Mirtle v. Wyshynski: Should the NHL limit lifetime contracts?


After a long absence in the series, Yahoo Sports!'s Greg Wyshynski and I tackle the subject of super-long contracts in the NHL. (Thanks again to Steve Slesinski for the funky logo.)

Please feel free to join our debate in the comments:

 

WYSHYNSKI: I think we can drag the old logo out for this quote from your blog about the Detroit Red Wings signing Henrik Zetterberg to a 12-year deal:

"My guess is Gary Bettman will want to see the length of these deal limited in the near future, because there are now a ton of players using this loophole to lower their annual salary. Some teams will get burned by having too young of a player on a boat anchor contract."

I'm trying to figure out what you mean here. Are you saying Bettman will close the loophole to protect teams from having to commit to 11-year contracts for young players, or are you saying that Bettman will close the loophole because it's a salary cap cheat?

If it's the former ... well, we've already seen the NHL's power brokers eliminate an entire season for the sake of "protecting" the owners from their own crack-rock addiction to bad contracts. So let's never put anything past them.

If it's the latter ... I think that's a valid, non-destructive cheat around the cap and shouldn't be addressed by the NHL. Teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning are taking a risk in front-loading these deals (usually with NTC provisions as well in the early years) that, to me, counterbalances the creative accounting that brings down the cap hit.

MIRTLE: I just know that Bettman absolutely despises these long-term deals. It's not as big a deal for Zetterberg, who is a star, but for someone like Rick DiPietro, it's really blowing up in the team's face.

The NHL would be a farce if all of a sudden every player had a 10-year contract as a way to bring the cap hit lower.

WYSHYNSKI: I guess I'm just missing how it would be a farce. One, because I don't believe every player would have a 10-year deal, simply because conditions (coaches, GMs, etc.) change so frequently that no one is going to give half the roster that level of job security.

But again: Isn't the DiPietro situation a reason for the League not to step in and end the practice? Wang and the New York Islanders took a gamble, and it was their gamble to take. If it works, then he's locked into a cap hit that's the envy of the League at this point. But it didn't, and the team has to be wary about repeating the mistake, going forward.

I just think it all comes back to risk vs. reward.

MIRTLE: On principle, I agree that some teams will be punished for running out the big contracts. But bear with me here.

Think about it — if every team starts doing these contracts, there's no real skill or debate to it. It just becomes the thing to do in the way that RFA's off their first entry-level deal are now getting big money. And if everyone's giving their "stars" a 12-year deal, some of them are going to go bad — really bad.

The Islanders' gamble doesn't involve any skill or foresight. It's like betting on flipping a coin. Injuries are completely random, and will punish teams making good and bad decisions alike. It introduces an element of the absurd, really. If DiPietro's healthy and Mike Richards blows out both knees in Year 1, the Isles are the geniuses there?

Not really.

WYSHYNSKI: Well, like so many other types of gambling, skill has no home here. So if your argument is that it's a dumbing down of the managerial process, I can see your point. But for the league to step in and close a loophole, to me that's an indication that it's an issue that needs addressing, and I just don't see it that way.

If you're going to have a cap, you have to allow for some creative accounting so teams are able to hold onto the players they draft, nurture and then promote as stars. A front-loaded contract with a reduced cap hit allows a team like, say, Detroit to keep a star player while also hanging on to other talent.

Although I suppose the counter-argument would be that long-term, cap-savvy contracts are not allowing elite players to move from team to team, as they probably should in a capped league, right?

MIRTLE: All I was saying was that Bettman would love to get rid of these long-term deals. He can't stand them. I personally think they're unwise, but I'm not necessarily saying this should be a top priority for the league. There are plenty of worse issues with the CBA.

The more and more of these deals there are, the fewer players will be traded and the more boat anchors there'll be around the league. I'm guessing down the line more and more of the trades we see are one hunk of salary cap junk for another.

WYSHYNSKI: So to wrap this up, James: Is the cap working? Would we have still seen the elephantine 11-13 year contracts if there had been a luxury tax instead?

MIRTLE: In a lot of ways, the cap works well. I like that it limits everyone to a number like $56.7-million, as that's entirely reasonable for a lot of clubs to reach.

What I don't like are the lack of limits on monster deals (it's a matter of time before someone offers a 25-year contract like the one Magic Johnson once got) and the fact the salary floor is so high. Teams should be able to rebuild like the Penguins did with incredibly low salaries and a lot of youth.

If Zetterberg is 28 and gets a 12-year deal, why not give a 20-year deal to Tavares after his entry-level deal? And what if every phenom after that holds out for it?

 

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