Get those decade-long contract signings in while you can, NHL general managers, because they'll soon be gone if Gary Bettman gets his way.
Though the commissioner has never come out and said it specifically, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that he doesn't much like the kind of deals that Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Quick signed on Thursday. Not that Bettman minds having two of his league's brightest young stars under lock and key for a long time, but teams playing around with the salary cap have at times made a mockery of the process. Roberto Luongo's Charleston Chew 12-year, $64 million contract, for example, stretches into 2022 and he's down to make $1 million in each of the final two years of that deal.
Beyond that, a long-term deal can become an albatross when/if things go wrong with the player. Exhibit A is Rick DiPietro, the Islanders goalie who signed a 15-year deal in 2006 but has been plagued by injuries ever since.
DiPietro's condition has put a crimp in the Isles' ability to do other things to improve their team, which in turn has led to a poor product on the ice and poor crowds in the stands. That's not good for the league. Neither is Scott Gomez's monster contract with the Rangers (seven years, $51.5 million) that Montreal was silly enough to take on, or Alexei Yashin's former 10-year, $87.5 million mega-contract. The Isles are still paying off the buy-out even though he last skated for them in 2007.
Crosby's new 12-year, $104.4 million extension with the Penguins is a gigantic risk for Pittsburgh's ownership. Given his recent concussion history, getting 12 healthy years out of him seems rather far-fetched at the moment.
Still, if ever there was a player worth taking a risk on, it's Sid.
But if he goes down, and the Pens are stuck with no cap room to get anybody to replace him and they find they can't move such a gargantuan contract? Well, they were warned.
Quick's 10-year deal summons immediate comparisons with DiPietro, Luongo and Ilya Bryzgalov (nine years, $51 million with the Flyers). Sure, Quick is king of the world right now, but the other three netminders were also riding high at some point (though none have won the Stanley Cup or Conn Smythe).
One bad year, one bad injury and Quick's deal with the Kings could be seen as the same albatross that the other Isles, Canucks and Flyers have to deal with now.
As CBA talks get underway today in New York and continue, expect the league to want to impose a ceiling on either the number of years that players can get on their contracts or some kind of elimination of the steep drop-off in pay of the kind that Luongo will receive on the back end. The NHL wasn't particularly fond of Detroit signing Johan Franzen (11 years, $43.5 million) and Henrik Zetterberg (12 years, $73 million), or Chicago inking Marian Hossa (12 years, $62.8 million), to such deals in 2009.
Players like them, of course, because they get the bulk of their money and know they won't have to play the last few years of the contract if they don't want. Win-win.
The bottom line, as always: GMs and team owners never stop spending money. They are the ones handing out the big dough and the long-term deals, so they shouldn't whine when things turn sour. Bettman again will likely need to step in and save the owners from themselves. Let's just hope we don't lose another whole season in the process.