the air the following week. It’s the end of trips to the cottage and beach, and the start of jacket weather (at least in climates that will see ice on the ground in two months).
So when Ilya Kovalchuk’s 15-year, $100-million contract was approved on that long weekend, it should have put an end to the Summer of Sin: The Devils worked out a deal the NHL could live with, so long as the NHLPA could agree on a CBA amendment, which they did. It was finally time to move away from front office talk and towards on-ice chatter with training camps set to open and rookie camps in session.
Not so fast. Like Wiarton Willy or Punxsutawney Phil popping up to see their shadow in February, the NHL’s head honchos emerged once more and prolonged the ugly off-season talk just a little bit longer.
It was supposed to be a night for football (go Jets), but it came as a shock when the league announced it had fined the New Jersey Devils $3 million, plus two drafts picks (a third-rounder and a first-rounder from one of the next four drafts), a harsh penalty for a team that didn’t blaze any trails with its long-term offer.
There’s little question Kovalchuk’s initial 17-year $102-million deal was designed to reel in the cap hit to a reasonable level for a nine-figure player, but it was far from the first time this tactic was used. Although it was the most blatant attempt – which is why the NHL challenged it and won – in his ruling, arbitrator Richard Bloch determined the Devils didn’t act with any ill intentions. The NHL got the ruling it wanted and, subsequently, the CBA tweak it was after. Case closed.
Lately the league seems to be emboldened and flexing at every turn. Whether it’s with the Kovalchuk contract, the NHLOA situation, or its Olympic posturing, it’s as if the NHL is strutting its stuff on Muscle Beach.
It was a surprising decision to say the least. There were a lot of negative optics that shone on the league this off-season (from Kovy, to the messy NHLPA) so it seems odd they would rehash a subject everyone was happy to see blow over. You could hear the collective sigh of hockey fans and casual observers when Monday night’s news was released.
My men’s league team is set to open the season this weekend, signaling the end of summer and the start of a new season in the real world. For the sake of four seasons and starving hockey fans everywhere, let’s hope this ugly chapter doesn’t rear its ugly head anymore.
LUONGO NOT TO BLAME
It’s for the best that Roberto Luongo relinquished the captaincy in Vancouver.
Luongo was often criticized for “throwing his teammates under the bus” in post-game interviews. But when you’re the only one who plays your position, if you’re not blaming it on yourself it may come off that you’re blaming everyone else.
He was really on his own in this endeavor. Most of the heat he took originated from a remark about facing four or five shots in a row, implying the defense wasn’t clearing bodies out in front of the net. He had a point, but most looked at his point as a slap in the face.
The fact is he was the captain and had to answer the questions from his own perspective. If the captain was a forward who said, “We have to clear the front of the net out better,” you would never think twice about it, despite the fact it’s clearly a job for defensemen. But because Luongo is naturally separated from everyone else based on his position, any constructive criticism was viewed with a cynical twist.
In truth, Luongo wasn’t throwing anyone under the bus, but just following the duties of a captain and breaking down the game. The experiment wasn’t successful and was full of misinterpretation, so both team and player decided to move in a different direction.
And like the Kovalchuk situation, hopefully that’s the last we hear of it.
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