What Ilya Kovalchuk's contract rejection means for Chris Pronger

The 35-plus extension Chris Pronger signed back in July of 2009 begins this year. As the carcass known as the Ilya Kovalchuk contract mess has been dragged along the road at a snails pace over the last month and a half, Pronger's deal has often been brought up as a point of reference.

In his ruling in the Kovalchuk case, Richard Bloch mentioned Pronger's deal, as well as the deals of three other specific NHL players -- Marian Hossa, Marc Savard and Roberto Luongo. The relevant portion is below (we've spaced it a bit for easier consumption).

It is true, as the Association observes, that the NHL has registered contracts with structures similar to the Kovalchuk SPC PA Exh. 8 reflects a list of 11 multi-year agreements, all of which involve players in their mid to late 30’s and early 40’s.

Most of them reflect reasonably substantial "diveback" (salary reductions that extend over the "tails" of the Agreement). Of these, four such agreements, with players Chris Pronger, Marc Savard, Roberto Luongo, and Marian Hossa reflect provisions that are relatively more dramatic than the others. Each of these players will be 40 or over at the end of the contract term and each contract includes dramatic divebacks.

Pronger’s annual salary, for example, drops from $4,000,000 to $525,000 at the point he is earning almost 97% of the total $34,450,000 salary. Roberto Luongo, with Vancouver, has a 12- year agreement that will end when he is 43. After averaging some $7,000,000 per year for the first 9 years of the Agreement, Luongo will receive an average of about 1.2 million during his last 3 years, amounting to some 5.7% of the total compensation during that time period.

The apparent purpose of this evidence is to suggest that the League’s concern is late blooming and/or inconsistent. Several responses are in order: First, while the contracts have, in fact, been registered, their structure has not escaped League notice: those SPCs are being investigated currently with at least the possibility of a subsequent withdrawal of the registration.

It is also the case that the figures in Kovalchuk’s case are demonstrably more dramatic, including a 17-year term length, a $102,000,000 salary total and precipitous drop that lasts for the final six years of this contract.

The two interesting points to take away from this: 1) Pronger's contract is "being investigated currently with at least the possibility of a subsequent withdrawal of the registration" and 2) Kovalchuk's case is "demonstrably more dramatic" than the other four cited in Bloch's ruling.

I take the following away from those two statements: yes, the League has those other deals on their radar, but they do not intend to reject them in the same fashion as they have done with Kovalchuk's deal. Lou Lamiorello, the Devils and Kovalchuk crossed a line by pushing the number of years to 17, pushing the salary to $102 million and pushing the "diveback" years to a whopping six, according to Bloch.

Thus, that's where the line is drawn -- somewhere between the deals with Pronger, Savard, Luongo and Hossa and this deal with Kovalchuk. Somewhere between 12 years, $64 million and four diveback years versus 17 years, $102 million and six diveback years. At least that's how I interpret what's said above.

It'll be interesting to see if GM's test the waters in between those figures -- say, a 15 year contract worth $85 million and 5 diveback years.

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