Union files Kovalchuk grievance

Updated: July 26, 2010, 7:44 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

As expected, the National Hockey League Players' Association filed a grievance with the NHL Monday over the league's decision to reject last week's 17-year deal between star winger Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils.

The players' union had until 5 p.m. ET Monday to grieve the rejection of what would have been the longest contract in NHL history.

The league is asserting the deal -- worth $102 million in total, $95 million of which would be paid out over the first 10 years of the deal -- circumvents the collective bargaining agreement. Kovalchuk would make just $550,000 a year for the final five years under the terms of the proposed deal. Kovalchuk, 27, would be 44 years of age if he played through to the end of the deal.

The Devils and the union believe the deal is a just one and that there is no language in the CBA that should prevent the deal from being ratified.

The NHL acknowledged that it has received a copy of the grievance.

"Although there is no defined timetable at this point, we intend to work with the Players' Association to ensure an expeditious resolution of this dispute," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "The league looks forward to the opportunity to establish its position before the arbitrator."

Daly said that the league would not have further comment until the issue was resolved.

Although there is language in the CBA suggesting the grievance should be heard by an independent arbitrator within 48 hours of the grievance being filed, that's unlikely to happen.

First, the union and the league will have to agree on an arbitrator who will hear the case and that may take several days. Then there is the case itself, which is likely to take more than a day to hear, with both sides expected to present documents and witnesses to support their case. So it's unknown when the actual decision might be rendered.

The arbitrator will then provide a written decision.

If the contract is upheld, it will be a black eye for the league as GMs will likely be free to continue to award long-term, front-loaded deals (often referred to as "cheat" deals) to players until the next collective bargaining agreement is hammered out at the end of the 2011-12 season.

If the arbitrator rules the Devils did try to circumvent the CBA with the deal, Kovalchuk will become an unrestricted free agent and be free to sign with any team -- including the Devils. The Devils could also be subject to fines and/or penalties, including the loss of draft picks.

Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said last week that he believed that the contract complied with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. He also said he would not comment again until the grievance process played out.

Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, also said last week that he wouldn't comment until the matter is resolved.

Kovalchuk was drafted first overall by the Thrashers in 2001 and has 338 goals and 304 assists in 642 career NHL games. Last season, he had 41 goals and 44 assists. He was traded to New Jersey in February.

By extending Kovalchuk's contract and paying him less money late in the deal, the Devils lowered their salary-cap hit to $6 million annually.

Other long-term deals have been signed without incident, though none is as long or tapers as sharply as Kovalchuk's.

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo has a $63 million, 12-year deal that pays only $7 million over the final four seasons and takes him to age 43. Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks will be 42 at the end of his $62.8 million, 12-year contract that pays $3.5 million in the last four seasons.

Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings and Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers are among those with similar contracts. In length, the Kovalchuk deal tops New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro's 15 years and Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin's 13.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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