With all of the Ilya Kovalchuk drama going on, it’s time to take a deep breath and ask a simple question:
What is the business of the NHL? What is the NHL there to do? What does it make?
I would argue the NHL makes hockey. The goal of the league is to allow players to play so hockey can be produced.
One would think the league wants the best players to play, since the whole point of the NHL is to showcase hockey.
And yet, not only is the league going out of its way to prevent Kovalchuk from playing in the league, the league also seems like it might be about to target the contracts of some its best players.
Ostensibly, the NHL is trying to protect its salary cap. But one has to wonder what the price of cost-certainty is.
Not only might the NHL drive a player like Kovalchuk right into the arms of the KHL, but adding insult to injury, they’re going to also take aim at some of the NHL’s best players: players like Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo, and Chris Pronger.
What if those players are frustrated by having their contracts approved and then rejected years later? Will they be upset enough to contemplate leaving the NHL?
Realistically, they probably won’t be driven out of the league. But fans will be frustrated.
Teams will feel challenged to plan, constantly worrying players they thought were locked in actually aren’t.
And if this contract situation, assuming it becomes a situation, isn’t resolved quickly, the NHL might find itself starting a season without some of their best players on the ice. In fact, they could find themselves with elite players in contractual limbo.
The league exists to put on hockey. The better the players, the better the hockey.
It’s not a highly complex business model.
So why is the league targeting itself like this? What’s to be gained by placing a barrier between NHL talent and NHL contracts? Why not let owners sign players as long as they work within the constraints of the Collective Bargaining Agreement?
Why did the NHL go fishing for problems? And why is it trying to amplify the issue?
Bill Clinton famously used an “It’s the economy stupid” sign to keep his campaign focused on what he considered to be the core issue.
Someone needs to make NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman an “It’s hockey, stupid” sign for his office. He seems to have forgotten why he needs to go to work every morning.