Loyalty or fairness? Contract issues in the NHL

With the ongoing saga of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract I got to thinking is the NHL’s salary cap an attack on loyalty or the white knight of fairness?
The aim of the cap is to even the teams up allowing the financially smaller teams to compete with the bigger guys for the top players by imposing a limited on the total wages that can be paid. The result should be that the top players are spread around the league and there is room for younger players to break in.
What the cap doesn’t take into account is a players loyalty to the club or a good players right to earn more money.
The trend in recent years has been for teams to tie up players on long contracts paying them the majority up front and decreasing the yearly amount season on season and thus creating more room under the salary cap whilst keeping the original player, allowing them to be loyal to the team.
Thrown into this mix is the NHL’s right under the cba to cancel a players contract if it is found to be avoiding the cap.
In general I am in favour of the cap. Looking at all sports it has evened the leagues up and it has certainly shaken things up in the NHL. However I like loyalty in a player and in general these long contracts are creating this. Savard and Luongo for example and these contracts will create stability in a team and end yo-yoing like Edmonton going from Stanley cup finalist to a basement side.
And besides the benefits to the teams that these contracts bring there are benefits to the player. Allowing stability in his career and allowing him to make money for his talents.
However it is clear that a 17 year to Ilya Kovalchuck is aimed at avoiding the cap. Kovalchuck is 27 meaning that at the end of the proposed contract he will be 44. Perhaps 10 years past the end of the average players NHL career. Also there is no evidence of any loyalty as kovelchuck has been in new jersey for a matter of months. If he had gone to boston, that had been mooted for a time, would he have signed the same contract? I think so as it is not about loyalty. And there is the matter of length. How does keeping a player 17 years make room for younger players?
It is easy to look at all the incidentals and make a conclusion but putting this into a fair rule is difficult but the NHL needs to find away in order to ensure the right balance. The NHL might say it is up to the player to take a pay cut but this is unfair. A player’s career does not last for ever and he deserves to know a team is serious about him by offering him an improving contract.
Perhaps imposes a limit on the total value of the contract as $102 million is a staggering amount is one way. But a better way could be that the NHL should take each contract on it’s merits and build up a case history setting precedents. Yes it will put noses out of joint but sometimes it is what you have got to do to ensure fairness. But to do this the NHL need to do two things. Firstly not allowing Kovalchuck’s 17 year $102 million contract (which they have done) and secondly stop threatening to void previously ratified contracts, such as Savard’s, in order to allow teams to get on with the matter of playing ice hockey that we all want.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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