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Could The Chicago Blackhawks Lose Marian Hossa Next??

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Rock Mamola

Producer/Host on WSCR 670AM The Score.

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I will admit that when it comes to athletes contracts, collective bargaining agreements, no trade clauses, team and player options, and all things contracts....I am no expert.  This is why people with business degrees and journalism degrees get paid what they do because for bloggers like me, I am a bullet points kind of guy.  Give me the cliffsnotes version of a ruling rather than the 300+ page verdict any day.  Call me lazy, call me a slacker....you would do the same thing.  
 
Yesterday an independent arbitrator named Richard Bloch determined that the NHL was within its legal right to reject the 17-year, 102 million dollar contract of superstar LW Ilya Kovalchuk with the New Jersey Devils.  Bloch heard arguments from both the NHL and the NHLPA (the player's association) over two days in Boston last week. His decision came late Monday afternoon. As a result of Bloch's ruling, Kovalchuk immediately returns to unrestricted free agent status.  
 
The contract Ilya Kovalchuk signed is actually very similar to that of Blackhawks RW Marian Hossa.  Could this mean big trouble for the Blackhawks?? 

It just might!

Let's start off with the numbers first.  The way the contract with Kovalchuk was written is he would be signed till the age of 44 years old.  The way the money was structured would be like this:

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2010-11: $6 million (AGE 27)
2011-12: $6 million (28)
2012-13: $11.5 million (29)
2013-14: $11.5 million (30)
2014-15: $11.5 million (31)
2015-16: $11.5 million (32)
2016-17: $11.5 million (33)
2017-18: $10.5 million (34)
2018-19: $8.5 million (35)
2019-20: $6.5 million (36)
2020-21: $3.5 million (37)
2021-22: $750,000 (38)
2022-23: $550,000 (39)
2023-24: $550,000 (40)
2024-25: $550,000 (41)
2025-26: $550,000 (42)
2026-27: $550,000 (43)
 
As you can see the final six years of Kovalchuk's deal are for low money when he could possibly be retired by that point.  Very few players in the NHL play into their 40's and the way the contract is structured you could say Ilya is getting paid big bucks in his productive years and nothing in his older "ride into the sunset" years.  Marian Hossa's (31 years old) contract is very similar as the numbers pertain:

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2010-11: $7.9 million. (AGE 31)
2011-12: $7.9 million. (32)
2012-13: $7.9 million. (33)
2013-14: $7.9 million. (34)
2014-15: $7.9 million. (35)
2015-16: $7.9 million. (36)
2016-17: $4 million. (37)
2017-18: $1 million. (38)
2018-19: $1 million. (39)
2019-20: $750,000. (40)
2020-21: $750,000. (41)
 
Now while Hossa is not being paid for the same number of years, notice how both contracts hit a million or less dollars at the age of 38.  What would be the reasoning behind this?? 

One could say that a general manager is trying to lock up a player for as long as they can but take some money (cap hit) off the more productive years of a player's career.  In turn the player (even if they are considered finished) has job security till in their 40's and will not have to look for work as an unrestricted free agent.  Also by taking less money in a player's senior years, cutting the player completely will not be nearly as much of a hit if that route is chosen or trading the player to another team will not be too hard of an issue.
 
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However the NHL has a problem with this because they see through what general managers are doing with this somewhat long term pay scale.  They believe contracts that are scaled for big money in productive years of any player and less money later in the contract circumvents the salary cap.  In other words (cliffsnotes) the teams' are saving money for now by tagging it onto a down the road guessimate if the player will still be productive later. 

The arbitrator sided with the NHL, but is Marian Hossa's contract with the Chicago Blackhawks next?
 
"Each of these players will be 40 or over at the end of the contract term and each contract includes dramatic divebacks," Bloch wrote in his ruling.
 
It is not only Marian Hossa...but Chris Pronger of the Flyers and Roberto Luongo of the Canucks too.  Chris Pronger's contract dips from 4 Million dollars at the age of 40 to 525,000 at the age of 41.  Roberto Luongo's contract is much the same at the age of 38 he will make 6.7 Million then the following year makes 3.4 Million dropping to 1.6 Million at the age of 40 and 1 Million dollars each at the age of 41 and 42.  After averaging some $7,000,000 per year for the first nine years of the Agreement, Luongo will receive an average of about 1.2 million during his last 3 years, amounting to some 5.7% of the total compensation during that time period.
 
These few contracts show that GM's tried to get smart and save some money on the front end by promising less money and job security in the "later" years of a player's career.  This in turn help teams today try to afford free agents and built championship teams while keeping the bigger stars of the game locked up for their career with one team. 

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While I see no problem with the way Kovalchuk's contract is constructed, it does in turn violate the CBA in a few ways including violating the competitive balance agreement that the NHL tried to instill when they agreed to the salary cap.  Taking a look at the NHL CBA, here is the key passage on circumventions of the salary cap.
 
NHL CBA Article 26.3 - Circumventions. (Thanks to http://offsidesportsblog.blogspot.com/)

(a) No Club or Club Actor, directly or indirectly, may: (i) enter into any agreements, promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind, whether express, implied, oral or written, including without limitation, any SPC, Qualifying Offer, Offer Sheet, or other transaction, or (ii) take or fail to take any action whatsoever, if either (i) or (ii) is intended to or has the effect of defeating or Circumventing the provisions of this Agreement or the intention of the parties as reflected by the provisions of this agreement, including without limitation, provisions with respect to the financial and other reporting obligations of the Clubs and the League, Team Payroll Range, Player Compensation Cost Redistribution System, the Entry Level System and/or Free Agency.
 
The key phrase here is "directly or indirectly."  What the GM's who arranged these deals did was indirectly circumvent the cap by back loading these contracts so little at the end for several years that it helps them in the here and now.  In other words.....you cannot do that.
 
So what does this mean for the Blackhawks and Marian Hossa.  It means his contract is now under investigation by the NHL to see if they could get the same ruling the arbitrator gave on Kovalchuk's contract  to apply to Roberto Luongo, Chris Pronger and Marian Hossa's deals.  If indeed the same happens for those contracts, the player's contract are automatically voided and the team who signed the deal possibly can be hit with a five million dollar fine and forfeiture of draft picks on top of losing the contracted player they locked up long term to begin with.
 
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As Blackhawk fans have seen this off season the cuts from the defending Stanley Cup Champions have been massive to get underneath the 2010-2011 NHL Salary Cap.  If indeed the Marian Hossa contract is considered a circumvention of the salary cap it is possible the Hawks could lose Hossa to another team because of the five million dollar hit to this upcoming season's cap or the Hawks will have to cut more salary to afford the superstar winger.  
 
This Blackhawk fan is indeed worried about the investigation into Hossa's contract.  It seems Blackhawk fans are finding it tougher and tougher everyday indeed to cherish this Stanley Cup winning team when player after player are shipped away.
 
-RoCk
 
Rock Mamola is the Associate Producer of The Mully And Hanley Morning Show and co-host of The Joe O And Rock Show on WSCR 670AM The Score
 
You can follow The Mully And Hanley Morning Show at twitter.com/mullyhanley
 
You can follow The Joe O And Rock Show at twitter.com/joeoandrockshow





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