When the Boston Bruins signed Milan Lucic to a three-year, $12.25 million contract extension, not many people raised eyebrows over how the deal included a $1 million signing bonus in 2012-13, which is the last year of the deal.
More people probably raised eyebrows at the fact that a player who scores, on average, one goal every six games somehow merited an almost 500 percent raise. (Sure the guy brings intangibles, but geez, $4 million worth of intangibles?)
It’s amazing this contract passed the desk of notorious skin-flint and ownership hawk Jeremy Jacobs. Because, what the Bruins did, in effect, was help Lucic have a little more resolve if there is another lockout.
That’s because the $1 million bonus is due to be paid July 1, 2012. For those of you not keeping score, that could very well be a couple of months before another labor disruption. The current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2011-12 season, but the players have the option of extending it for another year, which means it could very well come to an end after that season.
So if the owners lock the players out the way they did in 2004, Lucic will at least have $1 million in his pocket to get him through the lean times. You have to think the NHL isn’t crazy about teams giving their players lockout protection.
But as usual, it’s powerless to do anything to stop those who run their teams from skirting the league’s rules and/or intentions. Now that the precedent is set, look for a lot more of these kinds of contracts to surface. In case you haven’t noticed, there is a boatload of elite young players whose contracts expire after this season and the betting here is that a bunch of them get lockout protection.
The fact a contract of this nature has been given out is proof a potential lockout is at least on people’s radar these days. After all, there are rumblings the league is making a turf war out of just about everything with the players these days and it’s no secret it wants big changes to things such as no-trade clauses, length of contracts, outrageous second contracts and circumventing the CBA.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Phil Kessel, they gave him signing bonuses of $2.5 million this season, $3 million next season and $2.5 million in 2011-12. That was largely because when the deal was struck, the Nashville Predators were still in the picture and even though the overall salary in Nashville would have been about the same, the signing bonuses provided a pressure point because the Predators would have been forced to cut large checks three times before getting a penny in revenues. It may not seem like much, but things like that are a big deal for teams such as Nashville.
And if the Predators are having to put money into a war chest to prepare for another lockout, that’s even more money going out the door. There are rumblings the league has begun to urge teams to contribute to a war chest to cover paying their employees and running their minor league operations in the event of a lockout.
Teams contributed $10 million over a four-year period prior to the last lockout and teams that could afford it simply kept their money in the bond. That money would be used if it were needed a couple of years down the road.
As much as fans don’t want to hear about it, people are beginning to prepare for a labor disruption in a couple of years.
Not trying to cry doomsday here, but the signs are there.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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