More Money, More Problems.
The Notorious B.I.G. uttered that phrase back in 1997, but NHL general managers have not been listening. There is nothing wrong with a player looking to make the most money while he can; he will not be playing forever and the average retirement age for an NHL player is 28. For some superstars, they are just reaching their peak at this age while others are trying to figure out what their next step in life will be. So it’s no wonder why players will seek the most they can get while they can.
Let’s take a look at some major contracts in the NHL over the last decade. Arguably the worst contract in NHL history belongs to former New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro. Dipietro was signed to a 15-year, $67.5 million dollar contract. Another large contract was that of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Vincent Lecavalier, who signed for 11 years, $85 million. At the time, he was the highest paid player in the league. These contracts were signed under the NHL’s previous collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and was a major bone of contention with team owners, leading to a lockout that canceled half of the 2012-2013 season. After the lockout, teams were able to use two compliance buyouts to relieve the team of such contracts. Players were still paid the contract they were signed while not affecting the salary cap, and it still allowed them to play for another team. It was a win-win for both team and player alike as both DiPietro and Lecavalier were bought out.
Fast forward to the current CBA. One would assume that things have changed, but that does not appear to be so. In 2014, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were signed to matching 8-year, $84 million dollar contract with an annual cap hit of $10.5 million. Simple math shows that those contracts total $21 million dollars with a team salary cap of $71.4 million dollars. That means two players consume almost 30% of the team’s allotted salary. After their most recent Stanley Cup win, the Blackhawks were forced to move players like Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, and Johnny Oduya to make room for the contracts of Toews and Kane.
Recently, the Los Angeles Kings signed Anze Kopitar to an 8-year, $80 million contract. This has a significant impact on the Tampa Bay Lightning, as Steven Stamkos is still in contract negotiations with general manager Steve Yzerman. One would assume that Yzerman is not comfortable doling out so much money to one player when Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Vlad Namestnikov, and J.T. Brown will need to be signed. This isn’t just a short-term issue but one that could also become a long-term issue. Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson will be looking for a raise, as well as guys that have expiring contracts in the next couple of years like Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. With the Lightning’s recent success in the postseason, Yzerman certainly wants to do his best to keep the band together, but at what cost? It remains to be seen if Stamkos stays or moves on from Tampa Bay. Distractions like Jonathan Drouin’s trade demand certainly don’t help the situation. With Kopitar getting such a large contract, one would assume that Stamkos is looking for something similar. It appears that Yzerman has a lot of sleepless nights ahead of him, especially with the trade deadline approaching. If Stamkos does not re-sign with the Lightning or is not traded, he could simply walk away, leaving the Lighting with nothing. And that is certainly not an ideal situation for Yzerman or the Lightning.
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