David Zuba, Brigantine, N.J.
As Donald Fehr presumably gets ready to take the reins of power to the NHLPA and lead the players into the next round of CBA negotiations with the NHL in two years, I am left to ponder what issues threaten the league at this time.
I am not going to harp on the fact that the league should consider moving struggling southern U.S. franchises north of the border or that defensive strategies are still sucking the life out of the game’s creativity.
While the salary cap now ensures that a set percentage of revenues goes to the players year in and year out, there is one aspect of the CBA that I feel has become the biggest detriment to the league and to a team’s prolonged and sustained success.
Prior to the summer of 2007, GMs throughout the league obeyed the unwritten rule that you don’t touch another club’s restricted free agents for fear that it would cause a negative precedent.
When Edmonton’s former GM Kevin Lowe rocked the boat and signed Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek to a $7-million-per-year offer sheet, the fresh concrete was poured without any hope of ever breaking free.
After Buffalo matched Edmonton’s offer, Lowe created more waves by signing Anaheim’s Dustin Penner to a bloated offer sheet, which Anaheim refused to match. In the end, the Oilers had themselves an over-paid, over-hyped $4.5-million-per-year left winger, but what the NHL got in return was 29 other GMs who were now completely terrified of leaving their top young talent exposed before the end of their entry level contracts.
Since then, every top young talent from Sidney Crosby to Evgeni Malkin to Alex Ovechkin to Ryan Kesler to Phil Kessel to Mike Richards to Jeff Carter to Jonathan Toews to Patrick Kane and on and on have been signed to ultra-rich, long-term contracts that were unimaginable prior to Kevin Lowe’s precedent-setting RFA offer sheets.
I feel that players coming out of their entry level deals who break the bank like Crosby and Ovechkin and so on leave their NHL clubs between a rock and a hard place.
Yes, these young top talents deserve a nice raise, but these en vogue contracts are handcuffing clubs and are not permitting them to build for more than three years.
Case in point: the Penguins, whose roster has been overhauled since its Cup victory in 2009 thanks to bloated contracts to Crosby and Malkin.
Another example, to a lesser extent, is the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks, who gave out massive raises to Toews, Kane, Cam Barker, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien and others at the end of their deals.
In my opinion, the NHL should look to increase the length of the entry level contract from three years to six years. In return, the league should take the non-guaranteed contract that the owners want off the table.
Entry level players would still be making a nice living monetarily, but at the same time they would be ensuring that their club could possibly stick together for a few more years. Just imagine if the Penguins had Crosby and Malkin under a six-year entry level contract, maybe then the Penguins could have resigned a Ryan Malone, a Marian Hossa or a Jarkko Ruutu rather than being forced to let them walk.
It used to be that in the pre-lockout days you had to earn your superstar salary over the course of a lengthy career, but now today players achieve this ultra-rich status before most have accomplished much of anything, save for Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin.
It is my hope that players such as Crosby, Malkin, Toews, Kane, Ovechkin and Richards and the NHLPA would rather have continued team success and a realistic chance at winning the Stanley Cup instead of striking it rich early in their careers.