Cost Certainty The NHL’s Great Punchline

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 20: David Perron #57 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 20, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. The Blues defeated the Devils 1-0. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

You’ve got to appreciate the Kings’ willingness to get back on that Ilya Kovalchuk horse.

The Kings are saying that if Kovalchuk’s Devils’ contract doesn’t work out, they might be interested in taking another shot at him.

Minutes after Kovalchuk signed his Devils deal, the rhetoric coming out of his camp was that he always wanted to be a Devil and his talks with LA were more due diligence/contractual leverage than a genuine interest in the Kings’ organization.

So it would seem a little uncomfortable, at least initially, were Kovalchuk to sign his second contract of the summer with the Kings.

The NHL’s rejection of Kovalchuk’s contract also creates an interesting dynamic. The league represents the owners. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, on behalf of his ownership, extended a contract to Kovalchuk. So by challenging the contract, the league is challenging itself.

The Kovalchuk Saga really puts GM Gary Bettman in an awkward position.

On the one hand, the owners say they want cost certainty. But on the other hand, more and more owners give ridiculously long contracts to free agents to help cushion the cap hit.

I’m sure, on some level, Bettman wants to let the Kovalchuk contract go through, forcing the Devils to deal with whatever fallout comes from the contract, be it a resistance from other teams to make deals with New Jersey, due to anger over the contract (I believe the Amish call this shunning), or other teams using a similar workaround to overpay players.

But on the other hand, I imagine a lot of angry owners have been screaming at Bettman, telling him to nip this contract in the bud, asking Bettman what the lockout actually accomplished.

The timing of all of this is great, though, because yesterday, the Blues finally got restricted free agent David Perron signed to a two-year deal. The signing was key for the Blues as Perron represents a big part of the Blues plan to build a successful NHL team from within.

It’s been a tough road for the Blues, and it’s hard to say how well the initiative is going. There are points over the past few seasons where St. Louis has seen on the verge of success. But there have also been points where things seemed hopeless.

But the Blues have a plan and they’re sticking to it. But would they have more of a chance to build an undeniably successful team had the owners achieved true cost certainty in the lockout? Would there be more parity in the league if more teams had more chances to sign the few players that do actually make it to free agency? Are the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s loopholes reinforcing the NHL’s caste system?

The CBA expires in September 2011. We’ll see what kind of case the NHL and its players make in the negotiations. But it’s certainly interesting that the biggest enemy to cost certainty in the NHL seems to be a handful of particularly wealthy owners.

The last lockout pitted owners against players. I’m wondering if the next lockout will be owner-on-owner.