Yesterday, the NHL said it would be investigating the contract signed between Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks on the ground that the two parties may have colluded to circumvent the salary cap allowed by the current collective bargaining agreement. Similarly, the league revealed today it will also have a peek at the Chris Pronger deal.
Please don’t let the league know this, too, is all Sutter’s fault.
Let’s go back to an idyllic time, when we actually thought that Flames team wasn’t a slowly rotting pile of cat turd. It’s early fall 2007, and Miikka Kiprusoff, before his numbers turned near-Raycroftian, has just signed a six-year deal worth $35 million. It was, at the time, more than fair market value for the goalie that had just won the Vezina trophy the season prior, sandwiching his pay grade between perhaps the best goalie in the league (Roberto Luongo’s $6.5 million) and the best goalie of all time (Martin Brodeur’s annual salary of $5.2 million). Calgary fans were, rightly, thrilled.
But that contract was almost certainly the first in this salary cap era to be front-loaded: the first three years $8 million per, the fourth was for $6 million, the fifth for $3.5 million and the sixth and final for a paltry $1.5 million. A good bit of business for the Flames, certainly, and rival GMs clearly took notice. In the last few years, Detroit jumped on this bandwagon as well, signing Henrik Zetterberg to a 12-year deal that will pay him $73 million dollars, but only $5.35 million over the final three years of the deal and Johan Franzen to an 11-year, $44-million deal, though he’ll only get $7.5 million over the last four years of the contract. And down in Tampa, Vinny Lecavalier’s new contract, which kicks in this year, will net him $10 million a year for the first seven, $8.5 million for the eighth, $4 million for the ninth, then an average of $1.25 million for the final two.
Even those contracts that don’t do this quite so egregiously as those for Zetterberg, Franzen, Hossa and Pronger still occasionally slouch in that direction. Tim Thomas’ contract dips more than a little in its final year, as do those of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Dany Briere, Mike Richards, Ryan Malone and, for some reason, Martin Erat.
Whether or not the teams in question did, on some level, try to circumvent the salary cap, if not in an actual sense then at least in spirit, is moot, largely because it can’t tear up that many contracts even if it could prove that the deals were mutually agreed upon to do exactly that. Which it can’t. So all these contracts are a-okay to mature into most of the above players’ late 30s and early 40s.
The league, frankly, doesn’t have the balls to take away any of Detroit’s draft picks, and thus won’t be able to logically argue that it should be able to do so with Chicago or Philadelphia. Fines, too, are likely out of the question.
But don’t worry, all you fans of sane contracts that in no way detract from the relative parity within the league, this CBA’s only going to be around for one more offseason before the next lockout! And if, when the time comes, these players find themselves dealt to Kansas City because the Scouts slightly outbid Hamilton and Las Vegas for the right to claw itself above the salary floor, then the players have no one to blame but themselves, and Darryl Sutter.
He started this whole mess and got away scot free.