NHL's Young Stars Thrive on Chase for Cup and Leave Dollar Figures Behind

Bradley KarpCorrespondent IMay 16, 2008

Are the NHL’s young guns using the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to their full potential? The 2004-2005, season was cancelled in the NHL, leaving many NHL fans twiddling their thumbs on Saturday nights. The contract discussions between the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players Association were about money, how to make it, how to save it and who will get it.

The NHL wanted a salary cap system to give every team an even playing field, but the NHLPA didn’t want to hear about it. Well, three seasons later under the new CBA, the NHL got their salary cap (currently set at $50.3 million) but the NHLPA got something else (what they thought would be a diamond in the rough), but things did not work out as planned.

The NHLPA got a new age for unrestricted free-agency. NHL players can now become an unrestricted free agent two years earlier than before, allowing them to earn more money faster while choosing which of the 30 NHL teams they would like to play for. Veteran members of the NHLPA like iron man Chris Chelios who has played in the NHL for 25 years, goalie superstar Martin Brodeur who will soon break the all-time goalie wins record, and many others would not allow the NHLPA to sign the CBA unless this clause was included. They did this for themselves, but mostly for the young players working their way up to the NHL.

To date one would argue that this was without cause.

Last month’s big story in the NHL was Alexander Ovechkin’s supersized contract. The Washington Capitals' 1stoverall pick in 2004 signed a 13 year, $124 million contract earlier this week, keeping the former Calder trophy winner in Washington until he is 35. The financial breakdown over the next few seasons sees Ovechkin making between 9.5 and 10 million for the next five years.

Under the new CBA the contract limit this year is 10 million dollars and is bound to rise, leaving the possibility of a 15 million dollar cap limit. If Ovechkin had signed a three year deal, he could’ve been an unrestricted free agent at 27. Being one of the best left wingers in the league, he could definitely fetch roughly 13 million dollars per year on the free agent wire. In a post-game conference Ovechkin said he signed the long contract because he loves the city of Washington and the Capitals.

Late last season Rick DiPietro signed the longest contract in NHL history: a 15 year deal worth 4.5 million per year for a total of 67.5 million dollars. The Islanders' All-Star netminder, who was the first goalie on Long Island to have consecutive 30 win seasons, could easily fetch six or seven million in free agency but will remain in New York until he is 40.

This was the first of many 10 year or more contract extensions signed this season. The Philadelphia Flyers '24thoverall pick in 2003, Mike Richards signed a 12 year, 69 million dollar deal last month. Richards leads the Flyers in goals, points and plus/minus rating this season. The Kenora, Ontario native said that he loves the city of Philadelphia and the Flyers as an organisation.

Sidney Crosby: the future of hockey. The 2006-2007 Hart Memorial Trophy winner, the runner up for the Calder Trophy in 2005-2006 and the young man who invigorated a seemingly dead Pittsburgh Penguins organisation now sitting 4th in the Eastern Conference and 2nd  in the Atlantic Division. All this translated into him signing a seven year deal worth 9.5 million a year. This deal was not as long as the rest of the young guns, but had the same message. Sid the Kid could have easily fetched the contract max for this season, from either his club or in restricted free-agency, but like the rest of them, Sid seems to like where he’s at in Pittsburgh, and it seems they like him too.

What do all these young players have in common?

They all signed lucrative contracts for seemingly ridiculous amounts of money.

However, that is not the case.

These players have all taken the hometown pay cut, giving up millions in lost salary over the next few years. The young guns are trying to send a message.

They are here to play hockey and win a Cup.

All of them are willing to take a pay cut and they have. The young stars are demonstrating team loyalty by re-signing with the teams that drafted them and gave them a chance to become stars in the NHL. None of these four players are on Cup contending teams, except for Crosby and the Pens.

This shows that today’s young players understand that they are part of the building blocks of their respective NHL teams. They know that you have to be patient to win a Cup. For kids who are 24, 25 years old and are being flashed hundreds of millions of dollars, this is exceptional.

The NHL is in good hands.