This is part 3 of my look at the biggest issues surrounding the NHL – NHLPA negotiations to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, hopefully before the current one expires on Sept 15th.
This week I will look at another issue, that is putting a cap on the length of contracts that teams and players can sign. There is currently no limit to the length of deals, as evidenced by the 14 year RFA offer sheet signed this week by Shea Weber with the Philadelphia Flyers.
There are 15 players currently playing on contracts of 10 years or longer, and that does not include Sidney Crosby (whose 12 year extension doesn’t kick in until after next season) or Weber’s deal with Philadelphia (or Nashville, should they decide to match). About 12 of those 15 contracts have front loaded salaries with dwindling salaries over the last few years to bring down the cap value.
Of those 17 decade or longer deals, a vast majority were handed out by large market teams, and 9 were signed with the team that drafted them (although 2 were then traded away and ended up winning a cup in LA).
The league tabled their first offer to the union, and it included a maximum of 5 years on any new contract. This is yet another case of the league wanting the players to help the GMs protect them from themselves. The trend that essentially began with Daniel Alfredsson’s soon to expire contract, shows no signs of stopping as it is the only way some GMs feel they can attract players. And it tends to be the larger market teams way of bullying the smaller market teams (witness Weber) and circumventing the Salary Cap by artificially lowering the cap hit for these contracts.
So how long is long enough? And should limits be placed on contract length at all?
There are 41 contracts of 7 years or more currently registered on capgeek.com, accounting for less than 6% of all players. And for the most part, they involve star players who should be impactful on the game for most if not all of those contracts, especially for those in the 7-10 year range (Scott Gomez being a glaring exception). For me, it becomes a problem when years are added to take players into their very late 30′s or even 40′s to bring down the cap hit.
A five year cap on contracts seems too short, especially for teams wanting to lock up star players for extended periods. The players apparently want, if a cap on length is to be imposed, a 7 year maximum.
Perhaps the solution, as it so often is, is somewhere in the middle. A five year maximum makes sense for most players, but maybe the key is to allow an exception for teams to have two players that could play on contracts longer than 5 years, but to a maximum of 10 years. That would mean that only 60 players league-wide at any time could be playing on contracts longer than 5 years. There is currently 47 forwards, 30 defensemen and 9 goalies on contracts longer than 5 years. Many, if not most of these contracts have less than 5 years remaining, (only 35 of those 86 contracts still have 6 or more years) so there could be a grandfather clause to allow those deals to fit in.
Here is how I would word the clause regarding contract length (very crudely and without the required official legal mumbo-jumbo):
Newly signed player contracts cannot exceed 5 years in duration, with the following exceptions:
1) Each club can have a maximum of two “exception” players playing on contracts of up to 10 years on their roster at any one time.
2) Contracts exceeding the 10 year maximum, signed prior to the date of this CBA will be grandfathered in, and will continue to be in force for their original duration. These grandfathered contracts will count towards the two “exceptions” unless they fall into the segment listed in sub-point 3) that follows this point.
3) For the purposes of this clause, the number of years remaining on a contract as of the signing of this CBA becomes the benchmark for determining the length of a contract. This means that a six year contract that has three years left will become a three year contract for the purposes of this clause, and therefore not subject to be included in the maximum of two contracts in excess of 10 years.
4) Contracts more than 5 years in length cannot take a player past his 38th birthday. For example, a 31 year old player could sign a 7 years exception contract but not an 8 year deal.
5) Contracts in excess of 5 years cannot see the annual salary rise or fall by more than 10% from one year to the next, and no lump sum signing bonus may be applied.
6) Contracts more than 5 years long cannot contain a no-trade clause or a no-movement clause.
7) If a player is on an “exception” contract and is sent to the minors, or to another professional league (ie Europe) their full cap hit will still be applied for the duration of the contract. (The Wade Redden rule).
I feel this allows both sides to reach some of their goals. For the owners, they get some much needed restraint imposed upon them. It still allows superstar players to be locked up long term for adequate compensation while allowing complementary players the option of signing for 5 years with a no-trade should both sides see fit to offer it. While it allows for teams to lock up superstar players for an extended period, it still puts the onus on the teams to be absolutely sure when they offer such “exception” contracts, as there is no eraser for those types of mistakes. It also encourages some parity around the league as the players who deserve the “exception” contracts will eventually spread out to those teams that have the ability to provide them.
There are 4 teams that would be affected immediately because they have 3 players currently with more than five years remaining on their deals. Minnesota (Koivu, Suter, Parise), Columbus (Nash, Tyutin, Johnson), Detroit (Franzen, Zetterberg, Kronwall) and LA (Richards, Carter, Doughty) all fall into this category, and it would be difficult to impose a requirement to trade any of these players to reach the standard of 2 long contracts. It would also be difficult to allow just those teams to have 3, and a renegotiation might not be feasible so that could be a big stumbling block. That would have to be worked out for my scenario to work.
So what do you think? Would this framework stand a chance as a compromise? Comment below on why you think it can or cannot work. I realize the players side will be giving up more than the owners on this point, but there is only so much they can continue to take before they have to give back.