Your "high-level NHL person" should read the CBA

NHL rejects Ilya Kovalchuk contract with New Jersey Devils | All Things Avs
Here’s what one high-level NHL person told me me tonight about this development: "Much ado about nothing…it’s a slap on the wrist, nothing more. NJ and Kovy have 5 days to restructure. They will move some dollars around, shave 2 years and League will approve. The NHL accepted Hossa, Luongo and Pronger…Precedent has already been set. No way to put the genie back in the bottle now."

No, no, no and no. Read the CBA. Or read my post that quotes the relevant bits:

11.6 Rejection of SPCs and/or Offer Sheets; Subsequent Challenge and/or De- Registration of SPCs (a) Rejection of SPCs and/or Offer Sheets. In the case of an SPC [...] that is filed and rejected by the League, the following rules and procedures shall apply... [more at "Kovalchuk Day 20 -- We're BAAACK!"]

See that part in bold? That means that, once the league has rejected the SPC, the outlined procedure must be followed.

That procedure (follow the link above for the details) is, simply, the NHLPA decides whether or not to protest. If they don't, the SPC is voided and the case goes back to Bettman to issue what he deems to be the appropriate penalties, and he doesn't have the option of having there be no penalty. The minimum is a $1MM fine and cap hit. If the NHLPA decides to protest, it goes to an arbitrator and there is a ruling within 48 hours. If the ruling upholds the league's rejection, then the case goes back to Bettman to issue the appropriate penalties, as before. 

At no point is there an opportunity for New Jersey and Kovy to "restructure" in order to avoid the arbiter's ruling. "The rules and procedures shall [must] apply." Check out my previous post -- Something Really Bad (for New Jersey) That No One is Talking About -- for a more detailed discussion. 

And as far as "the precedent has been set" vis-a-vis Pronger, Hossa, etc., I suggest you consider the following clause of the CBA:

26.10 Investigations. (d) There shall be no limitation of time barring the investigation of a Circumvention by the Commissioner.

In other words, Bettman can investigate any of those contracts and declare them to be circumventions also. The "genie" can absolutely be put back in the bottle.

Now, I'm about to say something that I in no way believe will ever transpire, but I'm mentioning it only because I find the fact of it fascinating. But, underline: I don't think this is going to happen or that there is even a remote chance of it happening.

Bettman has it within his authority to investigate Hossa's contract and rule it to be "de-registered" as a circumvention. If an arbiter were to uphold that, one of Bettman's penalties, which he can apply at his sole descretion, is to cause the circumventing club (Chicago) to forfeit any and all games influenced by the circumvention (i.e. Hossa). Which means Bettman could conceivably declare that Chicago's record last season is hereby 0-82-0. Since there would be, in the wake of such madness, no way to determine a Cup winner for that season, I would have to assume he would stop short of this "remedy." Though it's funny to imagine Bettman getting drunk and calling Bowman in the middle of the night issuing a threat along those lines. 

But he likes Chicago, so he wouldn't do that. 

Which people are bound to point out, if the Kovalchuk rejection is in fact upheld.

Oh, this is going to get ugly.

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