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Analysis: Big contracts for young players always a gamble

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Interested in knowing how negotiations between GMs and agents representing young stars go these days?

Here’s a sample.

GM: How are things?

Agent: Geez, they’d be better if I could kick this cold; cough-offersheet-cough.

GM: Let’s get this done.

OK, maybe it’s not that simple, but the fear of losing young players as restricted free agents is definitely playing a role in the recent trend of clubs committing lots of green to relatively green players.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson has embraced this notion.

Even defenseman Matt Carle, who by most standards is struggling in his sophomore year, was recently given a four-year deal worth $13.75 million.

Wilson also locked up Milan Michalek earlier this year, just as Edmonton has done with Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner (and tried to do with Thomas Vanek); Anaheim with Ryan Getzlaf; Minnesota with Brent Burns; Vancouver with Kevin Bieksa; L.A. with Dustin Brown and so on.

In addition to negating any possible RFA offer sheets, signing young guys to multi-year deals does have another positive side.

Ideally, it means you’re paying a player for his prime years, as opposed to rewarding them for what they’ve done in the past, as is the case with some unrestricted free agent contracts.

Optimistic GMs will tell you, since these guys haven’t fully realized their potential yet, there’s a good chance you’ll be getting star-type production for less money (albeit slightly), than you would normally have to fork out for that kind of return.

In a cap world, that can be a risk worth taking.

But make no mistake, it’s a roll of the dice. Penner has four goals this year. Carle has played all of 107 NHL games, putting up 54 points in that time. Financially, both could call it a career right now.

Which brings about the issue of incentive.

Part of what drives young people in any field is the desire to prove yourself worthy and subsequently, be compensated for your value down the road.

To some degree, handing out big contracts to young players removes the dangling-carrot factor.

Getzlaf, at 22, already has a big payday and a Cup ring. I’m not suggesting he won’t be motivated to keep improving, but it will certainly take a lot of internal drive.

Not every young player handed a big contract is going to be equipped with that.

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