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Gut Feelings on the Kovalchuk Signing



Moneymoneymoneymoney! MUH-NAY!

Ilya Kovalchuk’s deal has been reported at 19 kabillion dollars over 106 years, or something like that.  Maybe it was $102 million over 17 years, I forget.

The point is, he got a truckload of money on a heavily front-loaded contract that includes him making the league minimum in years 2022-2027, or as its otherwise known, jamming the CBA directly up the league’s ass.  If he ever did play those years out, which he won’t, those years would have to be adjusted to the then-league-minimum.

Here’s the contract details from Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov:

“Kovalchuk agreed to a staggering 17-year, $102 million deal with the team. According to the AP, the high-scoring left wing will earn $6 million each of the next two seasons, $11.5 million for the following five seasons, $10.5 million in the 2017-18 season, $8.5 million for the 2018-19 season, $6.5 million in 2019-20, $3.5 million in 2020-21, $750,000 the following season, and $550,000 for the final five years of the unprecedented deal.” 

Mmmm, I bet that $8.5 and $6.5 when he’s 36 and 37 are gonna taste delicious.  Regardless, it still works out to an average cap hit of $6 million, which will be a bar-goon and a half for a guy who’s expected to score 40 or 50 again next year. 

$11.5 million for five straight years. Better see a lotta this.

So!  To my thoughts….

Even though something about if feels… I dunno… immature(?), it’s tough to argue with the whole “well they’re doing it, so why can’t we?”  Fair point.  The Wings did it with Zetterberg and Franzen.  The Flyers did it with Pronger.  The Hawks did it with Hossa and so on and so on.

I’m not gonna claim to be up on the CBA.  Really, there’s about a dozen people in the world who can make that claim uncontested, and half of them are probably lying.  That’s the tough part about analyzing contracts – half the time when they come out, some random, actually-informed guy writes something the rest of us idiots had know idea about like “well actually, in contracts that extend over nine years the cap hit in the fourth year is quintupled” (*PS, that’s not the case, duh) ….or some other valuable tidbit, and all the bloggers that have just been rehashing other people’s opinions look like fools.

So you get gut feelings from me:  My gut feeling is, New Jersey (and a few of the other long-ass-contract giving teams) will regret what they’ve done.  It’s partly a karma thing (for the whole “get as close to cheating without actually doing it” thing – I mean, you COULD cut across the net in NHL ’93 and get the goalie stuck on the post, but… c’mon), but it also seems like a show of gross disregard for the things we can’t control in life, and for the fact that humans just aren’t all that predictable.  I like gambling and all, but aren’t GM’s supposed to be the ones making safe bets?

We scored! Oh wait, that was the other red team again, Canada.

If Ilya is all about the money, as he’s demonstrated throughout this whole team-picking process, who’s to say he doesn’t just shut it down in the gym now that he’s PAID and slowly work his way down to “mediocre NHLer” status?  It’s unlikely, but for people writing things like “now he can show us that he really wants to win, really wants to help a team succeed in the post-season etc.” (Hi Wysh!)….what if he doesn’t want that?  It’s a real possibility.

He might.  I’m just sayin’, it’s pretty hard to label this decision great when it’s basically akin to playing blackjack, making your biggest bet of the night, and doubling down on your ten against the dealers four.  You could and should win big, but man, if this backfires, it REALLY backfires.

The sad insight I can give you as someone who played the game is that not everyone has the fans/journalists passion for that Cup.  Some guys are just straight up good, born with it, and unfortunately, don’t care as much as you’d like to think.  There were plenty of nights in my career where I couldn’t explain it, I just wasn’t feelin’ it – and that’s real talk man.  I wish I had that burning fire some people do (Crosby), but there are some people who just…. don’t (and Devils fans don’t want to someday see this bracket filled with “Kovalchuk”).

Christmas tree look not the "new jersey" Kovy wanted when he left ATL

And remember my Twitter rants? I like Ilya Kovalchuk as a player.  The guy is a star.

The point is, 17 years?  I mean, who the eff knows, right?  Anything could happen in that time.  He could help them succeed for years to come, absolutely.  He’ll be a great attribute for the Devils - I badly wanted to see the Islanders land him.  But that’s the selfish fan that wants entertainment in me talking, not the meticulous, responsible GM that lurks in me and realizes that at some point, you have to be responsible.

I have no idea if it’s a good signing.  None.  But who among us does?  I bet Lou Lamoriello is pooping his pants.  I just can’t fathom how much fans in NJ will bitch about this signing in like, 2019 if the Devils don’t win a cup before then.  If they do, you can tolerate a few years of not-being-worth-six-million (Elias).

It’s like the Hawks, Hossa and crew – most fans are sad to see some players leave, but they still think it was worth winning a Cup.  The real New Jersey “Situation” is that the Cup has become a need (to validate this), not a goal.  As with most deals, we’ll judge it when it’s all over, but as I’ve been implying…. it just feels icky.

So, there ya go Devils fans – the Stanley Cup has become your expectation.  And that’s never a bad thing.

As an Islander fan, frankly, I envy your new focus.


40 Responses to “Gut Feelings on the Kovalchuk Signing”
  1. paul says:

    AND…The Countdown to the next NHL Lockout begins in 3…2….1…..

  2. Aces Arbitrage says:

    Does this mean that Ovechkin and Crosby can ask for more money now? Arbitration?

  3. Jarick says:

    Don’t like signing a guy like this when the team is aging quickly and wasn’t a huge factor anyway the last few years. They could end up being stuck with a high priced player and finishing just inside or outside the playoffs every year like the Wild were with Gaborik.

    What’s your take on the Koivu contract?

  4. alice says:

    “The real New Jersey ‘Situation’ is that the Cup has become a need (to validate this), not a goal.”

    As a New Yorker and life-long Yankees fan, I always wonder when people say this. Why ISN’T winning the ultimate prize (Stanley Cup, World Series, etc.) the ultimate goal of every team? I understand if you’re in a rebuilding phase, but the final point of rebuilding is to come back and win in a few years, isn’t it? If the Devils do win with Kovalchuk, Lou looks like a genius–and a guy who understands his responsibility as a GM.

    But I agree, this type of contract does reek of cheating…

  5. Cassie says:

    Vinny Lecavalier…11 years, $85 million, with a no-movement clause. The Lightning regretted that one almost immediately. And, sadly, reportedly neither Vinny nor his agent asked for it. It was offered to them, so they took it. And if that’s true, then who could blame them? Of course, that was done and regretted by the previous ownership clowns – or cowboys, if you prefer – They Who Shall Not Be Named.

  6. jtbourne says:

    No, Ovechkin/Crosby can’t re-up.

    Jarick – I like signing him and giving him a good chunk of change for the Wild, but there’s no way they needed to give him that much, regardless of if it’s worth it or not. Fletcher thought he’d fetch $7 mill per year on the open market – my ASS anyone would have paid him that much.

  7. jtbourne says:

    alice – we’re saying the same thing. It’s always been the goal, yes. But for teams like my Islanders, it’s not even on the horizon. The Devils have just made it so anything less is failure, the way it is with your Yankees. You don’t think the Jays making the World Series would qualify as “good enough” for that franchise? it would be considered a huge success at this point for them. I’m just making the point that the Devs are in Yankee territory now.

    Cassie – yeahhhh, that probably wasn’t the smartest deal in retrospect, huh?

  8. Kennedy says:

    I wonder how much of this is driven by a brand new arena that is rarely sold out. Sometimes hockey sense has to take a back seat to entertainment value. No one buys tickets to watch the trap. People may pay to see Kovalchuk. Hopefully they’ll announce in advance the nights he’s going to show up.

  9. paul says:

    “Hi Ilya , is this Ilya ? Hey Ilya this is Rick, yeah Ricky DiPietro from the Islanders…Listen, I just wanted to call and say thanks for signing that 17 year contract, took some heat off me man. I guess 17 is the new 15, right? And, uh don’t worry about if you have a bad season or get hurt, that contract’s guaranteed and you can always tell the fans we’ll get em next year.”

  10. Cole says:

    Win the Cup or Kill the Russian – love the tag man haha…

  11. jtbourne says:

    Kennedy – there’s maybe, what, ten guys in the league that can sell tickets with their name? I’m sure business has a lot to do with it.

  12. Kennedy says:

    Do people pay to see goalies? I’m not sure I would.

  13. jason says:

    The key for the Devils (besides whatever they manage to win in the next 7 years) is what happens during this portion of the contract:

    2016-17: $11.5 Million (no-movement clause ends on June 30, 2017)
    2017-18: $10.5 Million
    2018-19: $8.5 Million (no-trade clause begins on July 1, 2018)

    After 7 years and $63.5 million, the Devils have a year to trade him. Even if they don’t, they can still buy out his remaining years at (I think) 2/3 the contract price, with the cap hit also decreased and spread over twice the remaining years.

  14. Dave K says:

    At least I have a reason to watch New Jersey games now. Actually, as I think about it, I’d rather still avoid watching them and catch the highlights on YouTube. I’m not confident Ilya has the center he needs in NJ.

  15. jtbourne says:

    Great point jason, they did leave themselves with a few options/outs in the tough years there. Very good point. Watch Ilya just retire at 34/35 anyways, wouldn’t be that ridiculous. My dad did after 14 years (at 34), that’s exactly where Ilya will be.

  16. Marienne says:

    Kennedy – I think there’s a strong argument that people in Vancouver pay to see Luongo play (they did when I lived up there, at any rate). Not sure it’s a widely-accepted practice, however (and Vancouver’s got the lovely fallback of the Sedins as novelty value, never mind consistent high-end performance. They’ve also got a 5-year waiting list for season tickets). Also not sure how long that end of the franchise appeal is going to last, once he starts getting closer to the end of his contract (wait, does it exist? I can’t remember)retirement/permanent IR-status/middle-age/etc.

  17. rich says:

    Even though the Pronger deal was setup the same, he signed the contract with the “35 and over” rule. Even if he retires they still need to pay him… None of the other contracts you mentioned are the same

  18. jtbourne says:

    rich – you’re right about Pronger getting the money regardless, but wrong the rest of the way. His deal is a great example of a front-loaded contract to lower the cap hit – the last two years of his deal are for $525,000 a year, so they’ll just pay him that and he’ll retire.

    Hossa makes $7.9 for the next seven years, then $4M for one year, then a mere $1M for the last four years. Hence, frontloaded. Zetterberg makes $7.5M the next eight years, then $3.5M for one, then a mere $1M for the last two years. Hence, frontloaded. Franzen makes over $5M the next eight years, then $3.5M for one, $2M for one, and a mere $1M for two years. Hence frontloaded.

    Please don’t comment to question my facts when you don’t know yours.

  19. rich says:

    excuse me, but the only thing I said was different was that he was 35 and would still be paid. None of the others are like that… I am well aware that they are all FRONTLOADED! read what I write before criticizing me

  20. jtbourne says:

    Ah – When you wrote “none of the other contracts are the same” I thought you meant as Kovalchuk’s (cause, as I’m obviously pumped on emphasizing, they’re exactly the same premise). I see now you meant “none of the other contracts are the same as Pronger’s”. Fair enough, my bad.

    Also, don’t ever ruin my “you got served” moment again by pointing out that, in fact, I’m the one who’s an idiot.

  21. rich says:

    Not a problem. Sometimes emphasis and meaning is lost in “mind to keyboard to mind” transitions.

  22. Pat says:

    Nice tag

  23. PotvinRocks says:

    There is a huge risk with any contract that is longer than 3 years. Teams can get strapped with a Dipietro situation (even though he is helping the Islanders reach the cap floor). I heard Joe Thorton say that a long term contract to him is 3 years. And that it is. There has to be an end date to these contracts. Signing with a team or a player for this long is crazy. What happens when Martin Broduer retires? Jersey won’t be the lock for the playoffs anymore.
    GM’s really have the toughest jobs because you are trying to pay the player for what you think that this player is going to do NOT what they have done. So when in the same off season one team signs Mark Streit and another signs Wade Redden, one GM looks like a genius and the other…not so much. Tough.

  24. Bomski17 says:

    In regards to the Video:

    Dangle Fest.

    Bourney: Had you brought the same intensity to the ice that you did in that scrap with Rich, we’d be arguing about your 17 year contract instead of Kovy’s…..haha :)

  25. Brodie30 says:

    I don’t think Elias’ 6 million cap hit is the same as Kovalchuk’s will be. While 6 million may be a lot for a player that (Elias’) age (was made necessary by the hard pursuit from across the river, btw) Elias is capable of taking on many different roles, even if the goals dry up. He plays on PP, PK, can move to center when necessary, all while continuing to score 30+ goals a season (when healthy). He may be too expensive if he scores less, but you can live with it because he can do other things that are necessary to win (and frankly, the skill is still there).

    I’m not sure what Kovalchuk’s role becomes if he plays at 35. I think that’s they reason the only way to do this was with the gimmick contract. Who knows what percent of a team’s cap 6 million will be with inflation in the next 10 years? Could actually scale out pretty well. I think the main concern is losing one of those players who plays hard every night that you mentioned. Zach Parise, who is RFA next year and an offer sheet waiting to happen. But overall, as a Devils fan, I feek “icky” about it too. Not because I’m worried about the cap hit in the future, though. Because, even though it’s legal, the contract itself just feels like cheating.

  26. jtbourne says:

    Bomski17 – Hey, I could bring the fire when I got rattled. I just needed to start the game angry….somehow!

    Brodie30 – good input man, I like those points. (Who am I, Randy Jackson? Great job, dog.)

  27. neil says:

    Great post Bourne, you summed up the feelings of a whole lotta people.
    I’m sure you’ve read it as well, but from the quotes out of Lou from Puck Daddy, it sounds like it very much was a business decision to sign a guy that would hopefully fill some seats, possibly against Lou’s better judgement.
    I hate the idea of signing a guy to a monster contract whose cap hit is the direct result of paying him the league minimum for several years that are well, well into the future. Like you said, it is absurd to think that there is even a chance that the minimum contract in FIFTEEN years is going to be even remotely the same.
    Personally, I feel that some of these contracts don’t actually violate the spirit of the CBA as much as some would claim, because they are saving money per year on cap (obviously) but they are doing it at the expense of 1) paying a shit load of money to the guy (11.5 million for 5 years!!), 2) Taking a big risk on putting huge money down longterm on a guy who might be an injury nightmare, a la Dipietro, and 3) Taking the risk of having to deal with a potential cap headache later by guessing what someone is going to be worth when they are 38-44 and putting the money on the table. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the deals either, but I don’t think they are quite as sweet as some suggest, and I think you’re right that these could easily come back and bite teams in the ass. However, I definitely see the use of the current league minimum 10-15 years into the future as pure bullshit, there is no way that should be allowed and it completely violates the spirit of the CBA because when you do it, you know that in the future that contract will have to be bumped up to meet the current minimum, which means your cap hit for every year previously should be slightly higher, which means that you probably had 1 player on your roster every year for the past ten years that you shouldn’t have been able to keep. just my two cents, like you I don’t get the CBA that well so I’m possibly speaking directly from my, uh…

    Great read Bourne.

  28. Christianson says:

    As a pro hockey player like yourself, I have a question to ask. Im making the jump to junior A hockey this year and I see some of the outrageous curves these guys use, namingly Ovechkin and Kovi. I’m a pretty good shot as is but I’m always looking for that extra step. Does the illegal banana curve actually improve your shot increase the raw power that comes off your toe?

  29. jtbourne says:

    Neil – The best point you make there, is that by dropping it RIGHT to the unknown 15-years-from-now minimum, you’re probably keeping a guy most team’s can’t, and that’s what makes this feel dishonest. Perfectly put.

    Christianson – Dude, chuck a banana on that stick of yours and get used to it, especially if you’re a forward. Maybe it doesn’t make a huge difference when guys with both curves have time to set up, but with that big hook you can surprise yourself with the snap you can get on an off-balanced shot. It may take a bit off your backhand, but most backhand goals are tap-ins, bat-in, stuff like that. You rarely beat a tender with an honest backhand shot because of the shots speed. Hell, the big backhand hook my leave the tendy directionally-clueless. It’s worth it for the snipe-factor.

  30. neil says:

    What I’m wondering is, what are they going to do if Kovy keeps playing when he’s 43 and he’s supposed to get paid 525k when the league minimum is 900k or more? Do they bump the contract up to the new minimum? If they do, does bumping it up affect the cap hit? What would it do to the average cap hit of a 17-year deal if the last five years got bumped up 500k+ per year? It’s not a huge amount of money, but it’s big enough that they decided to go with the absolute minimum.

  31. Sherry says:

    Excellent post today Justin – and lots of good commentary from your knowledgeable peanut gallery. From the layman’s perspective that contract just doesn’t seem “right,” so it was nice to have the reasons behind my gut feel explained.

    As for Kovy, I have never liked the guy since “The Point” (and much of what I have seen since). Part of me is filled with glee that the Devils are saddled with him for monstrous cash and many years. Time will tell, eh?

  32. mikeB says:

    I dont know if anyone is paying attention anymore but is reporting that the deal has been rejected by the league.

  33. neil says:

    WOW!!! this will be a very interesting debate to follow, thanks for the link Mikeb!

  34. mikeB says:

    The PA will file a grievance I’m sure. I would not be surprised if it gets reinstated. Then the next CBA has some sort of limit on term of deals (6 or 8 years). And cap hit = $ paid that season. But thats in the future. It will be quite interesting to see what happens.

  35. Christianson says:

    One more thing Justin, Is it something thats hard to get used to ? I dont want to be rifling pucks at my goalies mask on accident during practice haha, and also, whereabouts could i order one in kovi’s style…

  36. MattyJ says:

    Two words. Alexi Yashin. As a Kings fan, I think we may have dodged a bullet. I’d have been pissed if the Kings landed him with a similar type of deal, especially considering the fickle LA market. He’d be fun to watch but not at that price in LA.

    I’d say the pressure is on Kovy personally more than anything. His wife essentially doomed her (potential) career by moving to New Jersey instead of LA. If she doesn’t see that cup in her living room within about two years his personal life is going to be in a world of hurt. Ha ha.

  37. James says:

    Just wanted to chip in with a couple of points…

    1) The reason why these frontloaded deals are against the spirit of the law, and unfair, is because they favor big-market (or rich) teams. The lockout that led to the current CBA happened specifically to ensure league-wide parity and to give every team a fighting chance, no matter if they were in a big market or not. Some teams (like Phoenix, Columbus, Nashville, Dallas, etc.) have internal salary caps – the owner dictates a max payroll and that’s that. Doesn’t necessarily follow the salary cap, though they have to reach the floor. The problem with the frontloaded deals is, there’s no way in hell Nashville can afford to spend 11,5M in actual cash on a player, no matter who he is. The owner just doesn’t have that kind of coin. So for a rich team to be able to purchase that player at 11,5M, but have it only count as 6M on their salary cap, is cheating. We could easily see a situation where a team would be up against the cap, but would have an actual payroll of over 65M per year – the point of the salary cap was to make sure no 2-3 rich teams could outspend the league. The owners that will be lobbying to close this loophole will be first and foremost the ones from small market teams.

    2) Don’t wanna get flack for intervening in a fight, but the Pronger deal is slightly different from the others, because of the over 35 rule. Sure it’s frontloaded and he gets paid peanuts in the final 2 years, but the problem for Philly is, even if he retires, the cap hit remains. A retired player forfeits any money owed to him for the rest of the contract, so the cash isn’t paid, but because the contract became effective after he turned 35 they will be on the hook in terms of the salary cap. Which is guaranteed to come back and hurt Philly at some point – it’s unlikely Pronger plays until he’s 42. All of the other frontloaded deals so far are relatively safe for the teams in the sense that when the player retires, even if there’s 4-5 years left, the cap hit goes away. These deals can all go wrong for the teams in many other ways though…

    3) It’s safe to assume this loophole will be closed as part of the next CBA negotiations, but one thing is certain: the NHL will never go with annual salary = cap hit. That opens the door for all sorts of problems, like teams backloading contracts to stack the team for a Cup run… sign a bunch of superstarts for 1-2M for the first 2 years, then the salary goes up to 8-10M over the last 3-4 years. Some GMs are so intent on winning now that they would gladly destroy their team’s future for a shot at the Cup. Most likely there will be provisions concerning maximal variation in base salary from one year to the next AND over the length of the contract (ie: the lowest year cannot be less than 75% of the highest year) and/or maximum length of contracts.

    Sorry for the long post – this is a fascinating topic and I figured I’d add a bit to the conversation…

  38. jtbourne says:

    Jebus James, exhale. Good points, my only disagreement still lies with Pronger. The black and white is: They pay him peanuts for years he doesn’t intend to play, thus lowering their cap hit and circumventing the CBA. Boom, contract rejected. I understand they still have him on the books, but they figure it’s worth it to get a perennial Norris and recent Conn Smythe candidate that earns close to $8M for a $4.9 cap hit for five actual years (of his seven year deal).

  39. James says:

    You’re right of course, in that it’s a great deal for the Flyers in year 1 to 3, maybe 4 of the deal. He’s definitely worth more than 4,9M so they have him at bargain price.
    But when he retires, the 4,9M stays as a cap hit until the contract’s over, despite him not playing. So whoever they slot in the #1/2 spot on D, will effectively cost them X+4,9M in salary cap, which makes for one expensive defenseman.
    Personally, I’m not sure it’s worth it, but it’s not my call. Besides, if they do win a Cup with Pronger on this deal, I guess it would make it easier to swallow the 2-3 years where they’re stuck with the cap hit but without the player. Or they could ship him off to a team that needs to reach the salary floor, he retires, and voilà, some more cap cheating at the other end of the spectrum.

    Great blog btw, been reading for a while – always very interesting.

  40. Aces Arbitrage says:

    I knew he was rushing into this deal…he should have taken more time :P

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