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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.

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