Note to NHL GM’s – This is Getting out of Hand

Ilya Kovalchuk signed an unprecedented 17 year contract on Monday

If you have ever wondered what it is like to run a circus you can just ask NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Since the implementation of the hard cap in the NHL, teams have started giving contracts that are almost as crazy as an elephant on the high wire. These outrageously long contracts are being given to players with the benefit of having a lower cap hit, albeit for a longer period of time. Having a cap in the NHL is a great thing but the ringmaster’s of this operation are soon going to be sorry for their short-sightedness.

Lou Lamoriello, who is known as one of the most shrewd general managers in the NHL, did something very un-Lou like yesterday by signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a massive 17 year contract worth approximately $102 million. Kovalchuk, who was probably the most sought after free agent this off-season, had been rumoured to be close to a long-term deal with the LA Kings a couple of times. It was also reported that he had turned down a 10 year $100 million contract extension last year from the Atlanta Thrashers.

Are you kidding me? Kovalchuk is a point a game guy who is not an experienced playoff veteran. You’re telling me he’s worth $100 million over 10-17 years?

For the most part, this off-season has been filled with more reasonable contracts, but the unprecedented Kovalchuk signing may just be the freak show that NHL GM’s needed to wake them up from this dream.

In the business of sports, winning now is one of the most important things to fans and owners alike. However, the price for winning sometimes comes at a great cost to the future.

These long-term contracts look all fine and dandy when players are in their prime and performing at optimum levels, but what happens when their play starts to digress little bit by little bit?

What is going to happen is that 5 or 6 years down the line, maybe less, these players that are being signed to double-digit contracts in the prime of their career are going to start receiving a lot of criticism for not playing to the level of their contract.

Johan Franzen was signed to an 11 year contract worth $43 million dollars at the age of 29. His best season consists of 34 goals and 25 assists in 71 games, which is less than a point a game. Franzen is undoubtedly a valuable player to the Detroit franchise, but at a cap hit of $3.9 million annually it is not going to be a bargain in the years to come.

Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg both signed double-digit year contracts

What about Henrik Zetterberg? At 28 years old he signed a 12 year deal worth an estimated $73 million for a cap hit at around $6 million per year. Zetterberg can be a plus point a game guy for a team, and is one of the best wingers in the league. However, once he starts reaching the age of 34 or 35 you are going to start to see his play drop to some extent.

Oh yeah, what the heck is a team supposed to do when their player is not performing at the level expected of them even at the supposed peak of their career?

The Tampa Bay Lighting and the Vancouver Canucks have already started to see the error of their ways in the signings of Vincent Lecavalier and Roberto Luongo respectively. In the last two seasons, Lecavalier has already started to show some possible signs of aging, where he scored 67 and 70 points while failing to reach the 30-goal mark. At the age of 30, who knows if we will ever see the old Vinny ever again.

Robert Luongo is also in the same boat, as his play has been weaker his last couple seasons in Vancouver. At a cap hit of $5.3 million, the contract is sure not looking like much of a bargain at this point.

When they signed Luongo to that 12 year contract, the Canucks had Cory Schneider waiting in the wings, who is now finally that backup goalie to Luongo. However, with very good AHL numbers you have to believe that taking a chance on Cory Schneider with a rookie contract cap hit would have been the better idea. With the extra cap space, the Canucks may have been able to acquire some better quality skaters.

When these players with big contracts stop performing at their top level, it isn’t just going to be that they are getting paid too much. Suddenly, the cap hit that seemed like such a shrewd move, is more of a garbage decision than anything.

Mark Messier was a big disappointment to Vancouver Canuck fans

If you look at some of the all-time greats there are only a select few that performed comparably to their glory days. You cannot fight age, and with these long-term contracts it should be expected that guys will have injuries that hurt their longevity. Once Mark Messier went to the Vancouver Canucks at the age of 36 his play dropped dramatically.

You can tell me that guys like Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe were able to play well later in their careers. Then are you trying to say that Hossa, Kovalchuk and Zetterberg are in the same class as these guys? Gretzky dropped from 100+ to 90+, that’s a big difference than 80+ to 60 or 70+ points.

Teams are throwing away their opportunity at future success by signing players to these ludicrous contracts, and leaving their teams only a small window for a chance to lift the Stanley Cup.

Imagine if the Chicago Blackhawks had not won the Stanley Cup this past season. They would still have their core four players of Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook, but they have had to trade and let-go of some of their key role players.

Their ability to win a Stanley Cup makes the move a success in my eyes because of the degree of difficulty it takes to win just one championship. But the ability to build a dynasty is almost out of the question. We talk about their core four, but there are also the underachieving Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa who are both in the midsts of eight and twelve-year deals respectively. You aren’t going to win many Stanley Cups with six players.

All of these contracts are constantly setting a precedent for future ones, which almost inevitably means an endless cycle of brutally long contracts. General Manager’s are digging a deeper and deeper hole for themselves to get out of, and it will eventually culminate in their demise.

Things are getting out of hand and if the NHL isn’t going to do anything about it, the only way to stop it is for every single one of the GM’s to refuse to give the contracts that the players are demanding.

This might mean that your team is not going to get the player it is looking for right now, but it will save your franchise 5 or 10 years down the road. These players do want to play, and if no one gives them the contract then they are going to have to settle for something less. Be strong and don’t give into the temptation of the lucrative deals.

Act 1 of this show has been quite spectacular and act 2 may turn out just as good. But ringmaster’s are warned that these later acts will dull as father time works his magic.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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