Long Term Contracts: Good For Hockey Or Bad Business?

Ryan LengCorrespondent IApril 12, 2017

After the NHL rejected Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract, it has left many wondering who's next: which of these mega-contracts, signed as recently as last summer, will the league challenge? Many see these contracts as a dangerous trend, spurious and against the intentions of the CBA.

However, will mega-contracts be a major trend? These deals are risky, and most players won’t ever receive one. Risks such as a player could be injured for long stretches, wasting money. His worth could increase, surpassing what he is making. Furthermore, the salary cap increases year to year, so he might otherwise have been able to command more. Also, due to inflation, the dollars promised now will be less valuable in 2027. 

I don't deny the Kovy deal appears to bend, if not break entirely, the nebulous terms of the CBA. And who can say that Kovy deserves that much moolah?—really, what's ten or twenty million going to buy, more or less, that a smaller contract couldn't provide?

A third house? Another yacht?

"Oh please," we say. "Get over yourself, Kovy." And you know what many are thinking but not saying?—that it's just more money to blow on the craps tables in Atlantic City. Not that he gambles, but it's still there, right under his nose, in New Jersey.

All cynicism aside, though, the contract is understandable and reasonable, and I appreciate that the arbitrator assigned no ill-intentions to Kovy or the Devils. And for good reason. Ilya Kovalchuk wants stability and a good chance at winning the Cup. Having one's value assessed at boardroom tables doesn't sit well with anyone. It hurts performance and undermines confidence. You are a number, a part of a complicated, money-making machine, and as such expendable if need be. 

Which is every schmuck's lot in life, really: to be uprooted in the corporate paroxysms of our modern times and flung abroad, all to keep stocks from shrinking. The process is a bit dehumanizing, and it's hard on the GMs and owners too, not to mention player families. So we shouldn't be surprised if these players want to avoid going through it all again.

Kovalchuk wants to avoid becoming another "gun for hire," blowing from team to team like a leaf from gutter to gutter, until he retires. Just ask Miroslav Satan or Marian Hossa how it feels to move around so much. 

So does a revolving door of hired guns make hockey better? Unlikely, especially considering how long it takes to build chemistry and find your place on a new team.

Unfortunately, the NHL's no. 1 priority is neither player nor team security, nor what such security could provide off-ice, such as a better chance at a stable marriage and family. Above all else, the NHL is a business. Perhaps uncertainty is what they’re really after, that it will somehow increase competition among players and thus improve the game.

However, such uncertainty surely renders any gained competition to a zero-sum score. You don't play as well when you've got multiple mortgages and back-taxes hanging over your head. Even if you do have a good accountant, you're still moving your family around, and that produces stress. Men are bad multi-taskers, it's true; and even more true for hockey players. They play their best when the game is all they have to worry about.

So will somebody tell me why these long term deals hurt the game. If parity is the ideal, rejecting a contract on one team doesn't enforce parity. Presumably, every team could offer these long-term deals. The deals are every bit as risky, no matter what team. All the drawbacks mentioned still apply.

These drawbacks lead me to believe it won't become The Trend for the next decade. But there are certain players who can command a contract like that, and who want stability, a pile of money, and the ability to forget about it all and play hockey. Unfortunately, the NHL doesn’t want them to have it all.

Maybe Kovy could make more being a gun for hire. If he does play to 44, he'll likely be able to hack it better than your average half-million-a-year player. Talent doesn't just disappear.

But cartilage and ligaments do, so only time will reveal how prudent these mega-contracts are. Likely, some will prove to be great investments, and for others, a costly albatross. That all depends on what the league does; for if parity's the ultimate, then a league-wide probe may well ensue.

If the league should start contesting these contracts now,—and it appears they are with Luongo's—the question is why not before the Kovalchuk decision? Because they know now that they can win a case like that?

And what benefit is there to challenge these signed and legal contracts, which may or may not be good ideas anyway, if it could throw players off their games?

How is that good for the game? Maybe I'm missing something here....