Here are some collected thoughts on what I think is driving the owners and how I think that will effect the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, 'cause I don't think this horse has been beaten dead enough yet (Oh, it just twitched again! Quick gimme that 2x4!).
Feel free to comment, berate me, poke holes in my flawed logic, I'm sorry, it won't be funny, it will be based on observation (though I won't back my observations up with statistics, c'mon, I'm killing time not making more work for myself), and hopefully thought provoking/comment inducing, if not altogether informative.
So, without further ado:My own noggin started churning on this matter after browsing J.J. From Kansas, SCUM fan and, I'm assuming, Kansas native, picked apart the notion that large, front-loaded, cap-circumventing contracts for star players are bankrupting the game.
The owners have a facile argument, its easy enough to see that. As I continued to ponder, though, something else occurred to me. These front-loaded, multi-year, mega-deals are having another not-so-subtle-anymore effect on the financial structure of many NHL franchises: the cost of 2nd and 3rd tier players (third liners, and third pairing defensemen) is sky rocketing, at a rate that far exceeds the rising cost of Parise and Suter-like contracts.
Of course, such a claim requires at least a little evidence, so if you will indulge me let's look at the most recent large, long term deals signed and compare them to the deals being signed by second rate players.
The biggies, as of now are Suter, Parise's, and Crosby's new deals.
Crosby's deal is 12 years $104 million, Suter and Parise's, 13 years $98 million. Monster contracts right? These seem like the biggest contracts yet, like the rate of pay has gone off the rails crazy? Yes it sure seems that way, until you look at the average annual payout, and compare these deals to other existing contracts.
For instance, in terms of annual average payout, Crosby didn't even really get a raise, still at $8.7m per year, on average.
And still these deals are comparable to the contract that made Ilya Kovalchuk a very rich man (15 years, $100 million, $6.6mil average), as well as Brad Richards (9 years, $60 million, also $6.66 average). These deals have similar averages, and they all have years where the team is paying out the maximum of $12 million. So the rate of growth on these types of contracts is really quite measured.
With second and third tier players, however...
...enter Dennis Wideman.
He just finished out a 4 year contract worth $15.75 million that he signed with the Boston Bruins in 2008, worth $3.937 mil annually, what was somewhere near the going rate at the time for a top 4 defensemen with loads of offensive upside. compare that to the new deal he just signed with the Flames, a five-year deal worth $26.25 million. That's a 33% increase in salary for Wideman. Imagine how much richer Crosby would be if he had gotten a 33% raise (Actually the CBA would've prevented the Penguins from even being able to give Crosby a 33% raise).
And yeah, sure, Jay Feaster is a god damned moron, but Wideman is not alone as a 2nd/3rd tier player receiving big fat raises.
Look at our old friend Tomas Kopecky. Kopy offers an interesting case because he was signed twice by the same GM, in two different markets. The first time signing a 2 year deal worth $2.4 million in 2009, he then signed a 4 year deal in 2011 worth $12 million (that's a 150% raise) .
Across the board, second rate Free Agents are making bank, but of course, what does this have to do with the big "cap-circumventing" deals?
Well, the thing is, when a guy in his mid-to-late twenties signs a 10, 11, 12, or 13 year deal, the chances that he is ever going to hit the open free agent market again (or, in the case of Kovalchuk, ever) is pretty much nil. There are only so many star players as well, and as we've seen the more prevalent that these long term deals have become, and the more teams use them to lock up their stars before they hit the market place (Duncan Keith, Pekka Rinne), the thinner the free agent crop. Free agency for the last three or four years running has featured only a very few big names (all of them signing huge, long term deals). Problem is, the cash pool that teams have for chasing FA's hasn't exactly dwindled either, rather its exploded exponentially.
So its a matter of simple economics, there are more and more dollars (roughly $20 million per team more) chasing a finite pool of players. Obviously the cost of contracts goes up in such an environment. This money, however, has disproportionally gone to landing 2nd tier players. Why? Well that's simple, there's a hell of a lot more 2nd tier players hitting the open market than there are star players, the stars can only be signed by one team, and all 30 teams have seen the pool of money they have to spend expand rapidly, so most of these dollars get spent chasing down the Denis Widemans and Tomas Kopeckys of the world.
And the owners and the GM's have created this mess. It's not these "cap circumventing" contracts, in and of themselves, that are ballooning the cost of player salaries as the owners would have you believe, its the effect that these contracts are having on the Free Agency landscape that is ballooning the cost of hiring role players and roster-fillers (all while not really sending player contracts over 57% of revenue).
Looking at it from this perspective, many of the owner's opening demands make more sense. Look at what they want, a new CBA that will save them from the loopholes they found in the last CBA, and the the market place that they themselves wrought as result.
They want capped contract terms. So that they can't lock up star players from here to eternity (so they won't have to get into bidding wars over 2nd tier players as a consolation prize for losing out on the one big available free agent).
They want to limit the free agent market (to limit the chance that it will be their GM signing Denis Wideman for 26 million).
And they want to extend entry level contracts, because lets face it, drafting and developing young players is the only reliable method of producing inexpensive, but effective role players. As the system is built now, many players become much more expensive right around the same time they develop into very useful players, and so the the owners would like to get another good season, or two, out of kid who is still only costing a maximum of $925,000.
As for making a player wait ten years for unrestricted free agency, its an obvious money saving tactic, head off the rising cost of mid-level free agents by under cutting their bargaining power (afterall, whose going to put out an offer sheet on a third line player?)
They want to be saved from this horrible system that they wrought! With a new a system that they will no doubt ruin and need to be saved from 5 years hence.