Posted by: mdegeorge | July 19, 2010

Long-term insanity in NHL contracts

Where will you be in 17 years? I can’t answer that question, and I suspect there are few who can with any degree of certainty.

But one of those people is now Ilya Kovalchuk. When 2027 rolls around, he and his creaking knees, suddenly languid arms, and general disillusionment will be chained to the bench amidst the fading glory of the Prudential Center.

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Or at least that’s the plan according to his new 17-year, $100 million contract with the New Jersey Devils, the latest in an increasingly long line of hamstringing deals of ludicrous durations.

The standard was set by the Islanders’ ill-fated 15-year offer to Rick DiPietro, a contract which has yielded a whopping 61 wins and one season out of the Atlantic Division basement (and a fourth place at that). Brian Campbell’s eight-year deal with the Blackhawks has contributed to their post-Cup firesale now that Alexander Ovechkin has rendered him (at least temporarily) a step-slow, second-pairing defenseman.The term of these deals is reaching ridiculous proportions, and eventually it’s going to come to a head. They’re starting to resemble the Dolgoff plans that ABA teams used to shift their competitive balance with the NBA by deferring payments into annuities paid out over 25 years. The tipping point—and I suspect it will come about thanks to Kevin Lowe in Edmonton or whatever his next job is—will be when these deals start contracting players into their 50s, compensating them in their prime with the promise of income well into the twilight of their careers and the end of their usefulness on a hockey rink (as Chris Chelios’s Rolling Stones-esque perpetual farewell tour attests.)

Is there anyone who really sees Kovalchuk in Newark as a 44-year-old winger long, long past his prime? Personally, I see him maybe getting to age 34 before he wants out and starts feeling the pressure to win a Cup anywhere he can.

By the time 2027 rolls around, head coach John MacLean will have been fired from his current position and three others (if he’s lucky), Lou Lamoriello will be dead, and the plumbing in the Prudential Center will bear an all-too-striking resemblance to that of the Meadowlands.

Perhaps it’s worth it for the Devils to reduce Kovalchuk’s yearly cap hit to $5.8 million while they can still pay him near the $10 million maximum. Or maybe it’ll hamper the development of a team to keep a power forward—a breed with notoriously early apexes in productivity (right, Eric Lindros?)—that has just one win in nine playoff games over his first eight seasons in the NHL on the books for the next decade and a half.

Only time will tell. And we all know Kovalchuk has plenty of that ahead of him in the Garden State, a grim prediction if ever one there was.


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