20 July 2010
If there is one thing the NHL is consistent on, it's their inconsistent enforcement of rules. Whether it's headshots, suspensions, contracts or just plain ol hooking and holding the NHL is consistently maddeningly inconsitent in their rule enforcement. It has lead to some unnecessarily embarrassment for the league. Other leagues can have backed themselves into corners (see MLB: Steroids) but the NHL has turned it into an artform. The NHL is the Picassos of corner-painting, the Cezannes of self-infliction. Hell if the NHL did any more damage to themselves they'd be emo.
If you haven't heard by now, the league rejected Ilya Kovalchuk's 17 year $102M contract, on the grounds of salary cap circumvention. In a vacuum this is a no brainer decision, as the last 6 years of this 17 year contract pay less than $1M/year, which is nothing but ridiculous tomfoolery. It's as obvious an attempt to circumvent the cap as you can get. Rejecting the contract isn't what makes the NHL look foolish.
What makes the NHL look foolish is that they stood by and let contracts get to the point where they had to wait until a ridiculous contract was written before stepping in. On January 28th 2009, a year and a half ago, the Detroit Red Wings signed Henrik Zetterberg to a 12 year $73M contract that takes him to his 40th birthday, and keeps his cap hit a $6.08M. Taking one look at his contract and it was obvious that his contract was structured clearly to circumvent the salary cap, and give the Red Wings cap room to sign guys like Johan Franzen and Pavel Datsyuk. Since then at least 1/2 a dozen contracts were signed that actively go out of the way to circumvent the salary cap. The most frustrating part was that any idiot could see that this contract was just the beginning in a long line of increasingly daring contracts where the inevitable conclusion was a contract so ridiculous that the NHL had to reject it or be seen as a farce.
Which brings us to the Ilya Kovalchuk New Jersey Devils contract. I don't know how the NHL can justify cancelling this contract, but letting Marion Hossa's stand.
The most frustrating part of this whole debacle is that it is typical of the NHL. The NHL's problem is that they are reactionary to the point of lunacy. Players can get blindsided and concussed ad nauseum (literally) but the NHL has to wait until a 95+ point forward gets his brains scrambled by noted cheap shot artist before deciding to institute a blindside hit ban. The NHL waited until the games became a wrestling match before cracking down on clutching and grabbing. And the NHL waited until goalies looked like Bibendum before instituting goalie pad limits.
My father has a theory about life, in that we all get taps on the shoulder. You make a small mistake, and there's a little tap on your shoulder in the form of some small consequence. As you continue to make the same mistake over and over the taps/consequences get stronger and stronger until one day they get to a point where they smack you upside the head. You can avoid this by recognizing the taps and changing your behavior. You have to wonder how many black eyes the NHL needs to get before they start looking for those taps a little earlier.
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