Kovalchuk extension, and I think I know why

And with that, the Kovalchuk saga officially stretches from July 4 to Labor Day.

Bettman, Fehr may work to solve Kovy deal - sportsnet.ca
Can NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA advisor Donald Fehr resolve the Ilya Kovalchuk contract conundrum? A source told Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos via e-mail: "Don't rule out a possible resolution between Bettman and Fehr moving forward."

I was going to write a snarky post about how the CBA doesn't allow them to reach a "resolution" that doesn't involve the league either rejecting or approving the contract. I was going to say, the CBA prohibits renegotiating contracts. But then it was announced that the league and the NHLPA have agreed to extend the decision deadline to Friday.

Which certainly sounds like there's some extracurricular talking going on.

EJ Hradek (EJHradek_ESPN) on Twitter
Decision to extend deadline on Kovy contract speaks to an ongoing dialogue b/sides as well as multi-leveled ramifications of final ruling

Here's the thing. We're not in some kind of negotiation phase. We're in the approval/rejection phase. The only reason for there to be "on-going dialogue between the two sides" is that the NHL has already decided to reject the contract.

Let's think about it. New Jersey submits a SIGNED contract. The NHL can either approve or reject. If they approve, we're done. It's not five days later and we're not having this conversation. There is no, "we'll approve this, but --" clause. Because New Jersey doesn't care at all about the "but" after the word "approve." The only reason to talk further is if the league is going to reject.

But if they're going to reject, why talk? Why "on-going dialogue"?

Since rejecting the contract puts the ball in the NHLPA's court, the only reason to have "dialogue" is to work out "what you're going to do if I do this." If the league rejects, will the NHLPA dispute? On the face of it, the answer is an obvious yes.

But maybe not.

Here's my thinking. The league wants to reject this contract (or else they would have approved it two days ago). But they don't want to go to arbitration. Because they know, like I said yesterday, that the NHLPA has a much stronger case this time around, and there's much greater chance of the arbitrator approving the contract over the league's objections. If the league rejects AND the union disputes, then the decision is an arbitrator's, thumbs up, thumbs down. That's it.

But if the league rejects and the union does not dispute, then the contract is void and there is no arbitration. So, if the league can get the union to agree in advance that they will not dispute the rejection -- presumably the league promises not to pursue penalties -- then the league and the union, in tandem, can go to the Devils and Grossman and tell them exactly what they have to do to make this work.

This is a special circumstance. Kovalchuk is a big deal. The union has a new leader (maybe). The league must balance the integrity of the CBA and not losing star players to other leagues (which after all would compromise the integrity of the CBA, if it's driving marquee players away).

I think what's happened, in effect, is the contract has already been provisionally rejected in secret, and the league and the union are working with the club and player to announce a new approved deal on Friday.

That's the only sense I can make out of "on-going dialogue between the two sides."

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