In a surprising twist to the never-ending saga of Ilya Kovalchuk's free agency, system arbitrator Richard Bloch has rejected the NHLPA's grievance and upheld the league's rejection of Kovalchuk's 17-year $102-million dollar deal with the Devils.
Bloch's decision came early Monday evening after overseeing last week's hearing, during which each side made their respective case. Bloch ultimately ruled that Kovalchuk's severely front-loaded contract indeed defied the spirit of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and constituted circumvention.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly released the following statement on NHL.com:
"We want to thank Arbitrator Bloch for his prompt resolution of a complex issue. His ruling is consistent with the League's view of the manner in which the Collective Bargaining Agreement should deal with contracts that circumvent the Salary Cap."
The Players' Association released a statement of its own regarding the ruling:
"The NHLPA is disappointed with the Arbitrator's ruling to uphold the NHL's rejection of the contract between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk....The NHLPA is currently reviewing the decision and will have no further comment at this time."
And so the wait continues.
The ruling ensures that Kovalchuk is once again an unrestricted free agent. And while the Devils can attempt to re-structure the deal, whether they'll be able to pull of such a feat with cap constraints remains to be seen.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello expressed his disappointment over the decision, but also indicated the team would attempt to revise Kovalchuk's deal to meet the Bloch and the league's approval.
“We have reviewed and respect Arbitrator Bloch's ruling in the Kovalchuk matter. We also note and appreciate his finding that nothing in his opinion should be read as suggesting that either the club or Ilya Kovalchuk operated in bad faith or on the basis of any assumption other than that the Standard Player Contract was fully compliant with the CBA. That has been our consistent position throughout," Lamoriello said in a statement released by the team.
“While we do not currently have a contract with Ilya Kovalchuk, discussions have resumed and we are hopeful that a contract will be reached that meets with the principles in Arbitrator Bloch's award and the NHL's approval.”
Kovalchuk reportedly received offers in July from the KHL and the Los Angeles Kings. The Islanders were once considered "in the mix" for the star sniper, but never even made an offer and were merely interested in signing him to a short-term deal.