Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kovalchuk deal shows a major chink in the NHL's armor

First things first – a hearty welcome back is in order for my blogging-better half. Oh how we’ve missed his witty repartee and essential Ride Home links… He’s going to read this and think I’m being mean-spirited and sarcastic, but I assure you, friends, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, since his arrival a few days ago, I have not heard from him in any way, shape or form, which has been upsetting for me. I suppose in due time. Maybe he’ll post a comment today.

On to the matter at hand: I’ve used several thousand words on this very blog to express my criticisms of aspects of various sports (most notably football), but I have given the National Hockey League a pass so far.

As I’ve noted before, the NHL is my favorite professional sporting league; however, there’s one thing that, to borrow a line from Peter Griffin, really grinds my gears – the ridiculously lengthy contracts that are doled out like those cheesy biscuits at Red Lobster (I’m hungry).

Case in point is the New Jersey Devils’ signing of Ilya Kovalchuk. At 27 years old, Kovalchuk just inked a 17-year, $102 million deal… so if my simple math is correct, that would make him a Devil until after his 44th birthday. Unless Kovalchuk somehow has the same tenacity, vigor and mental illness of Mark Recchi (who I think is still looking for a team to sign him at the ripe age of 48), then something is just wrong with this picture.

Why even bring a deal like this to the table? I realize this contract will in all likelihood never be fully carried out – and yes, I know people will say “who cares” for that reason alone – but at what point is hockey making itself the butt of a joke with these contracts?

For a sport like hockey that is fighting tooth and nail to reaffirm its spot as a top sport in the U.S., laughable stories such as these are detrimental to the image of the league. Part of the allure of the game is that its players are not like the A-Rods, Roethlisbergers and Kobes – and by them I mean spoiled rich kids.

According to CapGeek.com (and as reported by NHL Blogger Adam Gretz), in addition to Kovalchuk, here are some of the longest NHL contracts in the last decade:

Rick Dipietro (Islanders): 15 years, $67.5 million
Alex Ovechkin (Capitals): 13 years, $123.5 million
Henrik Zetterberg (Red Wings): 12 years, $73 million
Vincent Lecavalier (Lightning): 11 years, $84.7 million
Marian Hossa (Blackhawks): 12 years, $62.4 million
Roberto Luongo (Canucks): 12 years, $64 million
Johan Franzen (Red Wings): 11 years, $43 million

Of these players, the average age at the start of the contract was 27. The average age by the end of these contacts is about 39 and some change. A bit much in my humble opinion. Perhaps it’s time Commissioner Gary Bettman considers a maximum contract length rule… unless he prefers to have his contemporaries snickering behind his back.

Snickering… I told you I was hungry. Go enjoy some lunch and check back in at 4 p.m. for your Ride Home links. Love as always.


  1. Cap circumvention is the name of the game. Because he is paid so little in the last few years of the deal, like 500k for the last year, his cap hit averages 6.6 mil...it's one of the worst loopholes in sports.

  2. 40 is too old for hockey? (I ask as someone who truly doesn't know.)

  3. @Mike - Well put... and circumvention is a perfect word in this situation:
    cir·cum·vent –verb (used with object)
    1. to go around or bypass
    2. to avoid (defeat, failure, unpleasantness, etc.) by artfulness or deception; avoid by anticipating or outwitting

    @Stacey - There are a handful of players who stayed relevant into their fourth decade, but they are few and far between. I would guess they're the exception, not the rule. As the game gets faster and faster, it gets more and more difficult for guys over 35 to keep up (just my opinion - I don't have stats to back that up).

  4. I just read the NHL rejected the contract.

  5. Haha, I heard that this morning. Gary Bettman clearly follows our blog and values our insights.

    I just giggled at the thought of that.

    BUT, do you think it's ok for the NHL to do this now, with no rule currently in place? I kind of think what's done is done, and new rules should only affect players from here on out.

  6. This is one of the better things I've read on the subject. I agree with it, for the most part. It's good that the NHL finally put their foot down...but they look awful for doing it right now.