Skip to content

NHL has reason to fight for maximum contract lengths

Nov 14, 2012, 12:07 PM EDT

Rick DiPietro Getty Images

NHL owners and general managers need to be protected from themselves. This much we know, and the league doesn’t deny it.

Even the last CBA – the one with the hard salary cap that was supposed to be bulletproof – had loopholes that GMs exploited to sign free agents.

The most notable loophole allowed teams to offer “back-diving” contracts that gave players lots of money up front and practically none as the term expired. Not only did these deals artificially deflate the cap hit by tacking on years past a player’s probable retirement date, it also gave the player the bulk of his money sooner than later, which is better than the opposite.

It’s hard to imagine those back-diving contracts will exist once a new CBA is signed. The owners will fight too hard for them to be nixed.

However, some observers think owners will stand less firmly on another demand, that being maximum contract lengths of five years.

Under the last CBA, there was no such thing as a maximum contract length. Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick DiPietro signed for 15 years each. Shea Weber got 14. All told, 16 players notched deals for 10 years or more.

Players like long-term deals because they offer security. NHL contracts are guaranteed, so once they’re signed they can’t be canceled, even if the player stops producing or gets hurt.

Which brings us to our point: If the salary cap restricts how much a player can earn and there’s no way to front load deals, what do you think a prized free agent is going to ask for in negotiations if there’s no cap on contract lengths?

The answer is term. If only because there’s nothing else to ask for.

And if meeting that demand is the only way one team can beat out another team to sign the player, he’ll get it. (Let’s face it, GMs know they can be fired tomorrow, so what do they care if the team has a problem down the road? See: moral hazard.)

Long-term contracts aren’t necessarily a terrible thing, but believe it or not there have been athletes that got a little too comfortable once they cashed in on a big deal.

There have also been players whose health issues kept them off the ice. (Or, in the case of DiPietro, severely restricted their time on it.)

Maybe a few long-term contracts gone wrong is simply the price owners will have to pay to get a new CBA. And there are probably owners and GMs that don’t want five-year limits; they want to lock up their stars as long as possible.

Then again, maybe it’s a battle NHL commissioner Gary Bettman thinks is winnable (the NBA won it), so he might as well win it.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Visnovsky considering European options

    Jul 28, 2015, 9:38 PM EDT

    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 04: Lubomir Visnovsky #11 of the New York Islanders in action against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on February 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. The New York Islanders won, 1-0. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Potentially a move to Switzerland, or the Czech League.

  2. Sabres name Cunneyworth AHL head coach

    Jul 28, 2015, 8:39 PM EDT

    Randy Cunneyworth Getty Images

    Returning him to Rochester for a third time.

  3. Orpik undergoes wrist surgery, should be ready for season opener

    Jul 28, 2015, 7:39 PM EDT

    PA: Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins Getty Images

    Washington d-man is expected to miss the next two weeks of offseason training.

  4. Flyers re-sign Couturier: six years, $26 million

    Jul 28, 2015, 4:39 PM EDT

    New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Four Getty Images

    Nice payday after posting a career-high in goals this season.

  5. For Pens, Tuesday’s moves were all about depth and finances up front

    Jul 28, 2015, 4:23 PM EDT

    Jim Rutherford AP

    “When you look at the structure of our salaries and our cap, it’s important to get those bottom-six cap hits in better shape.”

  6. Journeyman Steckel signs in German League

    Jul 28, 2015, 3:21 PM EDT

    David Steckel AP

    With the Nurnberg Ice Tigers.

  7. Benning calls Sutter a ‘foundation piece’ for Canucks

    Jul 28, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT

    Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers - Game One Getty Images

    “When the games mean something, that’s when he’s at his best.”

  8. Here’s a chart that shows which teams have been good/bad at drafting

    Jul 28, 2015, 1:21 PM EDT

    Chicago Blackhawks v Columbus Blue Jackets Getty Images

    The Blue Jackets have done well. The Canucks have not.

  9. Leafs sign Marner to entry-level contract

    Jul 28, 2015, 12:34 PM EDT

    Mitchell Marner AP

    Probably looking at another year of junior hockey.

  10. Agent: Kruger ‘will be patient’ with Chicago’s cap situation

    Jul 28, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Marcus Kruger Getty Images

    25-year-old didn’t file for arbitration, hoping instead to sign a long-term contract.

  11. Report: Antropov mulling NHL return

    Jul 27, 2015, 9:29 PM EDT

    Nik Antropov Getty Images

    But are any teams mulling his return?

  12. Mayers returning to ‘Hawks in front office role

    Jul 27, 2015, 8:21 PM EDT

    jamalmayersgetty Getty Images

    Where he’ll work as a community liaison.

Top 10 NHL Player Searches
  1. B. Holtby (2383)
  2. D. Stepan (2092)
  3. G. Bettman (2086)
  4. A. Larsson (2006)
  5. A. Semin (1530)
  1. C. Ehrhoff (1262)
  2. M. Johansson (1227)
  3. D. Tippett (1218)
  4. L. Couture (1213)
  5. P. Datsyuk (1195)