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What would the NHL look like with five-year max contracts?

Dec 7, 2012, 12:44 PM EDT

Sidney Crosby Getty Images

Yesterday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly delivered arguably the most memorable sound bite of the day (which says a lot given all the memorable sound bites) when he called the issue of max five-year contracts “the hill we’ll die on.”

For the NHL, limiting contract lengths is a simple (and apparently life-and-death) matter of eliminating long contracts that could potentially go wrong. And most people see the logic in that. (See: Rick DiPietro.)

What a lot of people are wondering is why the players are being so stubborn about term limits (they’ve proposed eight-year maximums) when the large majority of them will never sign a contract as long as five years anyway.

The best answer to that may come in the form of a question: What would Sidney Crosby’s contract look like if there was a five-year limit?

The contract Crosby did recently sign was for 12 years and $104.4 million, which renders a cap hit of $8.7 million. Given his concussion history, committing all that money over such a long term was a pretty big risk for Penguins ownership, and it’s safe to assume Crosby had to “pay” for some of the security he got by taking a lower average annual salary.

If Crosby wasn’t able to get that type of security, it’s highly likely he’d demand a higher average annual salary. Under the last CBA, the maximum a player could earn was 20 percent of the salary cap. So for the 2012-13 season (upper limit of $70.2 million), the max salary was set at $14.04 million.

So let’s say Crosby got the max (he probably could if he threatened to walk away), that would then leave less money for GM Ray Shero to fill out the rest of his roster, thus putting the squeeze on guys like Tyler Kennedy and Craig Adams when they tried to re-sign for 2013-14.

This is why the players don’t want five-year limits. Because the simple fact is this: great players win Stanley Cups and sell tickets. Yeah, teams need depth too, but they need the great players first. Want proof? Here’s a list of players who have put their names on Cups in the last five years:

Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar.

If a general manager is given a choice between keeping one of those guys and keeping a couple of good third-liners and a couple of good fourth-liners, a GM is going to keep the great player and make do with two average third-liners and two average fourth-liners. And since that reduces the leverage of the good third-liners and fourth-liners, they end up signing for less.

  1. danaking - Dec 7, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    There’s an easy compromise here that would allow teams to stay together relatively well. Free agents signed from outside the organization would have five-year maximum. Signing a player already under contract would have a ten-year maximum. This would promote some roster stability, which will make it a little easier for fans to stay connected with players they have come to love.

    As bad as the DiPietro and Luongo deals are, no one forced the Isles and Canucks to sign them. Ho any reasonable person would say it is the responsibility of the players to keep management from making foolish decisions is beyond me.

    • ucaneverscorenoughgoals - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:05 PM

      Fehr will continue to argue that limiting free agents to 5 years and home grown talent to 10 minimizes leverage that the player has. While good for the growth of the sport and the respective team that’s bad for players.

      Fehr doesn’t want to help the league, he only wants to help the players. If the league dissolves he’ll still get paid and he wants to make sure the the player’s do as well. Is tht his job?..Yes…Can I support a man that has no vested interest in the league and sport that I grew up watching?…No!

      • woodstakes - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:51 PM

        Yup and Bettman is a pure hockey guy! Either way you look at it, neither guy comes from any kind of hockey background.

    • stakex - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:50 PM

      First of all, going as high as 10 years for re-signing players wouldn’t work with a general 5 year cap. Decent players would almost never leave the team that drafted them since they could get a contract twice as long from them. Thus the only way to ever get super star players would be to draft them… which isn’t really an option for teams that don’t suck bad enough to get high draft picks.

      Also, this isn’t about protecting GMs/owners from themselves… its about protecting them from eachother. The teams with deep pockets can deal with the cost and risk of signing players to long term deals, but there are a lot of teams that can’t. That causes a problem since so many star players now adays want long term deals, meaning poorer teams have to give out deals they really can’t afford if they want to be compedative. Thats a broken system, and the idea behind a 5 year cap is that it prevents rich teams from having a monopoly over star players.

      Its also worth pointing out, as Bettman did yesterday, that in 2004 there was only ONE contract six years or longer…. now there are 90 of them. The players did just fine without them in the past, they will do just fine without them in the future.

      • Joey Dumbfeld - Dec 7, 2012 at 4:07 PM

        what future? the sport is basically cooked moron

      • dadawg77 - Dec 7, 2012 at 6:42 PM

        Uhmm.. Didn’t something happen between the start of 2004 and now which drastically change the method of how players were compensated? Long term deals are a response to team and players trying to work with the cap.

    • id4joey - Dec 7, 2012 at 4:16 PM

      Did it ever occur to you that the Cancuck may may lost Luongo to another team had they not offered him the contract they did? At the time GMs/owners were exploiting the loop holes to gain a competitive edge. So, it is very likely that a very rich team/owner would have taken Luongo out of Vancouver at a time when Vancouver was not ready to let him go. You have to put yourself in the context of the times to understand why this deal was made.

      • valoisvipers - Dec 8, 2012 at 11:39 AM

        Valid point Joey and it helps to explain why the league needs rules to protect owners from each other’s GMs. Hand out the stupid long term contract or someone else will.

  2. ucaneverscorenoughgoals - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    Wages would inflate. These backdiving contracts are only depressing wages right now. That, is why I’m almost astonished the union is against 5 year term limits.

    Fortunately they will also force teams to own up to what they are paying players what they rather than tucking a 10 million dollar salary away at 5 million dollar cap hit.

    • greatminnesotasportsmind - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:37 PM

      It depends on who’s contract your talking about. Sure superstars could make more without the back diving years. However the less talented players will take a significant hit.

      • stakex - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:53 PM

        There is no reason to believe that would be the case. With a salary cap, most teams would not be willing to blow 20% of it on one player… and there are only a handful of players worth that kind of money anyway.

        If such a fear is whats keeping the players from taking the 5 year limit, a simple solution would be to have the max salary be a lower percentage of the cap then it is today. That way star players can’t suck up ALL the money.

      • dadawg77 - Dec 7, 2012 at 6:59 PM

        Stakex, your wrong, look at the NBA for an example, stars will always get their money in any industry. If a five year limit happens look for every team to have at least one guy making 20% of the cap. Every other tier of player would see their salaries reduced with 5 years.

        Also if you group player salaries closer together you eliminate incentive for players to play their best. Maybe Crosby feels his health will be better served playing at 60% of what he can. Which still better then most players, but us fans would be worse off not seeing him or others at their max.

    • dadawg77 - Dec 7, 2012 at 6:52 PM

      I think you are misunderstanding cap number vs salary. Salary is the cash you take home where the cap number is the amount of cash over the contract equally divided. The players only care about the cash up front and not about the extra years they will never play.

      • ucaneverscorenoughgoals - Dec 7, 2012 at 7:04 PM

        And I think you misunderstand that players agree to deals that are backdiving knowing full well it gives their team more room to bring in or sign their own FA.

        Examples of this dot the NHL landscape but if you’d like to point out two that aren’t talked about much…….4 years ago Zetterberg and Franzen signed deals whose average salary was a million or more higher than the cap hit. At the time it was only way detroit could keep both under the current cap at the time.

  3. bcjim - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    Interesting tweet. Posted it on another story but more appropriate here…

    @camcharron Fehr says CBA longer than 5 yrs has too much uncertainty/risk but advocates 8+ year deals for players. Hypocrisy?

    Uh, yes.

  4. dbarnes79 - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    How about players drafted or within that organization for say at least 3 seasons can be signed for 7 years. Free agents can sign with a different team for a max of 5 years. It’s called compromise cause I don’t think the NHL or NHLPA know what that word means!!

    • stakex - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:54 PM

      Thats actually what the NHL offered. 5 year limit, with a 7 year limit for re-signing UFA/RFAs.

  5. dcfan4life - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    I just dont agree with your proposed leverage a star player would have in signing 5 year max salaries. When hockey has up to 4 lines per game, 2 goalies, 6 defenseman, 1 player cant win a stanley cup. This isnt basketball where 2 or 3 guys, or 1 if its Lebron or Kobe, can carry an entire team. Not when your shift is a minute and a half max and a superstar player plays 16-18 minutes a game. With 5 year contracts, an organization can ensure it doesnt get stuck with contracts for unproducing players for extended periods. It will also mean plenty of middle level guys will get 5 year contracts. And how is that not better than it is now. I mean what percent of NHL players have longer than 3 year contracts in place now? A third, maybe? There are what, maybe 10 guys in the league who deserved to be maxed out on contracts anyway, and with 30 teams i just dont see this bogging down everyone elses contract the way you do. I see more mid level players getting 5 year deals, more stabilility, and less changeover than we see now. What team has 2 lines survive more than a year or 2? 5 year max deals i think will change that.

    • dbarnes79 - Dec 7, 2012 at 4:48 PM

      Star players play more like 25-30 mins. per game and star defence men play 30 plus most nights.

      • dcfan4life - Dec 7, 2012 at 9:27 PM

        Where did you get those numbers? Kolvachuk is the only non defenseman to average over 23 minutes a game. There are only 11 guys in the league who averaged over 25 minutes a game last year, all defensemen. Your way off with that assumption. Check it out for urself here.

        http://espn.go.com/nhl/statistics/player/_/stat/timeonice/sort/avgTimeOnIce

    • dadawg77 - Dec 7, 2012 at 7:03 PM

      Stars will get paid if not by you then someone else. So if you the Pens and Crosby says 20% or I am out, what do you do? Let him leave to say Philly or resign him and just push the other salaries down? Your assumption is non star players salaries wouldn’t be reduced thus wouldn’t allow larger salaries for stars. That I believe is proven to be incorrect not just in sports but in almost every other industry

      • dcfan4life - Dec 7, 2012 at 9:35 PM

        If you max out one guy, he better be worth it. Crosby is worth it. But my point is how many teams have a Crosby? Few players would get the 5 year max dollar contract. But i think plenty of good non star level players would get 5 year deals. Mid level salaries would be increased, then they would be guaranteed, which gives job security, but are short enough to ensure maximum effort. I dont think they would be reduced at all. I think if anything they would stay the same, but most likely increase as the wealth can be spread out more evenly with these 5 year limit contracts. Few NHL superstars are worth Max money. Very few.

  6. f2maestro - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    Would the NFL Franchise system work for the NHL? Maybe go with 5-6 year max contracts but allow teams to designate 1-2 players as Franchise players like the NFL does?

  7. deadrabbit79 - Dec 7, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    Here is an idea…..how about the owners just show some restraint and……drum roll please……..NOT SIGN GUYS TO LONG TERM DEALS!!! You know sometimes i dont know where i think this stuff up!! :) . They want a rule in place to protect themselves from themselves! Ponderous! Effin ponderous!

    • woodstakes - Dec 7, 2012 at 2:13 PM

      Exactly!! It amazes me that these BILLIONAIRES are basically openly saying.. “We cannot control ourselves or our GM’s to make better business decisions when offering contracts..”, but then again these are the same people who put all these failing teams in the locales they are in rather than putting them in a Canadian/Northern US location that would most likely be profitable. These are the same people who thought it was better to buy the Coyotes rather than buyout whatever lease agreements were in place and move the team to a better location. It’s amazing that they are willing to basically openly admit that they make poor decisions on contracts yet they won’t admit they made some bad expansion choices and actually DO something about it. The real hypocrisy is the fact they knew they made these bad choices on contracts as far back as ’08 and yet they signed how many deals this summer that would not be allowed in the new CBA! Yeah, we should all feel bad for you poor owners!

      • id4joey - Dec 7, 2012 at 4:25 PM

        Business men are always looking for ways to win. Whether it’s putting money in safe havens, or looking for loopholes in the tax system to limit how much they have to pay. Do you not think that some rich owner asked his legal counsel to analyze the CBA specifically to find loopholes? Some exploited the loopholes because they want to win, and go as far as possible in the playoffs to get a return on their investment. However, this loophole they found does not level the playing field for all of the teams, and is thus a detriment to the sustainability and future of the league.

    • dbarnes79 - Dec 7, 2012 at 4:51 PM

      You are absolutely right. Wild just signed two guys to 13 year deals each and now the owners want a five year cap. Makes the owners look like morons.

  8. akmd1984 - Dec 7, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    Unless you’re Peter Chiarelli, then you sign fourth liners to max contracts.

  9. Brian - Dec 7, 2012 at 3:00 PM

    The other thing back-diving contracts do is screw up escrow payments for other players in the first few seasons. If Crosby’s cap hit is $8.7 million but he’s actually making $12 million, that means there’s $4.3 million in extra cap dollars that can be spent, but Crosby’s full $12 million comes out of the players share for the year, and so does the money the Pens pay to whoever they use that $4.3 in cap space on. That difference has to be made up in escrow.

    Keeping these contracts is the kind of thing that benefits the stars more than the grinders. Its starting to really look like Fehr’s support base is those stars, plus the guys like Horcoff and Hainsey and Parros who’ve already made 85% of what they’ll get in their careers. I think Fehr is starting to lose the littler guys that make up the bulk of his membership, if some of the reports guys like Dater are putting out are true.

    • Brian - Dec 7, 2012 at 3:04 PM

      Sorry, that should be a $3.3 million difference. Math is hard.

  10. billsin20xx - Dec 7, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    But the big thing to me is this 5 year limit will put such a crunch on the salary cap that the second tier players will only have minimum salary available to them, and these will probably be one year contracts.
    Teams will have very high turnover, fans won’t like it.

  11. mattyo99 - Dec 7, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    I totally agree w/ 5 yr deals..what the hell is wrong with that? I am a flyers fan and that got Bi-polar Bryzgalov in net for the next 9 yrs..i think if a player get a 5 yr max they can always resign another deal..but i think both parties are NOT thinking about us fans, they could care less>> morons

    • Joey Dumbfeld - Dec 7, 2012 at 4:10 PM

      That Bryzgalov contract is going to wind up the biggest mistake Snider and Holmgren ever made in Flyers history.

    • valoisvipers - Dec 8, 2012 at 11:50 AM

      If Bryzgalov can play a season like he did last March you would be happy that he was signed for 9 years but I totally agree that 5 years is long enough. If things go bad then at least it is not for too long.

  12. jcmeyer10 - Dec 7, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    The whole point is, you cannot create a rule that will keep stupid out of some contracts. The sooner the Canucks and Islanders brass who signed the deal (the owner had to have some say) fess up, the faster we can actually sign a deal.

    • id4joey - Dec 7, 2012 at 5:14 PM

      The owners and agents were playing by the rules of the CBA in place at the time these guys were signed. Is that so hard to understand? Do you think the agents had no idea what was going to happen with the old CBA?

  13. jimw81 - Dec 7, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    if everyone loves 5 year contracts go watch the nba’s ugly product on the courts and see 3 players have all the $$$$

    • jimw81 - Dec 8, 2012 at 12:34 AM

      the reason i made this point because If there’s only five years max for contracts, there won’t be near the same competitive balance we’ve had before. a 6 yr or 7 yr contract will be fine.

  14. websurferdude - Dec 8, 2012 at 1:00 AM

    No sport can survive these types of lockouts every 5 years. I don’t think hockey will survive this one. It has taken me 4 years to come back from the last time this happened, and to be honest with you, I have lost interest in hockey as long as there is football and forgive me for saying this soccer, oh god where did that come from. This is what happens when you go cold turkey from a hockey addiction say things like soccer, and basketball such foul language, but I will survive.

  15. id4joey - Dec 8, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    websurferdude, what do you mean hockey won’t survive? Is hockey going to die and never to be seen again? Is it dooms day?

    • valoisvipers - Dec 8, 2012 at 11:52 AM

      Must be a Mayan thing.

  16. mungman69 - Dec 8, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    Football is on. Screw hockey.

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