When the Ottawa Senators announced the signing of 22-year-old defenseman Thomas Chabot to an eight-year deal worth $64 million, it was almost universally hailed as a very good move by the team. After all, Chabot has displayed an enormous amount of potential as an NHLer and will almost certainly be the Senators’ next captain. Forget that the deal will probably considered a bargain before too long, it was also a show of faith to Senators fans that after years of dysfunction, perhaps better times lie ahead.
One of the outliers in all of this was former NHL star and current television broadcaster Jeremy Roenick, who acknowledged in a tweet that Chabot, “is a great kid with some serious skill.” He then publicly expressed his amazement at what 80 career points in the NHL gets you these days, before dropping this controversial tweet:
NHL contracts today just blow my mind…. I remember when you actually had to earn high salaries, now they are just given and hope they work out! Crazy.
— Jeremy Roenick (@Jeremy_Roenick) September 19, 2019
For a guy who started his career making $115,000 and had to wait until he was 31 to make the kind of money Chabot will make when his extension kicks in next season, Roenick sounded a little like the old man yelling at the clouds. Roenick was pining for the good old days when players took inferior money during their most productive years and were paid for what they had already accomplished, not what they were going to do. It’s the ass-backward economic model that guided the NHL for years and everybody still made a lot of money. Roenick himself made more than $50 million in career earnings.
Roenick’s words started a nice little Twitter war with outspoken agent Allan Walsh, who unloaded on JR with both barrels:
Said the guy who made over $50M while playing in the NHL and part of the group of players that stabbed the NHLPA/Bob Goodenow in the back during the 2004/05 lockout. Every NHL player today can partly thank ol JR for the salary cap and escrow. https://t.co/MLFQsecPQK
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) September 19, 2019
What Roenick was doing, though, was adhering to a generations-old tradition in professional sports. It’s understandable why players Roenick’s age think players who have been raised in an era of entitlement are getting too much too early. And there’s a good chance Roenick realizes this, but there are players who played in the early 1970s and ’80s who are probably pretty bitter that some young punk from Boston who spent his minor hockey years travelling around the country playing for elite teams was able to cash in on an era when money really, really started to get big.
And players in the 1950s and ’60s are jealous of those guys because they made enough money to take summers off. When Rocket Richard wasn’t filling the net and winning Stanley Cups for the Montreal Canadiens, he was going door-to-door selling heating oil in the off-season to help make ends meet. There is an iconic picture from the 1950s of Tim Horton behind the wheel of Conn Smythe Contracting Company dump truck. When Dickie Moore was starting his multi-million dollar construction rental company behind the Dairy Queen he owned in suburban Montreal, his bank foreclosed on him. Jean Beliveau scored two more career points than Roenick and won 10 more Stanley Cups in 50 fewer games earned less during his 19-year career than Roenick made in his first three seasons. And players from the 1940s were probably peeved Beliveau held off signing with the Canadiens until he was 22 primarily because he was making more money playing senior hockey for the Quebec Aces. And so it goes.
It’s hard to imagine that today’s young millionaires will have anything to complain about when their careers end, but you never know where the economics of the game are going to go. But one thing is certain. These players are better-trained and –prepared to not only play with, but shine among, the best players in the world than they’ve ever been. And teams are beginning to grasp the concept that perhaps it’s a better use of money and cap space to pay players for what they are going to accomplish, rather than signing a player in his late 20s or early 30s to long-term, big-money contracts that have almost no chance of being worth the expense.
And, as has been mentioned, there is probably going to be a time very soon when Thomas Chabot at $8 million on a long-term deal is going to look like a team-friendly agreement. And unlike during much of Roenick’s career, a player can no longer simply hold out on his team in an effort to have his contract ripped up and renegotiated. You sign it, you play it out to its conclusion.
Time marches on and the young men who have sacrificed so much to become the best in the world at what they do, the ones who create wealth for their owners, are going to get paid for it.
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