There is absolutely no doubt about one thing. When Alexander Radulov signed his five-year deal with the Dallas Stars for $31.25 million over the weekend, he was chasing the money. Does that make him greedy? Well, perhaps it does, but if that’s the case, do you know who else is greedy? Let’s start with 2012 first-rounder Stefan Matteau, who will make $100,000 playing in the minors if he fails to stick with the Vegas Golden Knights in the fall. Then we can move on to guys such as Adam Clendening, Patrick Wiercioch, Beau Bennett, Derek Grant, Seth Griffith, Joe Morrow and Darcy Kuemper, marginal NHL players who will make $650,000 next season whether they play in the NHL or the minors. What about NBA player J.J. Redick, a 33-year-old who signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia 76ers for $23 million, which is three times what he made last season? Or Johnny Depp, who commanded $35 million for the latest installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise? They all chased the money, too.
Even though GMs were generally far more restrained in their dealings during the first weekend of free agency, there were still a number of deals that bordered on ludicrous. So we start with the premise that the money in professional sports is pretty much obscene across the board. To wit: Connor McDavid will sign a contract worth $106 million. His employer, the Edmonton Oilers, charged fans $80 to watch home playoff games on a television from the concourse of Rexall Place, and there were more than enough people who were perfectly willing to do it.
And greed is really relative, isn’t it? Prior to this season, future Hall of Famer and all-round good guy Pavel Datsyuk turned his back on a contract he signed in good faith with the Detroit Red Wings because he wanted to go home to Russia to be closer to his daughter. Had they not been able to park his dead money with the Arizona Coyotes, the Red Wings would have been stuck with a $7.5 million cap hit. After the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, Hall of Famer and all-round good guy Scott Niedermayer couldn’t figure out whether he wanted to retire or not, so he took a couple of months off, despite the fact that he too had a binding contract, and placed the Ducks in a terrible spot. Is that not also being greedy?
It’s not for Alexander Radulov or Connor McDavid or any other player to be bear a burden for being paid an outrageous amount of money for what they do. They create wealth for others as well as themselves and they are the best in the world at doing that. Their careers are short and uncertain and they are doing nothing, absolutely nothing, that the vast majority of us would not do in the same situation. Nor should they be responsible for worrying about the strain their contracts place on a system governed by a salary cap, one that in its effort to impose competitive balance actually does nothing of the sort and causes more problems than it solves.
Radulov, meanwhile, built on one good season in which he received a second chance and parlayed that into a huge, long-term payday. Montreal took a one-year gamble on Radulov last summer and instead of being rewarded for that by having the player accept a new deal on their terms, they lost him for nothing to a team that was willing to meet his demands. In reality, it’s hard to blame the Canadiens for taking a pass on a player who will be 36 years old at the end of this deal and carries some potential red flags when it comes giving him the comfort and security of a long-term contract. And it’s impossible to find fault with Radulov, a player who gave the Canadiens more than fair value on last year’s deal. Neither party owed each other anything.
All of this is about greed, one would suppose. But almost everybody falls into that category when it comes to their livelihoods. A good number of players who have signed over the past couple of days have taken much of their salary in signing bonus, which will mean there might be a year when they get paid not to play hockey if the league locks them out the way it has three times over two decades. There’s greed all over the place in that scenario.
Alexander Radulov and the 100-plus other players who have signed or re-signed since July 1 have earned the right to do what they do. And even though there are a lot of hockey fans out there who think they would be thrilled to have the privilege of playing in the NHL for a fraction of the wage, they wouldn’t act any differently if they were in the same situation.