If there’s one boogeyman that has marked the speculation surrounding the next collective bargaining agreement, it’s long-term contracts. Those supersized pacts that come with eye-popping price tags and decade-long commitments always receive a roar and I can understand why – the average person sees the numbers and equates the windfall as the literal equivalent of a lottery win.
But I’m not here to discuss the gonzo economics of professional sport. They’re dizzying and we accept that on a consistent basis.
The demonizing of long-term contracts, however, doesn’t hold water. Far from locking both team and player into an intractable and inevitable loveless marriage once the honeymoon ends, these deals have proven to be just as flexible as any other pact.
Just look at the Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings.
GM Dean Lombardi took on two incredibly long contracts when he acquired Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (both of whom originally signed with Philadelphia for more than a decade), while creating his own ink by locking up star defenseman Drew Doughty to an eight-year pact worth $56 million just before the season started (and I mean just before). Top center Anze Kopitar is also on a seven-year deal that’s working out fairly well.
Bring up Rick DiPietro’s groundbreaking, all-round crippling 15-year contract on Long Island if you will, but that’s proving to be the exception to the rule. Even Brian Campbell’s eight-year deal with Chicago has worked out. With a cap hit greater than $7 million, Campbell’s contract was thought to be an albatross when the Hawks needed to shed salary after their 2010 Cup win, but just one summer passed before the franchise found a willing trade partner in the Florida Panthers – who needed to get up to the cap floor.
All of a sudden the thing that made Campbell untradeable became the incentive to acquire him – that, and the fact he would help the Panthers win their first division title ever, earn the Lady Byng Trophy and help defense partner Jason Garrison to a career season and previously unforeseen riches via free agency. As for Chicago, the Hawks got to keep their vaunted core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook together.
When Carter was dealt from Philadelphia to Columbus just before the 2011 draft, it was a shock. But for all the flak Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson has taken lately, he was still able to move the big center on to Los Angeles when it became clear there was a sullen, black presence in Columbus. And the return – defenseman Jack Johnson – wasn’t too shabby.
Johnson is a top-four blueliner and though Philly got right winger Jakub Voracek and draft picks that became centers Sean Couturier (OK, that one hurts if you’re a Jackets fan) and Nick Cousins, that’s not a bad rate of return on a used car.
Two of the biggest names on the trade market right now are Columbus’ Rick Nash and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo. Both are on long-term deals. Both have a number of franchises salivating. Both Howson and Canucks counterpart Mike Gillis are reportedly asking a lot for their stars, despite the fact you would assume the long-term deal would handicap that. If anything, though, you’re getting cost certainty if you take on these mammoth contracts.
Think about it: whoever employs Luongo next season knows they will do so for a cap hit of $5.3 million. That’s not going to change until he retires (barring a rollback in the new CBA). But what will the New York Rangers or any other team have to pony up for Henrik Lundqvist once his contract is over in 2014? That’s a scary unknown, as is the dollar amount Nashville or another franchise will fork over to Shea Weber very soon.
The front-loaded nature of these contracts attracts a lot of upturned eyebrows, but even that will have a trade benefit when teams short on cash but long in cap space need to hit the floor in coming years. How does $1 million and a cap hit of roughly $6.7 million for a 37-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk sound, struggling small market team of 2020-21? Yeah, not bad at all if it’s a move you need to make.
So don’t fear the long-term contract – it’s pretty clear many NHL GMs and owners have made peace with them.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.