As we all await the historic arbitration that has the NHLPA, the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk pitted against Bettman and the NHL, I want to take a moment to further examine the camp that Bobby described as Group Precedent.

In the case of Kovalchuk’s $102 million, 17 year contract, precedent has supposedly been established by other ‘retirement’ contracts, signed by Roberto Luongo, Marian Hossa, Vincent Lecavalier, Johna  Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg.

Luongo signed a 12 year, $64 million deal.

Zetterberg signed for 12 years and $73 million.

Lecavalier for 11 years and $85 million.

Franzen got 11 years and $43.5 million.

Hossa, the most oft used ‘comparable’ is in the 2nd year of a 12 year, $63.3 million deal.

First of all, strictly from the a superficial perspective, Kovalchuk’s contract blows the others out of the water.  5 years longer and $17 million more than any other contract.  However, when dealing with cap circumvention, one must consider other factors, like, how old was the player when he signed said deal and what age will he be when the deal expires.

Luongo wil be 43.

Hossa will be 42.

Vinny, 40.

Zetterface, 40.

Franzen, 40.

Kovalchuk will be 44 at the end of his deal.  Once again, Kovy trumps all others, even if only by a single year in this case.

OK, so there is some serious precedent here.  You can’t really say that Kovalchuk WILL retire before 44, but give Luongo the benefit of the doubt to play until 43.  Those hairs are too small to split.

But there is a big chunk of hair missing here, clogging an important drain.

Maximum Salary.

But its all about the cap… right?

Wrong.

Cap only matters as it relates to salary, at least in terms of circumvention.  Had Kovalchuk signed a 17 year deal that pays him $6 million in actual salary every single year, I’m willing to bet the NHL would have never bothered to reject the contract in the first place.  Why?  Because that isn’t circumvention.  That deal, in regards to the cap, is the same whether it is a 1, 10 or 20 year deal.  If New Jersey wants to commit $6 million to a 44 year old player when that player is still just 27, fine, more power to them.  It only becomes circumvention because the Devils want to pay Kovalchuk $11.5 million for 5 years and $10.5 for a 6th year.

These top actual salary numbers matter.

Let’s look at the other deals.  The so-called comparable contracts the league has previously approved.

Lecalvalier’s cap hit is 7.7 mill. His maximum salary is $10 mill.  That is a cap to max salary differential of 2.3M, or in other terms the cap hit is of 77% of the max salary.

Zetterface – 6.083 cap hit, max salary, 7.75. Differential, 1.667M or cap hit is 78% of max salary.

Luongo – cap hit – 5.33, max salary $10 mill. Now Luongo is a unique case, because the 10 mill is really just a signing bonus, its only for 1 year. His topical max salary is 6.716, which he gets for 7 years (technically 6 of those years are 6.714, but in these extreme scenarios, 200k is chump change).   Luongo’s differential is 1.386, or 79% of the topical max salary.

Franzen’s cap hit is 3.955, while his max salary is 5.5, which he gets this year.  He gets between 5 and 5.25 for the majority of the deal.  If we use 5.5, that’s a differential of 1.545, or a cap hit that is 71% of the max real salary paid.  If we use the more relevant number of 5.25, the differential becomes 75%.  Close to the rest of the percentages, but creeping down.

Finally we have Hossa, the closest comparable and the one Kovalchuk supporter’s are hooting and hollering about.  Hossa has a cap hit of 5.275 and a max salary of 7.9. That’s a differential of 2.625M, or 67% of max salary.  OK, so that’s different than the rest of the lifetime deals.  A whole 10% different.   This contract pushes the boundaries, and was only narrowly allowed by the league to stand.

And now we come to Kovalchuk.   His cap hit is 6 mill. His max salary is 11.5… well its not just his max salary, its THE max salary.  That is a differential of 5.5M, a measly 52% of max salary.  Now many will say that he only makes 11.5 for 5 years, not even 1/3 of the contract.  However, the only other salary he makes for 5 years is $550K during the last 5 years.  Is that really the leg Group Precedent wants to stand on?  Maybe is they like hopping with their hands tied around their backs.  $11.5 million is the most relevant number here.  Kovy makes $6 mill for two years, 6.5 for another, 10.5 for one, 8.5 for one and 3.5 for one more.  $11.5 for 5 years trumps all.

Hossa’s deal is still closest but while Hossa’s deal undercuts the rest by ~10%, Kovy’s take it another 15% beyond what was already barely acceptable. Hossa’s deal is looking over the edge of circumvention, even feeling the air beneath with one foot, while Kovy’s deal is just a complete ‘fuck it all’ jump off the cliff.

Consider the precedent nonexistent.