NHLPA Might Be Rooting for Ilya Kovalchuk to Leave NHL

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 15:  Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, attends a hearing of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the illegal use of sterioids in baseball January 15, 2008 in Washington, DC. The 'Mitchell Report' named several former and current major league baseball players who are accused of using steriods or other performance-enhancing drugs.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

While Donald Fehr, the legendary head of Major League Baseball’s players union, hasn’t taken the NHLPA job quite yet, it seems like he’ll eventually accept the gig.

It also seems like someone is working with the NHLPA to give them leverage moving into the next Collective Bargaining Negotiation.

Otherwise, would Ilya Kovalchuk’s camp really be threatening to leave for the KHL?

Kovalchuk has always seen torn between the NHL and the KHL. But he spent most of his summer trying to get contract in the NHL. And then, when he got a contract and it was rejected, he still stuck around (possibly past a second rejected contract).

That indicates he’d prefer to play in the NHL next season.

Plus, the KHL season starts September 8, which is less than two weeks from today. I’m assuming Kovalchuk doesn’t want to make his first line change from the baggage carousel, so if he was serious about leaving for Russia, I think he might have put a plan in motion by now.

This isn’t to say Kovalchuk won’t leave for the KHL. It just doesn’t seem to be his preference. But neither did New Jersey and look how that worked out. Or didn’t work out.

Kovalchuk’s threatening to leave is a wonderful thing the NHLPA, though.

It can be used to show the owners that the current NHL CBA is causing a player drain (I’m sure the NHLPA is hoping the NHL doesn’t bring up the fact that Kovalchuk would be the first elite, in-his-prime player to leave the NHL for the KHL, post-lockout).

Kovalchuk’s leaving, or threatening to leave, can also be taken to the fans to illustrate how restrictive the CBA can be to certain players. It can also be used to show that if NHL owners don’t get more competitive with their salaries, more players could leave.

To be clear, I don’t know any of that would be a consequence of Kovalchuk’s leaving the NHL, but I suspect the NHLPA would be interested in those arguments as rhetorical techniques to keep the fans on the side of the NHLPA, where they didn’t really seem to be during the last lockout.

The NHLPA might have had more leverage if the fans had been outraged by the lockout. But to be fair, so many things went wrong the NHLPA during the lockout, it’s kind of hard to isolate that one critical variable that might have turned things around for them.

I don’t know if Kovalchuk’s camp is deliberately helping out the NHLPA with their posturing, or if they’re just trying to get a client the contract he wants.

I’m pretty sure that the NHLPA, and whoever their leadership might be, have to love that right now, the current CBA might drive an elite NHL player out of the NHL.

From a negotiating and rhetorical perspective, it’s a huge win for the NHLPA.

Of course, for hockey fans and the NHL as a whole, it’s a huge loss.

Welcome to the post-lockout, pre-second-lockout NHL.