It seemed that the 15 year contract signed by Rick Dipietro on September 12, 2006 had set a trend, as more and more teams started signing their star players to long term contracts for over a decade. It seemed like a good idea, as teams would get to keep their star players for the length of their careers with no worries of losing them to free agency. It seemed like an even better idea to some GM's, who realized the potential these long term contracts had at lowering a cap hit for a player.
General managers began handing out extremely front loaded contracts, so that after the first 6 or 7 years, when a player would still be at his best, he made most of the money from the contract. Then, if he wished, he could retire and have lost very little of his money. The league began investigating these contracts last year, particularly the contracts signed by Marian Hossa and Chris Pronger. They determined those contracts to be legitimate, however, and let them stand.
Yesterday, the New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello tried the same thing with Ilya Kovalchuk, signing him to an astounding 17 year contract worth $102 million. This would mean Kovalchuk could potentially be playing for the Devils at age 45 with a $6 million dollar cap hit. But it is very unlikely, as Kovalchuk will receive about $95 million of that contract in the first 10 seasons, taking him to the age of 37, where most would assume he would probably retire (unless he is really cheap and desperately wants that final $7 million). It looked good for the Devils as they got the top free agent at a major discount.
But wait. The NHL, after its investigation, finally had the stones to say no and rejected the contract, saying it is clear salary cap circumvention. This could be huge, as it seemed like there would be no end to these contracts and eventually we would get someone being signed to a 50 year contract at a cap hit of $500,000 and it would be ok.
Now Devils fans will complain, comparing this contract to the Dipietro contract and ask what's the difference? Well the differences are plenty. Dipietro signed his contract at the age of 25, meaning it would take him until he is 40. As has been seen recently, many goalies have played until the age of 40, including Dwayne Roloson and Dominik Hasek. Kovalchuk's takes him until 45 and no one, besides Chris Chelios, has played that long since Gordie Howe. The second reason is Dipietro get's paid $4.5 million each season for the entire 15 years, meaning if he retires early, he loses a significant amount of his paycheck. Kovalchuk, as mentioned above, makes most of the money in the first half of the contract, meaning he can retire with almost no consequences.
Now, however, because the NHL put its foot down, teams might start to be more sensible and stop handing out these ridiculous long term contracts.
Or at least, we hope.