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Should the NHL be upset with the structure of Brad Richards’ new contract?

Jul 2, 2011, 5:56 PM EST

bradrichardsgetty Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuk to two contracts last summer. The first (rejected) one included a few final seasons with salaries that ran in such stark contrast to the first, big-money campaigns that the NHL took a stand.

After permitting numerous contracts that included final years with such small salaries that one can only assume that the two sides had “wink, wink” retirement agreements, the league would not validate the first version of Kovalchuk’s ridiculous deal. The NHL eventually ratified an amended version of Kovalchuk’s contract, but it came at a price. The Devils were fined $3 million for their shenanigans, lost their 2011 third round pick and must give up a first round pick in one of the next three years (they could have given that up this year, but they wisely chose not to and ended up landing defenseman of the future Adam Larsson).

In a way, the NHL “made an example” of the Devils, but it seemed a lot like grade school moments in which the most rambunctious child gets all the peddling even though he’s far from the only person who misbehaves. If the league is truly upset with those types of deals, they cannot be very happy with the structure of Brad Richards’ boffo deal with the New York Rangers.

With the help of Gord Miller’s report, here is the year-by-year structure of yet another cap-circumventing contract.

2011-12 season: $12 million ($10 million signing bonus, $2 million salary)
2012-13 season: $12 million ($8 million signing bonus, $4 million salary)
2013-14 salary: $9 million
2014-15 salary: $8.5 million
2015-16 salary: $8.5 million
2016-17 salary: $7 million
2017-18 salary: $1 million
2018-19 salary: $1 million
2019-20 salary: $1 million

Here is how Ilya Kovalchuk’s rejected contract would have looked.

2010-11: $6 million
2011-12: $6 million
2012-13: $11.5 million
2013-14: $11.5 million
2014-15: $11.5 million
2015-16: $11.5 million
2016-17: $11.5 million
2017-18: $10.5 million
2018-19: $8.5 million
2019-20: $6.5 million
2020-21: $3.5 Million
2021-22: $750,000
2022-23: $550,000
2023-24: $550,000
2024-25: $550,000
2025-26: $550,000
2026-27: $550,000

Now, there are a few things that make the Kovalchuk deal worse.

1. The bottom falls out of Richards’ deal in the last three years while Kovalchuk’s rejected contract featured a whopping six-year window in which one would assume he would retire.

2. Imagining Kovalchuk playing for $750K or $550K is slightly tougher to stomach than Richards playing for $1 million in the two players’ twilight years.

That being said, Kovalchuk’s deal is almost twice as long as Richards’ contract. In the grand scheme of things, there’s the same slap-you-in-the-face obviousness to the cap circumvention. Maybe the Rangers’ deal seems a little bit closer to reality, but the goal seems pretty much the same. There’s no real effort to disguise the drop in Richards’ deal when you look at the $6 million drop from his 2016-17 salary to his 2017-18 take-home.

For the sake of argument, here is the structure of the Kovalchuk deal the NHL reluctantly accepted.

2010-11: $6 million
2011-12: $6 million
2012-13: $11 million
2013-14: $11.3 million
2014-15: $11.3 million
2015-16: $11.6 million
2016-17: $11.8 million
2017-18: $10 million
2018-19: $7 million
2020-21: $4 million
2021-22: $1 million
2022-23: $1 million
2023-24: $1 million
2024-25: $3 million
2025-26: $4 million

Ultimately, it looks like the Richards deal will narrowly conform to the CBA amendments that the NHL and NHLPA hashed out after the Kovalchuk situation blew up. Richards deal goes now lower than $1 million, which seems to be the mark that will keep the league at bay.

That being said, the Richards deal basically shoves the letter/spirit of the law into the shredder. This must be a great sign for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Los Angeles Kings, at least if they intend to sign their respective restricted free agents Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty to “lifetime contracts.” If the league lets this stand, it’s clear that last year’s work didn’t close a loophole; it just make the loophole a little smaller.

  1. bcjim - Jul 2, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    Id take Richards contract 1000/1000x if I were doing the paying. That Kovalchuk deal is insane.

  2. stakex - Jul 2, 2011 at 10:07 PM

    I don’t think either play is worth the amount of the contract to be honest….

  3. skoobyfl - Jul 3, 2011 at 1:17 AM

    Richards has a head game problem with concussions, so this is out of whack.

  4. derpdederpdederp - Jul 3, 2011 at 5:34 PM

    we all know the H in NHL stands for hypocrisy. the league to taking issue with this contract would make no sense. sure its exactly the same as the kovalchuk contract but the numbers are different so by their logic it should be treated in a different fashion. and i dont doubt that will be the case

  5. ready4jets - Jul 3, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    There’s no point in having a hard salary cap if it can so easily be ignored.

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