You can arrive at one of two conclusions when it comes to the Vancouver Canucks signing goaltender Roberto Luongo to a 12-year deal worth a reported $64 million Wednesday.
They are: 1) Like the Chicago Blackhawks with Marian Hossa and the Philadelphia Flyers with Chris Pronger, they are clearly circumventing the collective bargaining agreement, presumably with the NHL’s blessing, or; 2) they believe Luongo will be a freak of nature.
By signing Luongo to a 12-year deal, the Canucks will theoretically have the netminder under contract until beyond his 42nd birthday. Of course, there’s a chance Luongo will play at a high level for a piddly $1 million 12 seasons from now at the age of 42. There’s also a chance the New York Islanders will face the Phoenix Coyotes in the Stanley Cup final this season.
Even though there is a provision in the CBA that prevents teams from circumventing it, this kind of deal is happening all the time. It’s another example of the owners in this game whining about the economics, then doing everything possible to get around the downside of a new system.
Like all the other deals teams are signing with elite players, this one is front-loaded in a big way. Though the salary cap hit for Luongo will be $5.3 million for the life of the deal, he will make almost double that amount when he is paid $10 million next season. He’ll then receive $7.716 million in 2011-12 and $6.714 million from 2012-13 through 2017-18. He’ll get $3.382 million in 2018-19, then down to $1.618 million in 2019-20 and $1 million for the last two years of the deal.
But history tells us goalies who play past their 40th birthdays – and at a high level – are indeed rare.
In fact, the only one to do so since the 1970s has been Dominik Hasek, who played 56 games for the Detroit Red Wings the season he turned 42 and 41 matches in the season he turned 43. In the history of the NHL, just seven goalies have played beyond their 42nd birthdays, including Hugh Lehman, who played four games for the Chicago Black Hawks at the age of 42 in the 1920s, and Moe Roberts, who played a period for the Black Hawks at the age of 46 in 1951-52.
The others are Johnny Bower, Jacques Plante, Eddie Johnston and Gump Worsley.
So if Luongo were to play at a decent level to the end of his contract, he’d be part of a rare breed of player. Chances are, though, Luongo will hang up his pads well before that day comes and the Canucks will benefit from getting around a CBA that was supposed to put an end to this kind of nonsense.
Chances are, Luongo will retire after the 2018-19 season when the big money stops rolling in. Let’s, for a moment, assume that will be the case. That means the Canucks will have paid Luongo $60.38 million over nine years. Spread over that time period, the cap hit would be $6.71 million, so, essentially, the Canucks save almost $1.4 million in cap relief over the course of nine seasons.
Look for long-term deals such as this one to become a thing of the past in the next CBA, which only means teams will have to become even more creative in their attempts to get around it the next time around.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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