It just seems odd that in a period of labour uncertainty, any player or team would be willing to commit so many years of their careers and so much money to the other side. Eight years ago, in the summer before the first lockout, a three-year deal was thought of as a long-term deal. Four was pushing it.
But recent deals signed, especially to unrestricted free agents on the wrong side of 27, blow those completely out of the water. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter each got 13. Jason Garrison and Matt Carle each got six. Even a pair of pluggers, Adam Burish and Brandon Prust, got four-year deals from San Jose and Montreal, respectively.
It’s cards on the table weather in the NHL. The odd thing is that none of the deals have come out with a salary term so offensive to the rest of us. I’d certainly love to be making $7.5M over the next 13 years as Parise is, but you could argue that the value of an unrestricted superstar has even dropped in the more recent years. The Wild are paying a lower percentage of the salary cap for Parise as the Flyers did when they originally signed Danny Briere in the summer of 2007.
We still have yet to see the end of the first long-term, front-loaded deal signed by an NHL team to see how it might affect the team in its final years. How long ago did it seem Danny Briere became a Flyer? At age 30, he signed the famous eight-year, $52 Million deal with Philadelphia. If there is labour peace, he’ll go into his sixth season of the deal, still at a $6.5 Million salary cap hit.
Is he worth it? Well, with the way the salary cap jumped from just about $57 Million in 2008 to $70 Million this season, he’d be the equivalent of a player making just under $8 Million. Is he worth that, for contract years 35, 36 and 37? This is a player who cracked 70 points in just a single year of this deal, the first, and has scored 30 twice. He’s closer to being a $6.5 Million player than an $8 Million player, for sure.
Teams have yet to be burdened with the high cap, low salary years on a deal. What if it doesn’t go to plan and Danny Briere tells the Flyers that he doesn’t want to retire after next season and he wants to keep playing hockey. It’s not like the Flyers can’t absolutely oblige him.
Briere’s was the first and others followed. Other deals are already becoming headaches for teams. Roberto Luongo and Ilya Bryzgalov are just two, but I’m sure there will be others as players dip into the latter half of those contracts. Long-term deals are going to be a big part of NHL labour negotiations, despite us being about a year away from seeing the ill-adverse effects of the deals, effects that might sour players or teams on inking a front-loaded contract.
And yet, the salary cap keeps going up, which makes the deals less of a risk. Briere’s deal hurts the Flyers about a fifth of what it did in 2008. The NHL won’t be able to further cap the player’s share of hockey related revenue and bring an end to these contracts all in one fell swoop, so I imagine there is still room for the salary cap to grow in the upcoming CBA.
Either way, the original Briere deal served it purpose. It got the Flyers their man, paid him a terrific amount of money early on and gave Philadelphia a chance to compete for four of the five productive years of the deal. It made other superstars tougher to find, as well, as these deals take the best players off the market during their best years. The goal of general managers will be, unless some of these contracts are rolled back, will not be to evaluate talent in the years ahead, but to draft, develop and lock up talent before talent hits its unrestricted free agent years.