The Expected Result
Who knows? An arbitrator could, theoretically, shock the hockey world today.
But most don't expect that to happen, and instead it's likely Ilya Kovalchuk will officially become a New Jersey Devil, with his controversial 17-year, $102 million deal approved.
Arbitrator Richard Bloch has promised his ruling by 5 p.m. today, It remains curious to many NHL observers that it was the Devils and GM Lou Lamoriello that offered up the front-loaded contract, which pays out $99 million of the value over the first 12 years in a deal designed to keep the annual cap hit at a manageable $6 million.
If the deal was ruled illegal under NHL rules, the 27-year-old Kovalchuk would become an unrestricted free agent again, and it's believed the Los Angeles Kings would be first in line to try and sign him, although Jersey could re-work the deal. Assuming Kovalchuk's contract's contract isn't struck down, the Kings may again turn their attention to Tomas Kaberle of the Maple Leafs, knowing that division rival San Jose is already bidding to acquire Kaberle before his no-trade clause kicks in again next Sunday at midnight.
Along with the Sharks, those teams still interested in Kaberle are thought to be Boston, Tampa Bay and St. Louis. If the Devils were to lose Kovalchuk they might look to make a deal for Kaberle, but few expect that to happen.
The league rejected Kovalchuk's contract as an attempt to circumvent the salary cap, which is of course exactly what it is, an effort to squeeze $65 million worth of players under a $58 million cap, basically.
Problem is, the league has approved similar contracts in the past, and the loopholes exist in the CBA that allow these kind of financial arrangements. Moreover, both Chicago and Philadelphia made it to last spring's Stanley Cup final with these kinds of contracts on their roster, which makes it seem they offer a competitive advantage to teams willing to sign them.
It's seems almost certain these long-term, front-loaded contracts won't be permissable after the current CBA expires in two years. The question now is how many teams will try to use the loophole while it exists, and whether the NHL will continue to try to fight.