NHL Lockout: The Pros and Cons of Player Contract Limits

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IDecember 19, 2012

Ilya Kovalchuk
Ilya KovalchukBruce Bennett/Getty Images

The issue of player contract term limits has become a major topic in the CBA talks between the NHL and NHLPA as we approach the 100th day of the lockout.

Agreeing to term limits has already happened, the problem now is the number of years. Here's where we are with this issue right now.

Term-Limits New Contracts Players Re-Signing
NHL 5 years 7 years
NHLPA 8 years  

As we wait for the two sides to negotiate this issue some more, let's look at some pros and cons involved with player-contract term limits.


Pro: Players would be motivated to earn another contract, which would likely improve the quality of hockey

Not all players get lazy after signing 10-plus year contracts, but there's a lot less motivation to work hard when you have 10 more years of guaranteed money than if you have only a few years remaining on your contract.

Without the long-term security that contracts of eight to 15 years in length provide, players would have to perform at a high level to earn two or more lucrative five-year contracts in their career.

Since players would have to play well and work hard consistently to earn a high salary with each new contract, the overall quality of the hockey seen across the league should improve.

This would be great for the fans, and make the league more exciting to watch.


Con: The "middle-class" of players would be hurt

One of the reasons why the NHLPA is fighting a five-year term limit is because the superstar players would likely take up a large portion of their team's salary cap, which would leave less money for teams to spend on middle-tier players.

Middle-tier players, or guys who usually play on the second or third line, really benefited in the previous CBA.

Guys like David Booth of the Vancouver Canucks, Brandon Dubinsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, David Jones of the Colorado Avalanche and Tuomo Ruutu of the Carolina Hurricanes are good players, but none of them should have contracts with AAVs of $4 million or more.

If there are five-year term limits in the next CBA and the salary cap ceiling is lower, then it will probably be difficult for these types of players to make $4 million or more per season over a four or five-year contract.

There are a lot of these types of players in the NHL right now, which is why the NHLPA is doing everything it can to avoid five-year limits.


Pro: Circumventing the salary cap should be more difficult

Teams found a number of ways to circumvent the salary cap in the previous agreement, and one method was to front-load lengthy contracts to lower the yearly salary cap hit.

With a five-year term limit, it should be harder, or maybe even impossible to front-load contracts and lower cap hits.

This is a good thing for the league because it will decrease the amount of "untradeable" contracts. Deals with seven-plus years left on them with a good-sized cap hit are tough to move.

Having fewer of these contracts could result in more trades being made during the season and in the summer, making the trade deadline more exciting.

The league would also benefit if there were fewer ways for large market, rich teams to get around the salary cap to sign top-tier players.

If it's harder to circumvent the salary cap in the new CBA, the parity in the league could be even better than it has been over the last seven years.


Con: The league is putting too much importance on this issue

One surprising and unexpected part of the NHL's press conference earlier this month in New York after negotiations ended, was the comment from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on the importance of term-limits (via Pat Leonard of The New York Daily News).

Daly calls term limits of player contracts "the hill we will die on" ..... OH BOY

— Pat Leonard (@NYDNRangers) December 7, 2012

By "we," he is talking about the owners, and there are a few reasons why this term-limits are so important to the league.

Term-limits help control player salaries, limit the amount of years that players receive guaranteed money and help prevent owners from overpaying players with contracts they will later regret.

Among all the important issues to fight over, player contract term-limits shouldn't be one that determines the fate of the 2012-13 season. This is an issue that should be negotiated in a few hours, because there is only a difference of three years between the two sides.

This is not an issue that the NHL should ruin a season over; however, the league has been unwilling to budge on this issue, and since it's so important to the owners, don't expect them to soften their stance unless the players make a major concession on another issue.


Pro: Small Market Teams Have Better Chance to Keep Star Players

Whether you live in an area with a large-market NHL team or a small-market team, it's hard to disagree with the idea that the league is better off when small-market teams keep their star players.

The overall health of the NHL is stronger when there are stars throughout the league, and not just in a few major markets. The NBA has this problem, but thankfully, it's not something that the NHL is dealing with right now.

It's challenging for small-market teams to stay competitive consistently when large-market teams usually offer superstars more money and years, as well as the opportunity for more endorsement deals.

If players can only get contracts longer than five years if they sign with their current team in the next CBA, then the chances of small-market franchises keeping their stars and building a yearly contender will improve.

Among the four major North American sports leagues, we see less major stars leave small markets to sign with large-market teams in hockey than in the NBA, NFL or MLB. This past summer was a good example of that.

Superstars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter turned down offers to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings to join the Minnesota Wild, and star defenseman Matt Carle left the Flyers to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Players being able to earn more guaranteed money with their own teams should help small-market franchises keep their best players instead of losing them to free agency, which should give them a better chance to be successful on and off the ice.


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