We may be gaining some clarity on why the verdict of Ilya Kovalchuk's second contract was delayed. The New York Post's Larry Brooks reports, according to "several well-placed sources," that the league is taking a hard line on long-term contracts and seeking amendments to the collective bargaining agreement. If the NHL Players Association doesn't accept the proposed amendments, Kovalchuk's contract will again be struck down and the contracts of Vancouver Canucks G Roberto Luongo and Chicago Blackhawks wing Marian Hossa may also be in peril.
According to Brooks, the NHL would grandfather in all three player contracts if the NHLPA agreed to the following changes to the CBA:
1. That the cap hit on future multiyear contracts will not count any season that ends with the player over 40 years of age. The cap hit would be based on the average salary of the seasons in the contract up to age 40.
2. That the cap hit on future contracts longer than five years would be calculated by granting additional weight -- perhaps the average -- to the five consecutive years with the largest average salary.
If the NHLPA does not accept those changes, the league threatens the following actions:
1. It will reject the Kovalchuk contract.
2. It will de-register Luongo's contract under which the goaltender will earn $3.618 million over the final three years of his deal. The goaltender is carrying a $5.333 million cap hit.
3. It will move to open a formal investigation of Hossa's contract under which the winger will earn $4 million over the final four years of his contract. Hossa is carrying a cap hit of $5.275 million per.
The NHLPA has until 5 p.m. Friday to accept the changes, according to the Post's report.
Considering the small number of players who last in the league past age 40, the first amendment makes sense in terms of restricting salary cap circumvention. The second amendment however could drastically alter future deals for players, as teams may become reluctant to subject themselves to the extra weighting. That means star players may not be signing contracts that endure through the end of their careers and taking a hit in the wallet.
Instead of using their current production as leverage for a guaranteed contract into their late-30s, players may now see shorter contract terms. They may then be forced to negotiate another contract after their production has started to trail off and accept less money than they would have enjoyed with a long-term contract such as the one signed by Hossa.
If the Post report is accurate, this would be a very big change in a very small window of time. And apparently Kovalchuk's deal with the Devils hangs in the balance.
UPDATE: ESPN's E.J. Hradek tweeted last night that NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says no ultimatum has been given to the NHLPA.