Years ago, we were all stunned when Islander GM Garth Snow handed goaltender Rick DiPietro an astounding 15 year contract back in 2005. Fast forward to present day, and this recent fad of handing out double digit term into a player’s forties is very quickly starting to get out of hand. Detroit GM Ken Holland gives out 12 and 11 year contracts to Zetterberg and Franzen respectively, Chicago joins the party with a 12 year contract for Hossa (which is now being investigated by the league), and Philly decides it would like to ink Pronger through age 42. Last but not least, news broke earlier today of a shiny new 12 year extension for 30 year old goaltender Roberto Luongo. Well enough is enough.
Aside from the obviously pungent odor emitted by the ridiculously low dollar figures in the final years of each of these contracts, these mega deals are ushering in a new wave of irresponsibility that was thought to have been addressed by the new collective bargaining agreement. Clearly, the GM’s did not get the message and changes need to be made. But alas, what changes? Look no further than the very successful model of the National Basketball Association, a sport not foreign to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for he was previously the league’s senior vice-president.
So let’s talk about the basic gist of some of the NBA’s policies that may be transferable to the NHL, but before we can do that, there’s one important rule to remember: the Larry Bird exception. Essentially, the Bird exception was named after Hall of Famer Larry Bird and was put in place to facilitate the NBA teams’ ability to keep their own players. Now, moving onto the applicable policies:
- The first is a limit on the maximum term of length of a contract, which for any free agent that is not your own, is 5 years. However, if a team were re-signing one of its own players, then it may offer said player up to 6 years (this is the Bird exception).
- The second rule is a limit on the year-to-year fluctuations of a player’s salary, once again different depending on the nature the team signing the player. If the player is switching teams (jokes aside), then they may receive a maximum annual raise of 8%, whereas they would be eligible to receive a 10% raise if they were re-signing with the same team (once again the Bird exception). For the purposes of the NHL, where teams seem to prefer frontloading instead of backloading the contracts, the league could seek to put in place a similar rule though edited to restrict fluctuations in either direction on an annual basis: either increasing or decreasing salary. That would put an end to these laughably low near end of term salaries.
Implementing both of these changes in policy in addition to the current hard salary cap effectively restrains GM’s from hurting themselves. In addition, it urges players to maintain a consistently higher level of play without the security and entitlement of a lifelong contract, and that’s something everyone, including the fans, can benefit from. The first criticisms that are usually directed at this type of policy would likely be that shorter contracts would mean less player/organizational loyalty and the end of the one-team career. It would discourage stars like Luongo, like Hossa, like Zetterberg from staying with their current teams for the long haul…
But it doesn’t! That’s the beauty of it. While the limited term would in fact decrease the length of a player’s contractual commitment to the organization, the implementation of the Larry Bird exception ingeniously protects teams against poaching via free agency. Remember, it offers those star players the incentive to stay with their current teams because they can a) offer more money and b) offer longer term. So in essence, you manage to preserve the loyalty and tradition of long-term commitment while also safeguarding against reckless free agent spending.
So what are your thoughts? Am I right on the ball or completely off my rocker?