In light of the 17-year contract just signed by Ilya Kovalchoke today with the New Jersey Devils, I was a tad surprised to see the angry masses complaining about the 'loophole' in the CBA. Statements like "why did we even bother having a lockout" and "the owners will wan to sew up this loophole in the next deal" all the way to "these deals are horsesh*t" have appeared all across the web. My question is, what is the problem here?
First off, we are all in agreement that Kovalchuk is one of the top five most talented scorers in the league. Not best all around, not best leader, but top five best talent. He has been a consistent scorer on a bad team (although he had Savard feeding him for a while) and can take over and win a game as well as any player in the league. The Devils are a better team with a potent offence now that they have Kovy in the lineup.
That being said, I don't see how the Devils are getting a 'great deal' on the contact. Regardless of how he performs in the playoffs, the Devils have a $6M cap hit for what will feel like an eternity. Let's remember that this a player that has won two playoff games in his entire career. Only once did he help Atlanta get into the postseason before they were whisked back home in four games by the Rags. Last year, his rental status (made permanent today) to New Jersey netted him two wins with Marty Brodeur in the pipes. This is a hefty term and cap hit for a guy that has never won a playoff series. $6M gets you the zero leadership and an unproven track record. Hell, at least Gomez has a Cup!
Secondly, it isn't like the Devils can walk away easily. He is still making a boatload of cash for 12 years in what will be close to an untrade-able contract should the Devils ever feel they need to get rid of the contract. If you think that is an unreasonable idea, think about how Charles Wang felt about Yashin as well as the Dipietro contracts. How about Lecavalier? Even Hossa was rumored to be on the block this summer. These lifetime contracts cannot be moved. The New Jersey Devils have made a long-term organizational decision that they will have Kovalchuk as a cornerstone of their franchise for the next 12 years. A big shift for a team that has been built around Stevens, Niedermeyer, and Brodeur in the past 12 years...
Finally, why does the rest of the league care about this 'loophole'? NJ is taking a huge risk here but are using a rule that is permitted in the CBA. They haven't exploited anything that other teams couldn't use. For the other 29 teams, all that they should really care about is that the Devils have $6M less cap space for the forseeable future and very little cap flexibility. They needn't look past Chicago to see how locking up your 'core' for life has its disadvantages as it relates to the rest of the team.
To me, the Devils got the player they wanted and they used a fair contract to get him. Do both the Devils and Kovalchuk intend to 'honour the contract'? Obviously, the guy won't play until 44 but I just don't see why the owners are going to try and put a term limit and restrict their own GMs that they task with acquiring players like this. If teams are going to open themselves up to this risk, then you can't just keep regulating the CBA to fix stupidity. My opinion is to leave the rules alone and let these teams run themselves out of cap space with these lifetime contracts. I have yet to see one where everyone just stands back in jealousy and envy that they didn't get their star player's signature on a 12-year deal.