Scrapping long-term NHL contracts is a bad idea | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaScrapping long-term NHL contracts is a bad idea

Posted: Sunday, July 8, 2012 | 09:12 AM

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Ryan Suter, left, inked a 13-year deal with the Minnesota Wild in the offseason while former teammate Shea Weber, right, will be a free agent next summer. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Ryan Suter, left, inked a 13-year deal with the Minnesota Wild in the offseason while former teammate Shea Weber, right, will be a free agent next summer. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Craig Leipold, Chuck Fletcher and the citizens of Minnesota certainly won't care, but a franchise-changing week for their Wild reignited the debate over long-term NHL "cap circumventing" deals.

Here's the thing, though: changing the rules is an even worse idea.
Craig Leipold, Chuck Fletcher and the citizens of Minnesota certainly won't care, but a franchise-changing week for their Wild reignited the debate over long-term NHL "cap circumventing" deals.

Here's the thing, though: changing the rules is an even worse idea.

We don't know what the free-agency rules are going to be in the new CBA, but we do know this: the Nashville Predators need to find common ground with Shea Weber. And, next summer, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to have to do the same with Evgeni Malkin.

And, if there is a shorter term limit for contracts, franchise players like Weber and Malkin are going to have no choice but the start the negotiations with one sentence.

"I'll take the max."

The NHL and (some) of its teams might not like the twin 13-year, $98 million deals signed by Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. But, let's say for argument's sake, hockey had a system where players could only sign five-year contracts.

Suter is 27. Parise is weeks away from 28. Weber will be just shy of 28 when he (tentatively) hits free agency next summer. Malkin will be 26 when (under current rules) the Penguins can begin negotiating an extension with him.

All of those players will be in their primes, and in pro sports, your window for maximum earning is finite. With the current "super contracts," you can take less money on the back end to help your team's cap situation.

With a five-year maximum, you can't. None of those guys is going down to $1 or $2 million at age 31 or 32 -- nor should they. It's completely unreasonable to expect the league's best players to do that, especially in a sport where one big hit can ruin your career.

Increase in cap hits

Now, that doesn't mean Weber or Malkin (or Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf or Taylor Hall) are all going to sign five-year, $70 million deals. But what it does mean is that cap hits will go up. Right now, Alexander Ovechkin's $9.538 million is number one. It won't stay that way. Someone (if not more than one player) will surpass that.

Don't see how that helps a Nashville or a Florida or a Phoenix or other haters of the current setup. In fact, it's another advantage for the cash-rich teams. Especially when you consider two other factors:

*There are going to be more summers like this one, with precious few A-list free agents chased by a large number of teams. Just wander through capgeek to see how many cornerstone players are signed long-term.

*You could end up seeing players emulate what LeBron James did in the NBA. James signed consecutive three-year contracts (first in 2007 with Cleveland, then in 2010 with Miami) to maximize his opportunities at free agency. James left $15 million on the table when he signed with the Heat, but it's hard not seeing him making up that figure (and more) now that he's led them to one NBA championship and another Finals appearance. (James, if he desires, can extend his contract at his option for two more seasons.)

It's a bit risky for an NHLer because basketball doesn't have as much lethal contact as hockey. But, could Malkin, as an example, say to Pittsburgh, "If I can't have the Crosby 12-year deal, I'll take three max years at age 27 and another five at 30. Please and thank you." Under the current CBA, that's more than Crosby's new contract, but at a brutal cap hit.

You know if the Penguins don't do that, someone else will -- and with a smile. Now, is that better than what the NHL has now?

So, what's the solution? Well, here's an idea -- the signing bonuses. Parise and Suter are getting $25 million in bonuses between now and July 1, 2014. Part of this is lockout protection (their actual salaries are $2 million for each of the next two years).

Once we have labour peace (and if there is a God it will be soon), you can limit them. Say the NHL and NHLPA agree on a nine-year deal, matching the new US television contract. You could set it up so that no player can have a bonus higher than 25-50 per cent of his base salary in any year where a season is guaranteed.

That's just off-the-top-of-my-head spit-balling, but you get the idea. Whatever the case, that's better than limiting contract lengths in the hope more teams will be able to sign players. That would just make things worse.

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