Like Cam Charron, I haven’t been too surprised by most of the contracts being handed out in free agency this year. For the most part, the contracts being signed are reasonable, especially given the higher salary cap and the paucity of high-end talent in this free agent market. A few players have gotten overpaid, but that’s the nature of free agency. High demand plus low supply equals high prices.
I have been surprised, however, at a few of the long term deals that are being handed out. I’m not talking about the 10-year contract extensions for Jonathan Quick or Jordan Staal, or even the 6-year deal for Jason Garrison and the 5-year deal for Dennis Wideman.
The long term deals that I’m talking about are two-year deals. Specifically, the ones being given out to ageing veterans nearing the end of their careers.
First up was Ray Whitney, who at 40 years old signed a two-year deal worth $4.5 million per season with the Dallas Stars. That’s a $1.5 million raise. While Whitney is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, he’s still set to be the only player on the Stars who actually remembers the 70′s rather than Ashton Kutcher’s impression of the 70′s.
After that came Sami Salo, who will be 38 by the start of next season. At least, that’s his official age. I’m sure if you actually tested his body, it would come out to around 64. I believe the correct method for doing so would be to cut him in half and count the rings. The Tampa Bay Lightning signed Salo to a two-year deal worth $3.75 million per season, which is the largest cap hit of his career.
Martin Brodeur played hardball with the Devils by (gasp!) hiring an agent. The Devils responded by signing the 40-year-old to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million per season, which is, thankfully, less than he was making on his last contract. As a reminder to everyone who was dazzled by the Devils’ playoff run, Brodeur had a .908 save percentage during the regular season, which was 34th in the NHL.
After Brodeur signed, his backup, Johan Hedberg, signed as well. At 39, he signed a two-year deal worth $1.4 million per season. His main job will be being better than Brodeur (.918 save percentage last season) and making Brodeur feel better about being more than twice the age of Adam Larsson.
I was going to include Ryan Smyth as well, after he signed a two-year deal with the Oilers, until I remembered that he only looks 47.
I’m used to veteran players on the verge of retirement taking one-year deals, both because they’re uncertain of their future and because teams don’t want to take a risk on older players for more than one season. Sami Salo, for instance, signed a one-year deal with the Canucks last season and it was thought to be his final year in the NHL. Turns out it wasn’t even his penultimate year.
If your argument is that these players could choose to retire after the first year of their contract, then the two-year deals are even more of a bad idea. The Collective Bargaining Agreement has a 35-and-over clause that covers this type of situation: if one of these players chooses to retire after this coming season, their contract will still count against the cap.
Speaking of the CBA, that may be a partial explanation for these deals. With the NHLPA and NHL in negotiations this summer over a new CBA, we could be facing a shortened or, heaven forbid, a cancelled 2012-13 season. It’s entirely possible that these 4 players want so badly to play one more season that they’re hedging their bets and signing for two just in case the first doesn’t happen.
In any case, guys like Andrew Brunette (39 by the start of the season), Jason Blake (39), Tomas Holmstrom (39), Jason Arnott (38), Brian Rolston (39), John Madden (39), Mike Knuble (39), and, of course, Jaromir Jagr (40) should be paying attention to this trend.
As for Teemu Selanne, his fans have been chanting the wrong thing all this time. It’s like when you go to a show and at the end of a band’s set everyone chants for “one more song.” We should be chanting for two, three, or even four more songs! Get greedy! Let’s hear you Ducks fans: TWO MORE YEARS! TWO MORE YEARS! TWO MORE YEARS!