At one point during negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement during the 2012 lockout, a juncture during which things weren’t looking particularly good, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly outlined the league’s insistence on limiting contracts to five years and called it, “the hill we will die on.”
Everyone knows you never end a sentence in a preposition – the correct way to say it would have been, “It’s the hill on which we will die” – and you don’t make extreme statements during negotiations that you’re going to later have to retract. The NHL did not get its five-year contract limit and it didn’t die on any hill.
The players got the eight-year limit they were seeking, at least for players who sign extensions with their own teams. Those signing as free agents from other teams are allowed a maximum of seven years.
And guess what? The sky has not fallen. It turns out that giving out long-term deals was not the problem. It was teams giving long-term deals to the wrong players, which is on them. All of which goes to show you there is no CBA in the world that will be able to legislate against bad managing.
At about the same point in negotiations, commissioner Gary Bettman also railed against long-term deals. “Let’s look at the following statistic: Contracts six years or longer in 2004: One,” Bettman said. “Currently: 90. The trend has gone completely in the wrong way and that has a whole host of consequences to the game and to the operation of our clubs.”
The only way long-term term consequences have for teams is if they misidentify the players around whom they want to build. Talent identification is still the key here, always has been and always will be. Teams that can ferret out the stars and develop them properly will always excel no matter how big and how rich they are and what controls are in place. In fact, when used properly, long-term contracts could be the best tool NHL teams could hope to have.
Nothing illustrates that better than three long-term deals that have been struck under the most recent CBA. On Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks came to terms on identical eight-year, $84 million contracts with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that should keep them in Chicago until at least the 2022-23 season.
This will be a great deal for Chicago. Not only do they keep two of the best young players in the game for eight additional years for substantially under market value – had they elected to go to unrestricted free agency – but it will be great for business for the Hawks, who have two very good, marketable players that will continue to fill the building and enhance the value of TV deals and merchandising. And as every year passes and the cap increases, those deals will occupy a lower percentage of the Blackhawks cap space.
The other is the eight-year, $52 million dollar extension that kicks in for Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins this upcoming season. Bergeron will be 29 when the season begins and is showing no signs of slowing down. He’s coming off a 30-goal season in which he also won the Selke Trophy and is among the best puck-possession players in the game today. And his cap hit is just $6.5 million. The Bruins know Bergeron better than anyone. They know that his skills will inevitably decline in the later years of the deal, but they also know Bergeron is not the type of player who will shortchange them on effort and leadership. If Bergeron can maintain his level of play, that deal is going to look like one of the biggest bargains in the NHL before long.
And how do you think the Los Angeles Kings feel about they fact they have Drew Doughty locked up for five more years with a cap hit of $7 million per season? If Doughty plays the way he did in the Olympics and the playoffs, the Kings might one day soon have the best player in the world for way under market value. Pretty sure the Blackhawks are not too upset that they have the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Duncan Keith locked up for the next nine years at a cap hit of just over $5.5 million.
Sidney Crosby won the scoring title by 17 points and the Penguins have him locked up for 11 more years with a cap hit of $8.7 million. That’s going to look pretty good when the salary cap goes up to the $100 million range. Erik Karlsson, Taylor Hall, Gabriel Landeskog. Need we say more?
There’s nothing wrong with a system that rewards good players who are on an upward trajectory with long-term deals. The key, as it’s always been, has been ensuring teams give them to the right players.