When the New Jersey Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuck to a seventeen year contract last week I couldn't help but shake my head at the ridiculousness of the term of the contract. Seventeen years? Are you kidding me? Not even the NFL, the most economically sound sports league in North America, has contracts that are that long. Ten year contracts are viewed as huge. Gary Bettman and the powerful owners of the league obviously agreed with me since the NHL rejected the Kovalchuck contract one day after it was signed. The NHLPA though has decided to take the NHL in front of an arbitrator to argue that the Kovalchuck contract doesn't break any rules and therefore the NHL overstepped their boundaries by rejecting it. And you know what, the NHLPA may very well have a pretty good point. The Kovalchuck contract technically doesn't break any rules in the CBA it just bends a few of them, but bending a few rules does not give the NHL the without a doubt right to reject it. This is the league's head office trying to send a message to the owners that these long term contracts are not good for them and that they can become an anchor on their ability to compete at a high level (ie. The New York Islanders with the Alexei Yashin and Rick DiPietro contracts), unfortunately the NHL is too late to this party.
When the New York Islanders signed Rick DiPietro to a fifteen year contract back in 2006, the NHL should have stepped in and slapped the wrist of a team and an owner (Charles Wang) who had a well earned reputation of making extremely stupid, rash decisions that have sewered the once proud franchise. Four years into the contract and the Islanders have completed their decent into the cellar of the NHL and DiPietro has spent the same amount of time trying to stay healthy. Over the last two seasons DiPietro has undergone countless surgeries and has shown a total inability to stay healthy and his contract has become a Titanic sized anchor to the Islanders. There are other mega-sized contracts in the NHL that haven't yet blown up in their teams faces (ie. Alex Ovechkin getting thirteen years, Mike Richards getting twelve, Duncan Keith getting twelve years, and Johan Franzen getting eleven years) but when you sign a player for that long all it takes is one hard luck injury to change that. The NHL is just too late to change the culture of contracts that has begun when it comes to young star players as the CBA (not Kevin Lowe, as much as Brian Burke would prefer you believe that) has killed the slow upgrading of salaries for players. It's what the salary cap did in the NFL and now the NHL, the league's head office should have seen this coming but now it's too late to change where the league is going in this regard and another lockout would kill the league so that is not an option.