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From My Mom's Basement: Violating the CBA

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Kovalchuk: What are we going to do if someone gets hurt?

Vanderbeek: Don't worry about it, kid.
Kovalchuk: What are we going to do if someone gets hurt? Vanderbeek: Don't worry about it, kid.

The ramifications of the Ilya Kovalchuk singing by the New Jersey Devils are far reaching and not yet completely understood. To be sure, the parties, while not in an express manner, knew that Kovalchuk would never fulfill the original deal, and that the contract was designed to circumvent the cap. The NHL called them on it, the NHLPA argued and lost, and the parties found a compromise that allowed this one final cap circumventing contract, while screwing the other members of the NHLPA.

On Monday, the Devils were "forced" to skate just 15 skaters in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They claim that they did not have the cap space to call players up from the AHL in order to skate a full roster following a suspension, and a handful of injuries. Problem is? This violates the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

After the jump, how it violates the CBA and what the NHL plans to do about it.

Surely you jest, Mr. Reynolds, this is not a violation of the CBA. Clearly, they just don't have the money to skate a full roster, and you are a bitter, stupid little man.

Well... the CBA disagrees:

16.4 Active Roster Size; Playing Roster.

(a) For the 2005/06 League Year and thereafter, there shall be a maximum of twenty-three (23) Players on each Club's Active Roster at any one time, provided, however, that, on the date of each season's Trade Deadline, a Club's Active Roster may be increased to any number of Players the Club, in its discretion, so determines, subject to Article 50 hereof.

(b) Except in case of emergency, there shall be no reduction of the required minimum Playing Rosters of the Clubs, below eighteen (18) skaters and two (2) goaltenders.

Yeah, well, so what?

The big question that needs to be answered is: What constitutes an emergency? In times of doubt, define the word, right?

From Websters Dictionary:

emergency: an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action

I understand if you have 23 players on the roster, the game starts in an hour and suddenly food poisoning hits 9 guys. I get it. It's an emergency. If, heaven forbid, there were an accident that left players unable to play, it's an emergency. If during the warm ups, guys get into a giant fight and they are hurt, I would understand. These are emergencies. Mismanagement and short sightedness are not emergencies.

As the old management axiom says: "Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." Using the plain text definition, we run into trouble right away. A failure to plan for the injury of your players, and to not leave room under the cap should an injury occur, cannot feasibly be categorized as "unforeseen." The signing of Kovalchuck was done intentionally, and in great detail, using lawyers and the courts to finally make it happen. Clearly, they knew what the contract would do to their cap situation.

They, meaning Lou Lamoriello, knew what he was doing to the team, and knew he would be put in this situation if an injury occurred. To tell me otherwise is to insult both my intelligence, and his. It is a planned, and ridiculous abuse of the CBA.

Big Deal. Who Cares?

Clearly, not the one one organization that should care the most, the NHL. Bill Daly told TSN:

While technically the Devils situation is not classified as an emergency, it appears as though there will be no supplementary punishment dealt out by the NHL.

"Emergencies have historically included games missed due to player injury, games missed due to player suspension and games missed due to roster/cap situations. This is not an unprecedented situation. It has happened before, both pre- and post-lockout."

The NHL, once again, falls back on the "We've done it wrong for so long, we have to let them keep doing it" defense. Sorry Mr. Daly, multiple wrongs do not make it right. The Devils should be punished by the league for conduct detrimental to the league. Clearly, the NHL is not going to sue the Devils to enforce the contract, but they should certainly make it clear that they do not want to be sued because of the Devils' ignorance and apathy to the agreement they signed.

Sued? Who is going to sue the NHL or the Devils? You're cracked.

The NHLPA has a case here. If they had any balls, they would file suit, or at least a grievance, and make the NHL enforce the agreement signed by both parties. The Devils clearly violated the CBA, and that, in contract law, is known as "breech of contract," and is punishable by the courts. Will the PA sue? Not on your life. Why flex your muscles and force the other side to actually live up to the agreement when it so much easier to simply allow the NHL to do whatever it wants while you timidly curl up in a ball and beg not to be beaten?

The players want, and need, a strong union. The two sides canceled an entire season of hockey in order to work out this deal, and the players gave into the league on the biggest sticking point. Now, the league won't even hold up its end of the bargain? That is pure BS, and the players know it.

The PA needs to stand up for the rights of its members and take action on this. Not in fifteen games when the Devils do it again, and not at the end of the CBA. They need to act now. They need to call out the league and its member teams and hold them accountable.

One line from a quote on Puck Daddy's take on the situation sums up why the PA should be the most concerned. Wysh quotes Bruce Dowbriggin as saying this:

It robs players of pensionable days, games toward free agency and other benefits. Plus it puts a greater stress of the short-handed team.

"Robs" is a powerful word, and in this case, completely true. At least two players were robbed of time served in the league, which are important to their careers. One day of service can come back to haunt a player. In addition to that, the additional stress line is what should worry them the most. If this is allowed to continue, the players on the ice during those games are going to fatigue sooner, and fatigue leads to injury. This simply should not be allowed.

Waa, waa, waa. Millionaires complaining that other millionaires are robbing their millionaire buddies of game time.

To be fair, most of the players truly affected by this are likely not the millionaire set. However, the people who pay the biggest price here are the fans of the New Jersey Devils. They just paid to build a giant, beautiful new stadium for this team to play in, they pay their astronomical ticket price, and then they are forced to watch this? Unacceptable.

If it's me? I'm at the box office asking for my money back, but maybe that's just me. I also think DirecTV owes me money for not carrying Versus last season, and that DISH Network should lower their prices while arguing with content providers, such as FOX, that their viewers are already paying for.

They paid the price of admission to watch the New Jersey Devils. They did not pay the price of admission to watch most of the New Jersey Devils.

So, smart guy, what do you do about it?

First, the Devils would get fined what ever the maximum amount allowed under the CBA is for "conduct detrimental to the league." You think Sean Avery or James Wisniewski are embarrassing, this is ridiculous, and makes the league look like a bunch of freshman accounting majors.

Second, the leagues teams would be told, in writing, that any further violations of the CBA, in any way, shape or form, would be punished in the same manner.

Third, acting as the NHLPA, I would file a grievance and a lawsuit. I would ask for damages equal to the amount of lost pay for two players at the average NHL salary, the monetary value of a lost day of service for two players, and punitive damages to ensure it did not happen again.

Of course, the NHL and the NHLPA don't think, or act, in terms of the real world, so this will happen; all will simply be ignored and:

  • The fans in New Jersey are forced to endure a season of gross incompetence
  • The league embarrasses itself, yet again
  • The NHLPA pisses itself quietly in the corner
  • Lou keeps his job because owners aren't going to hold any one accountable
  • The players get jobbed from both sides since neither of the entities that claim to care about them actually do

Someday, someone is going to push back against the NHL, and the executives are going to be forced to take a very close look at just how terribly they run such a major corporation. If they were a publicly traded company, the lot of them would have been bounced a decade ago. Until someone holds them accountable for violating their agreements, no one wins.