Are you kidding me?
I've addressed this story line before, but now this is ridiculous!
Andrei Meszaros, the steady Ottawa Senator blueliner with the guts enough for blocking shots was signed, sealed, and delivered to the Tampa Bay Lightning. And for an excess of $4 million a year!
Meszaros is making his worth in this deal I feel. But now that such a high-caliber defender such as Meszaros is making around $4 million in most years of his five year contract ($2.5 million - $3.25 million - $4 million - $4 million - $4.75 million), what will the price be for others in the league?
Already, Brian Campbell, Mark Streit, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Dennis Wideman, and Wade Redden have signed long-term deals with their respective teams for well over $3 million a year. Add another well-known and respectable defenseman in Andrei Meszaros, and it seems that NHL GMs have had a bit of a brain fart this offseason.
Essentially, many of the leagues GMs have set up a plan that will have them wondering in five years why they have to up these defenders' salaries another $1 or $2 million. However, the 2008 crop of free-agent defenders has been one of the richest in talent and young age.
Looking at the 2009 crop of free-agent defenders, there are many players that may demand as much as in 2008—Names such as Francois Beauchemin, Shane Hnidy, Jaroslav Spacek, Cam Barker, Christian Backman, Jordan Leopold, Jay Bouwmeester, Keith Ballard (RFA), Jack Johnson (RFA), Mike Komisarek, Ville Koistinen, Johnny Oduya, Paul Mara, Keith Yandle (RFA), Alexander Edler (RFA), Matthias Ohlund, Lukas Krajicek (RFA), and Shaone Morrisonn (RFA).
In a speed filled NHL game today, smooth skating defenders are going at a premium rate and pushing defenders contracts up in price. This off-season has been focused more on those very players. The largest contracts have come from defensemen who can carry the puck up the ice, can make plays from the point, and are extremely versatile.
NHL GMs have driven the price up once again trying to get the strongest defensive corps. Taking a look at the NHL's top blue lines—the teams near the top have spent a good chunk of money on their top six defenders.
In Anaheim, between Scott Niedemayer, Chris Pronger, and Mathieu Schnedier there is $18.75 locked up. With Beauchemin ($1.65 million), Sean O'Donnell ($1.25 million), and puck rushing defender Steve Montador ($800,000) all UFAs in 2009, the Ducks may have to spend more. But if Niedemayer is leaving after the season, the Ducks have some room to work with.
Calgary has locked up $25.2 million in their top seven defensemen, all of them paid over $1.5 million. Detroit's secured their blue line for a few seasons for just over $22 million in 2008-09.
Teams such as Chicago have put themselves in a bit of a bind. Considering they signed Brian Campbell for $7.1 million a season, they have spent relatively little (around $18 million) for their defense this season. Yet with Cam Barker, James Wisniewski, and Matt Walker all up for contracts at the end of the season, along with Keith Duncan the next offseason, the Blackhawks may lose one of these defenders if they cannot be conservative in their spending.
In a Bettman-ized NHL where scoring is what the game is all about, defenders are getting their share of the limelight this coming 2008-09 season. Will it help scoring? With the premium type of defensemen changed from big bruiser to fast, crafty puck handler, scoring may go up.
The 2008 free agent crop of defenders have their chance to prove themselves—and possibly ensure that the free-agent crop of defenders for years to come will continually get more and more money.
Sounds like Bettman has started digging himself another hole. Let's hope this time he can't get out of it.