NHL: Hockey Players Should Be Used Up and Thrown Out

Yesterday, the NHL Players’ Association filed a grievance against the league for voiding the contract of Ilya Kovalchuk, who had signed a 17-year deal with the New Jersey Devils, which would have lasted till Kovalchuk was 44.

The league had two objections to the deal: It was unrealistically long, and the salary dropped in the deal’s later years—meaning that Kovalchuk could retire and keep getting paid without consuming too much of the Devils’ payroll. The general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, supporting the league’s decision, compared Kovalchuk signing the contract to a murderer getting off on a technicality and said the Devils used “a loophole that somehow defeats the purpose of the collective bargaining agreement.”

The two complaints about the contract, though, cancel each other out. Kovalchuk will undoubtedly be a less effective hockey player once he’s in his late 30s and 40s. So the Devils would spend less money on him then. While he’s a young superstar, he’ll get paid like a young superstar; when he’s an aging role player, he’ll get paid like one. He’ll probably be out of the game before he gets all the way to 44 (though he’d still be eight years younger than Gordie Howe was). Then again, if he’s reasonably priced, the Devils won’t have any incentive to hurry him into retirement. Either way, he won’t be Bobby Bonilla .