With apologies to one of my Twitter friends, as I forget who asked the question, a tweet from yesterday re-hashed an old issue for me. The tweet I’m referring to asked (roughly): if you’re the Oilers and you see the terrible Unrestricted Free Agent market coming this summer, would you rather sign Ladislav Smid for eight years at three million, or half the term at $4.5 million? You want to keep him, after all.

Ignore the numbers, ignore Smid, but take note of the idea that with a seven-year max-term on contracts under the new CBA, and the fact that players who re-sign with their current team can get eight, we can expect to see more average-to-pretty-decent players getting longer term deals as teams use what incentives they have to get reliable guys to stay. If you don’t use that incentive, you’re going to have to overpay a bit.

Here comes the lots-of-max-length-deals era of the NHL.

In the case of Ryan Getzlaf, you lock up a talented guy for eight years, but you’ve also given him job security beyond his wildest dreams. I say too much. Not everyone is capable of motivating from within.

For that reason, I’d think twice about pulling the trigger on these tempting long-term contracts were I an NHL GM.

I wrote about this in January of 2011 on my (no longer updated) personal blog when teams were signing guys to crazy-long contracts to lower their cap hits with back-diving deals. The point today might be more relevant now than then, with the way contract structures are changing. What if we gave you ALL THE YEARS, will you stay and sign for less than you could get on the open market plz?

Eight years guaranteed? Yes. Yes I’m in.

And suddenly, your team has Ladislav Smid (or whoever) for eight years.

Not all humans do well when they don’t have to. Not every player is able to self-motivate night-in, night-out like Sidney Crosby is (see above) – simply put, we don’t all desire to be the best at what we do. Some of us will settle for mad bank and the guarantee of a job for a long time. Oh, the Twittervese thinks I’m disappointing? Whatever shall I do?

Getzlaf had a rough year last year, but is tearing it up in his contract year. Was that some motivation for him? Possibly.

For my part, my college stats directly reflect my off-season effort level. The summer before my junior year, I bulked up to look good in a t-shirt, and didn’t focus on the type of training hockey requires. Was it partially because I knew I had two more paid years at a school where I was already established? I don’t know for sure. But I know I wouldn’t have ignored proper training before my freshman year, and I know I didn’t slough off the responsibility before my senior year.

This isn’t a comment on any player in particular, it’s just me making the simple and obvious statement that some of us need external motivation, like say, the guarantee of more paychecks.

If your sole goal is to get a player under contract for as low a number as possible (by giving him a lot of years), I suspect you’re often lowering the quality of player you’re purchasing. In a nutshell, you get what you pay for.

We haven’t seen what the tail end of these huge deals comes to look like for guys who have signed them yet, and I have no doubt some will have some success. I also have no doubt that some won’t.

If I were a General Manager of an NHL team, I know I would think long and hard about giving a long-term deal to a player who hasn’t established himself as a hardcore worker and self-motivator.

Comments (7)

  1. Interesting.
    I don’t know about hockey, but I know that in baseball a lot of analytics have shown that the ‘contract year narrative’ is bunk for increasing preformance. Hockey is obviously a different sport where motivation and hard work may play a larger role. I dunno.

    • in baseball, your body can only take so many steroids.. so when contract years come up.. your already maxxxed out on the roids.. cant do much more

  2. I think it was also proven wrong in hockey. Motivation fluctuates between individuals and over time in a single individual, for many reasons beside money. Once you made the team as a rookie, are you coming back with the same drive the next year ? May explain the sophomore slump some players go through. If you finally have your spot on the top line and first PP, are you concerned you’ll lose it ? It’s hard to become the best, even harder to remain on top.

    Beside motviation, health will change over time, and the things you could do will change. No doubt Lecavalier was a world-class player when he signed his contract, but many injuries later he can’t play at that level anymore. He is still a good player, but he isn’t top5 in the league. Will Getzlaf be a top10 player in 8 years ? Is he one now ? 6 years ago, Lecavalier, Thornton, Heatley, Briere, Marc Savard, Olli Jokinen, Ovechkin, Iginla were all in the top 15 scorers in the league. They’re not that old, but who deserves top 15 money now ?Things change a lot in 6-8 years, and these contracts will come back to bite a lot of GM over time.

  3. On the other hand, its hard to plan as a GM if you are constantly having to deal with expiring contracts. You cant count on any of your players sticking around. Plus if you are paying a premium for short contract length, you cant acquire as much talent.

  4. i think we can get used to the fact.. this is how shit goes in the NHL… have a good season, get paid.. have a few good seasons.. be russian, have your character assassinated.. still get paid.. but in one year contracts

  5. Fair to say that Kiprusoff was the very first cap-circumventing contract (I believe Lambert once touched on this on Flames Nation).

    Kiprusoff is probably the worst starting goalie statistically in the NHL right now as his contract is in its latter stages. Next year is his final year in which he only makes 1.5 Million.

    He is the first case study on how a frontloaded cap circumventing contract will come back to bite you when it is nearly over.

  6. As an Oilers fan, Smid at $3 mil for 8 years would be a godsend. He is a great d-man and would be a steal of a deal for most of that contract. Even if he has 2-3 bad years, 3 mil is a cheap pricetag. If he was signed to your 4 yr $4.5M, it only takes 1 bad year to have the masses calling for his head.

    If its cheap enough, take the long term deal every time. Even if they arent worth it, at least its easy to move/buyout…. An expensive one (Getzlaf) is where your huge risk comes in.

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