NHL contracts: too much for too long?

With the salary cap limiting the price that teams can pay for players, NHL teams are now gambling by locking players into long term contracts during the players’ prime. The players also enjoy these long term contracts. This allows players to grow up in a city, raise a family, and become accustomed to a specific neighborhood.

Long term contracts are destroying NHL teams.

Recent contract extensions, specifically Tuuka Rask of the Boston Bruins, have inspired me to consider whether they are really effective or not.

We see examples over and over of owners having to buy out these ridiculous contracts because players can’t perform to their expected level year after year.  Ilya Bryzgalov was a top goaltender entering his enormous contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier was bought out of his contact after becoming a subpar centerman. One of the most memorable contracts in NHL history (and arguably the worst contract in professional sports) is between the New York Islanders and goaltender Rick DiPietro. DiPietro was expected to be a consistently outstanding goalie for several years to come, leading to the Islanders offering a contract of 15 years’ worth $67,500,000. DiPietro played 318 games in the NHL.

Despite these trends of long term contracts ending horrifically, NHL teams continue to invest large amounts of money in contracts extending past 7 years.

Similar to how naïve economists may make decisions based off of short-term data, team executives consider a couple years of success when offering contracts. It seems as though only a handful of players seem to last through the duration of their contracts with their respective team. Quanthockey.com released an article stating that only 4 percent of players will play for more than 1000 games. With that being said, why do so many owners gamble with the unlikelihood that their players will last for such a long time?

What can be done?

Alexander Ovechkin's contract reaches an annual average of $9.5 million.

Alexander Ovechkin’s contract reaches an annual average of $9.5 million.

The National Hockey League should be considering limiting the length of a contract between a player and a team. The NHL should also consider getting rid of contract buyouts. One of the things about a contract is that it is law-binding. Both parties (the player and the team) enter an agreement to work together for an extended period of time. Is it disrespectful if a franchise player asks to be traded, or end his contract early? Hockey fans would most likely agree that it isn’t right for a player to be able to exit early out of a contract.

Why should teams be allowed that same privilege, and have it be recognized as a smart business transaction?

Although it may be a hypothetical question, it definitely raises some key points about the legitimacy of contracts and the respect of a contract by both parties entering said contract.

Contracts between 2-5 years seem reasonable in the aspect that a team won’t be stuck with a flop for what seems to be an eternity. It also won’t result in a team paying millions of dollars just so that a certain player never steps foot in that dressing room again.

Hockey has also differentiated itself from the other three top professional sport leagues (NFL, NBA, and MLB) in the sense that it doesn’t have players that are being paid ungodly amounts of money to play a sport that they love. It has continually become a sport in which a multi-million dollar contract is not absurd, especially after a playoff run.

The NHL’s salary cap is trying to limit the amount of big-ticket contracts offered by a team, but it raises more questions up for debate:

Is one player worth over five million dollars per season?

What is a reasonable price for a top player?

What do you consider a reasonable contract length?


Follow me on Twitter @JordanWalkerAKL

Please fill out the contact field below to be placed on an email list for future articles written by Jordan Walker.