Chances are, you know the history by now. Savard signed a 7 year, $28.05M deal that the NHL wasn't thrilled about at the time, and now, at least theoretically, has ammunition to attack, given that they've not only gotten Kovalchuk's absurd 17 year contract overturned, but was specifically mentioned by the arbitrator as a contract that may have "circumvented" the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The NHL is now in the process of investigating whether this deal (and those signed by Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo and Chris Pronger) may have circumvented the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
For what it's worth, I believe the Devils may have deliberately triggered this. They've long been a team pushing fiscal responsibility, and may have seen this as a chance to force the league to take action. That contract was so absurd that if the league didn't take action with that, the language about circumventing the salary cap would be meaningless. Lou Lamiorello isn't a stupid man. If they walk away from Kovy, and let the Isles or Kings or Russkies sign him, we'll know for sure.
Let us dispense with two things before getting to Savvy: they aren't overturning Marian Hossa's deal, and they aren't overturning Chris Pronger's deal.
They're not overturning Pronger's deal for a pretty simple reason: it's an over 35 deal, and thus cannot be a circumvention of the salary cap, since the Flyers are stuck with that money on their cap even after he retires. There's evidence, actually, that the Flyers thought it wasn't an over 35 contract and were mistaken. Despite their best efforts, the Flyers played by the rules. This is like the scene in "A Few Good Men" where Tom Cruise is negotiating a plea bargain for client who smokes a dimebag of oregano; being a moron isn't against the law.
They're not overturning Hossa's deal for a similarly simple reason: he's already been cashing checks on it for a year. If the CBA gives the NHL the theoretical right to overturn any contract, it's impossible to imagine the can of worms they'd be opening by voiding Hossa's contract a year after he started it. For openers, Hossa and his agent would surely sue the NHL, and they'd be right to do so. Letting the guy work under a 12 year contract for a year and then void it opens up a pretty good estoppel argument. If the contract is voided, does Hossa lose his long awaited and much deserved Stanley Cup ring and his spot on the Cup? What about the rest of the league howling with indignity about the Blackhawks using an ineligible player as a key member of their Cup-winning squad? Gary Bettman is an idiot, but even he can't be dumb enough to pick this fight. (Unless of course he really is a plant by David Stern to eliminate the NHL as a competitor, in which case all bets are off.)
That brings us to Savard. 7 years, $28.05 million, structured as follows:
|SEASON||AHL SALARY||NHL SALARY||P. BONUSES||S. BONUS||CAP HIT|
Let us dispense with the indignities: OF COURSE the Bruins were trying to get around the salary cap. Savard is playing the last 2 years of the deal (and arguably the last 3) at relative slave wages. He's 33 now, and will be 39 at the end of the contract. It is unlikely that he will play those last 2, maybe last 3, years. The obviously tacked-on years are precisely what Richard Bloch was citing in his decision as the reason for striking the Kovalchuk deal.
The primary difference, in my view, is that Kovy's deal paid him until age 45. There is zero chance he'll still be playing by then, not in the NHL, anyway. Savard, however, is a crisp-passing finesse center who excels on the power play. If it's unlikely he'll still be playing in 2016, it's hardly impossible. Savard's game is the sort that ages well; he doesn't rely on great speed, nor is he a very physical player. He relies on hockey sense, positioning and an ability to make good passes. These are qualities that age well. One could easily envision Savard sticking around at age 38 or so as a power play specialist. Skilled older players that may not be as valuable as they once were still frequently provide value on the power play, since they can conserve energy by playing in one zone for long stretches.
The Bruins are gambling that Savard will retire by then, and they won't be paying $4M against the cap for a 3rd line center who's a power play specialist. However, if he is still playing then, a salary close to the veteran minimum might be in line with the value for his services, meaning that his actual dollars earned would be in line with the market, even if the cap hit was skewed. He could, of course, also be bought out around 2015 or so, with essentially no negative cap impact. That, I suspect, is the only reason this is a consideration.
So why wouldn't the NHL void this, since it's pretty clearly a circumvention of the salary cap, if not necessarily as egregious as the Kovy deal?
The first reason, as I noted above, is that Savard still might be playing at that age, which makes it less problematic.
The second reason is that they've already approved the deal. True, Savard has yet to cash a paycheck from that extension, which separates him from Hossa, and thus has far less legal standing to challenge the league. But still, they'd be faced with the possibility of making a very good player a free agent on the eve of training camp, with most of the league having already filled out their roster and his own team in bad shape with the salary cap. That puts Savard in a pretty bad spot, one which the league could have avoided by addressing this when the deal was signed. Do they REALLY want to force a sudden reshuffling of contending rosters like the Bruins and Canucks just before camp (even if neither team might be all that unhappy about seeing these deals voided)? The NHL has credited as a major bright spot the resurgence of Boston and Chicago as hockey towns, I'm not sure they want to go kicking at that now.
The third reason is that this uncertainty benefits the league. We know that 17 year contracts are unacceptable. Fine. What about 13 year? 12? 11? Where's the line? Teams know, at some point, that the NHL will step in and challenge a contract extension, but where? The NHL can force GMs to be cautious by not drawing a definitive line in the sand; no GM wants to see his prize acquisition set free by an arbitrator (except, perhaps, Lamiorello). They can very easily say "we don't approve of these deals, in light of Arbitrator Bloch's decision, but to challenge them after the fact would be unfair" and put GMs on the run without actually doing anything. Let's say they challenge the Savard or Luongo deals. What if they lose, as they might? Now, GMs know "okay, 12 years for Luongo and 7 years for Savard were okay, I can go to that point."
The NHL benefits greatly from the uncertainty of the situation, and risks far too much by voiding these contracts. They're not doing it.
Marc Savard will remain a Boston Bruin.
(Unless, you know, they finally get around to trading him.)