Devils playing with fire?

Ilya Kovalchuk signed a 17-year monster deal worth $102-million with the New Jersey Devils.

Ilya Kovalchuk signed a 17-year monster deal worth $102-million with the New Jersey Devils.

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

If you know of any toddlers, be them your own or a friend’s, think about them for a moment.

Think of those infants, with their wobbly steps, who have just reached their first birthday or about to turn one year old.

Their whole lives lay before them, with the hopes and dreams of their parents.

Now, consider this: Those children will graduate from high school before Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract — as being reported — will finish.

That’s right. That bundle of joy learning to walk and talk (soon enough their parents will be saying ‘sit down and shut up’) and will graduate in June 2027 will receive their diploma before Kovalchuk’s contract — to be officially announced Tuesday — is complete.

At that time, Kovalchuk, the sniper who has amassed 338 goals in eight NHL seasons, will announce a contract reportedly worth US$102 million over 17 seasons.

That’s right — 17. Crazy numbers to consider in the sporting world.

“Does the GM who signed the deal have a 17-year career in front of him?” said one agent Monday.

“To me, it speaks to the incompetence of the league. If they were concerned with contract-term limits, why didn’t they cut it off?

“Thirty owners have to be asking what (NHL deputy commissioner) Bill Daly and (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman were doing when the issue wasn’t covered (in negotiations).”

The length of the deal allows Kovalchuk to receive a massive payday — reportedly nearly $90 million over the first nine years of the deal — but it will drop in the final years to make it cap-friendly.

For example, if the contract is worth $102 million, a 17-year deal would mean a $6-million salary cap hit. That’s less than the Calgary Flames are incurring for each year of Jay Bouwmeester’s current pact.

It’s hardly the first deal to use a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement.

The eight-year contract Daniel Briere signed before the 2007-08 season started at $10 million, before heading to $8 million for a couple of years, $7 million a couple of more seasons and then to $3 million and finally $2 million. When the deal expires, he’ll be 38.

That opened the Pandora’s Box.

Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff signed a six-year pact which started in 2008-09. It went from $8.5 million the first season and slowly falls to $1.5 million in the 2013-14 season.

He’ll turn 37 the first month of that final season. The question came immediately: Will he play that year or not?

Since then, deals with that model have come fast and furious.

The Detroit Red Wings signed Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen that way.

The Boston Bruins did the same with Marc Savard.

Marian Hossa’s 12-year pact with the Chicago Blackhawks, which has a $5.233-million average, pays him $7.9 million annually for seven years and then averages to less than $1 million over the final four years.

He’ll turn 37 midway through the 2016-17 season. The next year, he’s scheduled to have a $1-million salary. Will he be playing in the NHL at age 38?

Will Chris Pronger play beyond 40? The final two years of his new deal with the Philadelphia Flyers expects him to play for $525,000 annually.

Will Kovalchuk be skating in the NHL at age 43? He’ll have to if he’s still under that same contract.

It’s crazy to consider, but it’s impossible to say those contracts are right or wrong for hockey. Maybe Hossa will be skating beyond 40 in Chicago and contributing to a level which makes his salary fit fine within a cap around $70 million while earning pay at a fraction of it.

Same for Kovalchuk in New Jersey.

That’s the high-water mark of positive possibilities.

But teams sure are taking a gamble.

Insurance plans and early retirements can allow them to get away with theory of spending big dollars now and paying with reduced salary-cap space later. (Contracts signed by players younger than 35 don’t count toward the salary cap if a player retires or is sidelined by a long-term injury.)

The danger is Player X is still skating but is nowhere near the level of expectations.

Say Kovalchuk is a 20-goal scorer five years from now. That would mean Devils GM Lou Lamoriello — who will be in his 80s when Kovalchuk’s deal expires — has left his successor handcuffed.

He and the Devils owners are willing to take the chance, for whatever reason. And know it will come into play when they sign Devils star Zach Parise.

Bank on the NHL not allowing those deals to happen in the future.

Or at least using it as a bargaining chip in the next CBA.


Videos

Photos